We have officially entered the Jenaissance—that is, the renaissance of one Jennifer Coolidge. Since 2021, the comedy legend, known for her roles as Legally Blonde’s Paulette and Stifler’s mom in American Pie, has laid claim to our television screens in not one, but two breakout roles. She won an Emmy in September for her work as the mourning heiress Tanya McQuoid on Mike White’s The White Lotus, and in Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s The Watcher, released on Netflix earlier this month, she’s a scene-stealer as Karen Calhoun, a real estate diva with mysterious motives.
Fans have certainly taken notice of her buzzy work recently. “The Jennifer Coolidge renaissance should be taught as an important part of American history,” wrote one Twitter user. “How does Jennifer Coolidge not have an EGOT,” pondered another, sharing a clip of Coolidge as an extremely angry Karen. And she’s not done just yet: On October 30, Coolidge will reprise her role as the troubled (yet lovable) Tanya in Season 2 of The White Lotus, co-starring Aubrey Plaza and Will Sharpe.
Ahead of the HBO series’s much-anticipated premiere, Vogue chatted with Coolidge about her two big projects, finding humor through darkness, filming on location in Sicily, and what Hollywood roles she hopes to play next.
Vogue: Hi, Jennifer. How is your day going?
Jennifer Coolidge: It’s pretty good—it’s a sunny day in beautiful Los Angeles!
So, I’ve got to tell you: I’ve been binge-watching The Watcher all week. I was curious what drew you to your character, Karen, who is a real estate agent. That’s such a specific role.
A lot of my friends down in New Orleans are real estate agents. I don’t know if I really stole anything from them, but one thing I noticed about them is they’re so upbeat. When you run into them, you’re like, “I don’t feel good like that.” They become this over-energized cheerleader for your life. And of course, they’re selling something very big and expensive, so they have to be good at it. There’s something kind of scary about when they tell you certain things. You’re like, I hope that’s true. Then you find out the driveway doesn’t come with the house. I do believe that there are real estate agents who are very sincere, and love finding people that magical house. My favorite thing is open houses: I’ll stop at any open house. I love to look at a layout, or someone’s yard. It’s limiting for me, though, because I like the old stuff, and there isn’t a lot of old stuff in L.A.
I love the opening scene of The Watcher where Karen doesn’t even pay attention to her open guest houses—she’s barely looking up from her iPhone.
I mean, I’ve had that happen to me. Some people take a job and they know just enough to get by, out of pure laziness. Like, “Oh my God, I have to read these forms? Maybe I’ll sleep with a guy and he’ll read them for me.” Karen could do a lot of different jobs. Karen wants someone else to do all the work, but to get all the glory for it. She doesn’t want to be a real estate agent—she wants to live in a fancy house.
What I love about her too is how she presents herself, clad in expensive Chanel suits and bags. Where do you think Karen shops?
I think Karen is really into good fakes. When it’s not designer, I don’t think Karen would ever admit it. Karen likes to look like a fancy lady. I really sympathize with people who want a fancy life. When you turn on your TV, it looks like everyone’s having a fancy life. It’s hard to just go, “I want way less than that.” You see the Kardashians driving around in these beautiful SUVs, and they have beautiful homes and beautiful clothes on, and it’s just hard to go, “I would just rather sit in my mustard-stained onesie and eat beans out of a can.”
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Yeah! It has. Mike gave me [Tanya] two years ago—someone who’s complicated and fucked up—and it was such a gift, because sometimes I get things that are just very simple. I’m not going to condemn any job that I was given, but Mike was that person in the world that you hope exists. That person that gives you a challenge that makes a difference in your life, instead of having to walk into a room and beep the horn of the clown car. It was a lucky moment in my life, and it’s changed things drastically. To then get a call from Ryan Murphy [for The Watcher], I’m incredibly grateful for all that’s happening. [Ryan] actually filmed a scene from American Horror Story: Coven in my yard in New Orleans, and I remember thinking, “Maybe I can go out in the yard and bump into Ryan, and he could give me a part in this.” I was ready to donate my house and my services. For it to happen 10 years later, it feels just as good.
What do you think you’ll look for in scripts or roles moving forward?
I would like to continue to play troubled people. I feel like I can relate. I wouldn’t want to play anyone who’s perfect; I think I’m more attracted to sadder people. A lot of comedy people are sad clowns. I’m not saying I go around and go, “Wow, I’m sad.” I love my life, and I love my friends and my family. I’ve been so lucky in this lifetime. But the world has a lot of sadness in it, and it’s hard to deny a lot of the time. The sad clown is more aware of a part of your brain that you can’t deny. Me coming up with comedy, and trying to be kooky, is just to deflect the other stuff so you can go on with your day!