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  • Writer's pictureAugust Sorenson

Chasing the Dream

In honor of the March 2024 celebration of Women’s History Month, The Actors Society recognizes the achievements of women in the entertainment industry with a collection of featured stories of three alumni. This year, we’re highlighting Aloma Wright (‘81), Agnes Moorehead (‘29), and Jennifer Coolidge (‘82). Contact us through your Actors Society account if there’s an alumna you’d like to shout out.

Below, take a glimpse into the life and career of the award-winning actress Jennifer Coolidge.

When the 75th Primetime Emmy Award nominations were announced via virtual broadcast on June 12, 2023, the supporting actor/actress categories were dominated by the cast of The White Lotus. The series, intended as a six-part anthology, shot its first season in a pandemic bubble before being renewed for a second, and then a third, season due to popular demand. Its ensemble, as recognized by the Television Academy, helped propel the surreal dramedy into the stratosphere. At its center lies Jennifer Coolidge (‘82), whose performance as the eccentric, self-absorbed Tanya McQuoid received critical acclaim and nominations for numerous accolades, including a second Emmy win in January 2024. During her speech at the annual ceremony, she took time to thank “all the evil gays” before reminiscing: “I had a little dream in my little town that everyone said was impractical and was far-fetched, but it did happen after all…so don’t give up on your dream!” Ups and downs characterize its pursuit.

The New England-born actress (an eighth cousin twice removed from President Calvin Coolidge) graduated from Emerson College in Boston before attending The Academy’s Los Angeles campus. Imagining herself to be a “straightforward,” dramatic actress, she sought to model herself after Meryl Streep during her college days. “No one in my family thought I was funny...they thought I was weird. But my brother was the funny one in the family,” she told reporters. Coolidge needed some coaxing to push her down the right path, and she credits The Groundlings for uncovering her comedic jest. Spending nine years with the renowned improv group in Los Angeles, her skills were sharpened in front of live audiences–at times, high-profile ones–in various exercises. A Seinfeld casting director, Mark Hirschfield, was in the audience one night and paid particular attention to Ms. Coolidge. Not long after, she made her first television appearance in season five, episode nine of the series “The Masseuse.” A string of TV credits ensued before making her big break on the silver screen.

To close the 90s, she was cast as Jeanine Stifler, referred to as “Stifler’s Mom” by most characters, in American Pie. Its box office success spawned a franchise of films over the next 13 years (Coolidge would reprise her role in each). In 2001, she had a sizeable role in Legally Blonde and its 2003 follow-up. The next year, she starred as the evil stepmother to Hillary Duff’s Cinderella in A Cinderella Story, a modern take on the classic fairytale. The film made a handsome profit at the box office and went on to develop a cult following. With Coolidge in the cast of a motion picture (even in a small part), the production was guaranteed to make a buck. Her typecast–an outlandish, usually vain woman with a breathy voice and honey-blonde hair–was making her a household name.

With the delightfully kooky women she played receiving admiration, spoofs were a logical next step: she parodied Barbra Streisand’s Meet the Fockers character in Date Movie (2006) and, the following year, poked fun at The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in Epic Movie, satirizing the role of the White Witch. (For her character’s name, change the second “W” to a “B.”) Around the same time, Coolidge put her improv chops to the test in several Christopher Guest mockumentaries, including Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration.

Her offscreen personality is equally as rich as those she portrays onscreen. The actress champions numerous causes, including animal rights and the fight against AIDS. In 2023, she was crowned PETA’s “Vegan Queen” and is a celebrity supporter of “Aid for AIDS,” an organization that strives to help those living with the autoimmune disease. Considered an “icon” in the gay community, drag queens routinely impersonate her, and Ms. Coolidge voices resounding support for members of the community. She was listed in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2023 and hosted the Time 100 gala that year.

In the decade preceding The White Lotus, Coolidge played a myriad of roles on TV–a stream of credits that she said weren’t “going anywhere.” With one offshoot after another, her quixotic dream was fading. When she received the Golden Globe in 2023 for her performance as Tanya McQuoid, she thanked The White Lotus show creator Mike White for bringing her out of the depths. “Mike White, you have given me hope; you’ve given me a new beginning,” she said before being pulled offstage for time’s sake–the actress knows how to own her space.

Tanya Mcquoid, who met an unfortunate demise at the end of season two, is unlikely to appear in its third. “I’m jealous of everyone that’s going. I just want to stress I’m not a good sport about it, but there’s nothing I can do,” she said. With a revived career and renewed attention from everyone (at the Golden Globes, Coolidge quipped about the influx of party invites she has received since The White Lotus took off), the actress can afford to be a little picky in pursuit of her dream. “I have to get another thing! I have to make another thing happen, I guess.” One thing is certain: she will.


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