Even if you don’t immediately recognize Jennifer Coolidge’s name, it’s likely you’ve seen and loved many of her iconic characters. The 61-year-old actress, who has been working since the early ’90s, entered the public consciousness in American Pie playing a Mrs. Robinson-style mom that made teenage boys go gaga.
Two years after American Pie, Coolidge played Reese Witherspoon’s confidant in Legally Blonde, where she taught us the fundamental “bend and snap” flirting technique with delightful panache. While Hollywood loves to cast (and cast off) women over 40 as “character actors” — those who play supporting roles and aren’t considered conventional beauties — Coolidge has embraced this categorization, and enlivened every movie she’s appeared in with her expert comedic timing. She’s the prototype for the blonde, fabulous “woman of a certain age” who’s not afraid to be loud, have fun, and dress provocatively.
The White Lotus, an HBO series about a group of privileged narcissists crossing paths at a luxurious Hawaiian resort, has finally given Coolidge the mainstream respect she deserves — and her first Emmy nomination. Though Coolidge is no stranger to TV, having had recurring roles on 2 Broke Girls and Joey — not to mention contributing a lot of voices to animated shows thanks to her distinctive nasal whisper — the Emmy nomination reminds us that she’s been here, and doing great work, all along.
On The White Lotus, Coolidge’s character — a wealthy woman on a solo vacation following her mother’s death — is simultaneously maddening, tragic, and hilarious. In her most memorable scene, she scatters her mother’s ashes while on a boat with a newlywed couple attempting a romantic date, and her extreme display of emotion is the kind of acting that awards were made for. Her performance is absurd in all the right ways, and it serves as one of many examples of Coolidge breathing fresh life into characters typically reduced to cliché. It’s no wonder she’ll be the only cast member returning for the show’s second season in October.
Three decades into her career, Coolidge occupies a unique niche in Hollywood, and it seems like she’s on her way to becoming even more widely known — which is heartening, when one considers how youth-obsessed the industry is. When asked about her career ambitions in a recent interview with The New York Times, she answered, “I would love to do a serious play.”
“The sky’s the limit,” she added, “You get used to thinking in a certain way, and then something like White Lotus happens and you start to have bigger thoughts.” One thing’s for sure: we can’t wait to see what she does next. And in the meantime, we’ll be quoting all of our favorite lines from her iconic movie roles.