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Jennifer Coolidge is lucky nobody in Regency England knew how to bend and snap, because Lord knows everyone everywhere else does, and doesn't hesitate to let the actress know. Best known for her memorable turns in "Legally Blonde" and as Stifler's mom in "American Pie," Coolidge's latest release, "Austenland," takes her to a Jane Austen-themed estate on the English countryside. She plays Elizabeth Charming, a woman with more money than she seems to know what to do with who ends up spending it on a trip to the manor and befriending Jane Erstwhile (Keri Russell), an Austen aficionado.
Coolidge brings her trademark comic chops to the role (her reason for heading to the romantic sleepaway camp is that she thinks her chest would look great in period fashions) and plays charmingly against Russell and the rest of the cast.
Here, the actress opens up about whether Austenian romance still exists, her theory that producer Stephenie Meyer is a vampire and how many times she's bent and snapped in her life.
OK, so the thing I was wondering the entire movie was whether you had to wear full-on corsets or if it was just very tight clothes.
No, they had these corsets, but it was sort of that empire period where it's not that really sexy corset type, it's sort of that… They don't really suck you in that much. I mean, they're uncomfortable to wear, but it doesn't give you that hourglass.
So it's all the discomfort without the —
Glamour. Yes, without the glamour.
That's what everyone hopes for in their day-to-day wardrobe.
(Laughs) A lot of discomfort and no glamour?
Yeah, that's how I feel like with Spanx. It's like this discomfort of like, you know, when you're wearing it, you're at a wedding, and your Spanx are – you're sucked in like three sizes – you can barely speak to anyone because your stomach is being so compressed.
So they're Ren Faire Spanx, essentially.
Yeah, you're right! That is exactly what it is. You know, if I just lost the weight, I wouldn't have to wear them.
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Oh, but everyone wears Spanx all the time anyway. Did you keep any souvenirs, maybe a costume?
I don't think I ended up with anything from that movie. They were very strict. I think there were like a couple of things that I really wanted – there was a locket that another actress was wearing, and I was like, "Can I buy that?" It was such a cool locket. But you know, they don't… Sometimes on American movies, you can schmooze a little bit and get a couple of things. But this was like, you don't get anything. They're so on top of it over there.
What appealed to you about the project? Were you a big Austen fan?
Oh, the whole topic, the romantic topic. I think girls want men to fall in love with them, like a dashing gentleman from right out of a Jane Austen novel. I mean, that is, I think, the ultimate fantasy, to have someone like that: someone who lives in a giant estate and desires you. In Jane Austen movies, they fall in love with you, they wanna be you forever, forever and ever. You know, it's that unrealistic stuff that we so want. So I guess that's it. I love that. I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm always hoping that someone amazing will fall madly in love with me for the rest of my life. And I think it's… The odds of that are pretty slim. I think especially nowadays, people will like you for a certain amount of time. I think people kind of, like, they can make it seven years, and then it just kind of ends and you have to move onto the next.
Do you think Austen-esque love exists at all anymore?
I hope it does. My parents were together forever until my mother passed away. My grandparents and all of that. But I just think nowadays, it's modern times. There is too much internet, too much stimulation for everybody, too much upgrading going on, I don't know. Maybe you've hit the wall. Maybe you hit 20 years and you're just like, "Ughhh." There's not one bit of mystery left to you, and there's nothing I don't know, and I'm bored with you now.
Were you a big Austen fan before this project?
I was an Austen fan, because my parents had a lock put in the television so we could only watch, like, PBS. So I saw all these Masterpiece Theatre shows a lot of my friends never got to see, and so I was obsessed with the whole Jane Austen thing, because those were some of the stories being told on PBS.
Do you feel weird around Colin Firth?
I would love to bump into him.
I did a movie with Hugh Grant about five or six years ago, and I have to say, there's something about an Englishman. I cannot tell you how many women on our movie lost our minds because of Hugh Grant. Like, I've seen girls lose their minds, but this was in a different way. Like the costume, the make-up, all the girls kind of lost their mind with him. It was bizarre. We all kind of thought the same thing – we all felt like he was sort of like that self-effacing… Like, when he looked in the mirror, when I stood next to him in the make-up trailer, he always looked like he didn't like what he saw. He always looked sort of tortured, and I just can't get enough of that.
Yeah. You know, when someone looks in the mirror and they really like what they see, and they're in love with themselves? He has that more tortured thing, where he's like, "Oh Jesus, I can't believe I look like this." It's just so charming. I mean, he really is, I think, the definition of "charm." Some of those Englishmen. You know, JJ Feild, who's in our movie, has that. James Callis has that also. Those Englishmen have that thing. They have that thing.
American women will never be immune to English men.
No! Even if they're abusive. Even if they're cold and blow you off, you feel like you can't get enough.
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People say that Jane Austen movies are the best romantic stories that exist. What do you think is the most romantic story ever, Austen or not?
I think "Pride and Prejudice" is really up there, because it has all the elements that I just spoke about. You know, the girl who's not from the money but has such a strong personality, and is… I think that's one of the great things, that the lead heroine is not the goody two-shoes, that she's just this very strong, outspoken girl. And then that the incredibly handsome mysterious man falls in love with her, and she wins the lotto and gets to end up with him at the end. I don’t know, that's pretty great. But I also like "Sense and Sensibility." That's Jane Austen, right?
I felt like that has one of the most romantic scenes I've ever seen in a movie, when Hugh Grant comes back to get her. Where he thinks that the girl has lost her chance, and she hears that everyone's been married off, and it sounds like Hugh Grant has married some other woman. I think that scene where he comes back to get her, it was brilliant in the book, and I have to say, it is one of the best moments in a movie I've seen. Actually, I think, was even better in the movie, that scene. I mean, just when you think you've lost it all, and you have no chance, then that guy comes back and at the last moment, he says, "No, I've loved you all along."
So you're saying that you agree, no one can top Austen.
I really don't think so. I don't think anyone really can touch her. [Costar] JJ Feild was telling a story the other day, and I didn't know this, but she lived in this humble place that looked up at the castle, and she wrote all of these. She was in love with the guy who, I guess, owned the castle, and she wrote these amazing stories with a view of this castle. And her window faced this castle, and that's where she got inspired to write all of these things. And I don't know, that made me really feel for her, and I guess the story ends very sadly, like she got the guy and then lost him at the end or something. It's all kind of sad.
But she made sure that her endings were better than that. That the ending in her stories were actually not reality.
So Keri Russell's character in this is obsessed with Jane Austen. Is there anything that you geek out hard over?
You know, I'm in New York right now, I'm geeking out over like the ultimate cup of coffee. I'm obsessed with espresso, and I'm always obsessed with finding the ultimate cup of espresso. I found this place called Colombe. Have you ever been there?
I haven't. I'm a Café Grumpy fan.
Oh Café Grumpy's great too, but Colombe is my new obsession. I geek out over the perfect cup of coffee, what else are my obsessions? Um, you know, this is the thing. I'd never thought this would happen to me, but as I get older, I'm getting obsessed with architecture. I only go to cities that have great architecture. I want to go on the tours, I want to see the inside of all the great buildings. I don't know what that is. I guess that's a good side of getting old, you're actually like… You want to expand your knowledge, and I feel like in my youth I was way too self-consumed.
I think I geek out about really old structures. I'm obsessed. If anyone invites me to something, I'm like, "Where is it?" and they're like, "In this old church," I'm going. I'm there. I don't care what it's about. If it's a funeral, I'll go. I want to see that building.
OK, so you're really into history – if you had a choice between living now or in the Austen era, which would you choose?
Well, I think the girls had it pretty rough back then. There was no Advil to take after you took your corset off, so I think the modern necessities of just the ibuprofen and all of that stuff, I would have to go with nowadays. But if I could take a few luxuries from now and bring it back to then, I would definitely go back. But if I couldn't have them… I don't know. Could they really get a good cup of coffee back then?
I don't think so. They didn't even discover chocolate for a long time.
Yeah. I just think that there are certain luxuries now. Like I just said, I'm obsessed with coffee and all of this stuff. I don't know if I could. I know there was probably decent coffee back then, but I'm just saying. The other thing is – and this is my biggest fear – if I lived in one of those estates, and my husband didn't like me or something, you're like, you're sort of stuck out in the middle of nowhere. You know, back then. If you're in a relationship that goes sour when you're way out there, that, to me, would be very lonely.
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A ruined woman.
Yeah, yeah. So I guess yeah, nowadays is probably better for me.
Stephenie Meyer of "Twilight" fame served as a producer on this movie. Did you have any interactions with her?
Yes. Yeah, you know the thing is, Stephenie, you would never know that she was so successful. She's done incredibly well, but you would never know that. But the thing is, it was so funny, she was in the restaurant at our hotel, and my friend was with me, he is a director, and we walked by Stephanie and her producing partner, Megan, and I said, "Oh hey, Stephanie and Megan, this is my friend," and she shook our hands, and we walk away, and he goes, "That woman looks so familiar," and I said, "That's Stephenie Meyer." And he goes, "From the 'Twilight' movies?" and I go, "Yes," and he goes, "That's so bizarre." And I ask him, "What?" and he goes, "She looks like a little kid! She doesn't look like…" And it's weird, like, she's kind of like a vampire in the way that she's not aging. She's figured something out, I'm telling you. There's not a line on her face, it's bizarre. I know she's not very old. I know she's only in her thirties, but she looks really young.
There's a painting somewhere that's really taking a beating? A portrait of Stephanie Meyer.
Yes. Yes, exactly. A portrait of Stephenie Meyer. But I like her! I like Stephenie Meyer. Jerusha [Hess] wanted to get this movie made, and Stephenie Meyer stepped in and gave her the money. It's pretty cool.
I'm talking to her soon [Ed: Stay tuned for our interview with Meyer], is there anything you think I should ask her?
Well, I think you should say, "Jennifer Coolidge says she knows she didn't imagine it because a friend of hers said the same thing." Say, "Jennifer Coolidge wants to know what you're doing to not age." 'Cause I feel like she's not gonna give me any of her beauty secrets, but maybe, I don't know, if you really charm her. I wanna know what she's doing. She's gotta be doing something. I'm fascinated by why she's not aging.
She seems very low-maintenance. To me, if I was doing as well as Stephenie Meyer, I feel like it's a complete invitation to be as high-maintenance as you possibly could be if you felt like it. You could be just anything. You could have someone trimming your split ends every night in your bed, and you'd be getting a foot massage at every moment of the day. I don't know, I think of all the luxuries.
That's what's gonna happen when you body snatch Stephenie Meyer?
Yeah, I mean, I'm just imagining, 'cause I don't see how I could ever get in her situation, but that kind of success is so much higher than usual. But yeah, I would be like, I don't know. I hope I wouldn't be a complete jerk, but oh, it would be so tempting. Like that estate we use for the movie, you could just rent that out and have like a four-week party in it. Things like that.
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How do you think Stifler's mom would do in Regency era Austenland?
I think she would do well. Really well, yeah.
Suitors around the block?
I think she would do well because English guys like it when you're a little bit mysterious, and Stifler's mom is mysterious, and English guys like that. Elizabeth Charming, the character I play, is sort of desperate, desperate to have a man. But Stifler's mom is way cooler. Definitely more self-possessed. So that would go over big, I think, with the English guys.
When people see you on the street, what do they say to you?
Um, they say either "Stifler's mom" or they yell, "Do the bend-and-snap!" They always yell that.
Do you oblige?
I don't really mind, because there are many perks to that. Because I did a movie with the "bend-and-snap" or whatever, sometimes when they say there isn't a seat on the plane, all of a sudden there's an open seat, thanks to that flight attendant who is obsessed with that movie, "Legally Blonde". So I've really done well. And then "Stifler's mom," some restaurants, you know, they can't take you, and then you show up, and they're like, "Oh, we can take you." I went to buy tickets to a concert, and they told me all the good seats were gone, and then he was a fan of "American Pie" and I ended up with these amazing seats. So there are some benefits to this job.
Do you bend and snap for them when they ask?
Those seats were so good, I would've bend-and-snapped all night.
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How many times approximately do you think you've bent and snapped in your life?
I think enough to keep me and my chiropractor in business 'till I die. It's hard to do in heels. You really do mess up your back if you do it a lot.
And, lastly: Using the formula of your first pet and the street you grew up on, what is your porn name?
Tiny Tim Meadowbrook.