Jennifer Coolidge takes Hollywood: Ariana Grande interviews her 'queen' for EW's 2022 Entertainers of the Year
Jennifer Coolidge is plotting her next move.
"I just wanna do one where I do a back handspring off the ladder," the recent Emmy winner jokes after finishing a take on the set of Entertainment Weekly's Entertainers of the Year cover shoot last month in West Hollywood. The actress is looking all kinds of fabulous in a shimmering gold dress and stilettos, ascending a pink ladder to leave her mark on a replica of the famed Hollywood sign. You'd have no idea she's actually facing one of her biggest fears, given that she injured herself climbing a wall to "break in" to her own house after locking herself out years ago. "I don't take big risks like jumping into the darkness or anything like that anymore," she explains once back on the ground.
Heights may not be her thing, but when it comes to her comedy, Coolidge has always appeared fearless. Since her big break as one of Jerry's flings on Seinfeld in 1993, she's delivered one scene-stealing performance after another, with unforgettable appearances in the American Pie and Legally Blonde franchises and Christopher Guest's hilarious satires. Even still, the 2 Broke Girls alum admits that things feel different after the career-defining year she's had reprising her role as aloof millionaire Tanya McQuaid on The White Lotus (which concluded season 2 on Sunday) and devouring the scenery as menacing real estate agent Karen on Ryan Murphy's The Watcher.
"People that I've admired for many, many years — for many decades — have DMed me… people that I just worship," says Coolidge, who also had us cracking up in those UberEats Super Bowl commercials and that Old Navy holiday campaign. "I'm like, 'Oh my God, how could this person possibly know who I am?' So that's kind of cool! And then, creative projects that are all of a sudden showing up — some really fun jobs that are coming in, that's about as good as it gets."
Or so she thought, because it only got better when Ariana Grande — a self-proclaimed superfan who imitated Coolidge on Jimmy Fallon in 2018 and cast her in the "Thank u, next" video the following year — enthusiastically accepted Coolidge's invitation to interview her for this cover story.
Joining Zoom from the U.K. where she's filming the Wicked movies (and fittingly with the screen name "Galinda," with a "guh"), Grande fangirls with her "queen" the same day HBO announced The White Lotus' season 3 renewal. Over the course of an hour, the two are at once admirers and close friends, spending their Friday raving about each other's work, reminiscing about inside jokes, and planning vacations together. Coolidge's new puppy even crashes the party at one point. "It is an absolute gift," Grande says of having Coolidge in her life — and we couldn't agree more.
Read on for highlights from Coolidge and Grande's conversation, and scroll to the bottom of this story to see our nine other 2022 Entertainer of the Year honorees (and the celeb fans we got to tribute them).
ARIANA GRANDE: Hello, my stunning and beautiful queen. How are you?
JENNIFER COOLIDGE: Hi. By the way, your imitations are so brilliant.
ARIANA: Oh God, what?
JENNIFER: I get so many people just texting me about your acting skills. You do these great facial expressions and you're very, very subtle, and you're funny.
ARIANA: Not even close. What are you even saying? Coming from you, the queen of all things funny and brilliant, that means a lot. I'm just happy to have your stamp of approval. I just adore you. I was so excited to send you the Halloween skits via text. I was happy that you liked them.
JENNIFER: Brilliant, brilliant. I mean, in some weird way, you're more mature and more advanced than I am, even though I'm the older one.
ARIANA: I don't think that is true.
JENNIFER: It is true.
ARIANA: Anyway, this is about you, my brilliant, brilliant queen. First of all, I want to congratulate you on Entertainment Weekly's Entertainer of the Year. This is so exciting, and beyond deserved. You've been my Entertainer of the Year since 1999, every year. How does it feel?
JENNIFER: I feel like the voting was rigged. I feel like, I don't know, someone got sick or something, but I'm thrilled. I mean, this is going to be something… I'll never forget this. I really thought when I got the message that it was some sort of joke. But anyway, I'm embarrassed because I just didn't have high hopes of things like this, you know what I mean? My life had been sort of flatlining for quite a while, so this is above and beyond, and it's a thrill.
ARIANA: Well, you are the most deserving of anyone in the entire world. And I have some questions for you. I guess we'll start with this: You have created some of the most iconic comedic roles over the years. And even if they've been supporting roles, they've stolen entire films with just one line. Do you have a favorite role, or film, or a top three?
JENNIFER: Well, I think my favorite stuff is all of the recent stuff, just because I got to play more complicated people. But, I mean, [the 2000 comedy] Best in Show was a gift, and so much fun to make because [director and star] Christopher Guest lets you come up with everything. He gives you your name and a rough outline of who you are, but you get to come up with your look, you improv all the dialogue. And then Legally Blonde was really a gift from God. And American Pie was just — it helped my dating life in a way that I can't ever explain. If I hadn't had that movie, I don't think… Well, let's just say it would've been a very dull decade.
ARIANA: Well, that beautifully leads me to my next question: You've spoken publicly about the tremendous impact that playing Stifler's mom has had on your life. In particular, how much dick it's gotten you. Do you remember the best dick you got from playing Stifler's mom? Do you keep in touch?
JENNIFER: Well, it was definitely the youngest fellow. He was just very, very charming, and it was very weird because…
ARIANA: By the way, I don't mean to impose. No pressure to share the details.
JENNIFER: No, I'm glad you asked this because you see, I did say that jokingly [in a previous interview] and, God, you really can't make jokes in our town, because I did make the terrible mistake of saying, "Thank God for that movie, I got to sleep with 200 men," or whatever. And look, I would love to say that was true, but I mean, that was sort of an exaggeration — so I'm glad you're asking me.
ARIANA: We can clear the air.
JENNIFER: Yes, clear the air! But it did sort of open up the world to a much broader group of handsome men — and younger men. This one guy was particularly young — legal, of course, it was all very legal — but it was funny because we had to... The one moment was a little bit awkward because he...
ARIANA: You don't have to answer! I just wanted to make you laugh.
JENNIFER: Don't you want to know?
ARIANA: I do. But now I'm conscious of the fact that it's Entertainment Weekly. You don't have to answer.
JENNIFER: No, I won't get into the details. But afterwards, the next morning, I told him I needed to get a blow dry. So he was so young, we called his mother to see where I could get a blow dry. It was so weird that happened on the phone, it was very clear that we were in the bed together.
ARIANA: I'm sure she was very thrilled and starstruck. I would've been thrilled. I would've been like, "Wow. Hello. What an honor to meet you!"
JENNIFER: Well, she gave me a good recommendation at a local mall, so it all worked out.
ARIANA: Oh good. I'm glad. Okay, so back to what you were talking about before: As you were saying, your more recent roles have felt rewarding. Is that because they've allowed us to see you in new ways that we haven't seen you before? And does that feel rewarding, healing in a way?
JENNIFER: Yeah, it has. You get more screen time to play somebody with all sorts of problems and complications. And someone like Tanya on White Lotus, that was a very sort of complicated, messed up person. I'd never been given a part like that, ever. And then creepy Karen in The Watcher. That was someone I had a really good time playing this year. She was sort of the opposite of Tanya, sort of awful. It was just such two great opportunities — actually three, because I got [two seasons of White Lotus]. It sort of completely changed my life.
ARIANA: Speaking of The Watcher, it was just renewed for another season. Do you see a world in which Karen comes back?
JENNIFER: I haven't heard anything from Ryan [Murphy], but I did hear a week ago that Watcher was renewed, and today White Lotus was renewed. I don't know. I hope I'm in both of them, I don't know. I haven't... The telegram has not arrived.
ARIANA: If not, we boycott. I boycott. [Both laugh] I've been watching season 2 every week as it comes out. It's the highlight of my week, being able to watch you. I just adore Tanya, and your work on White Lotus. So… do you kill Greg?
JENNIFER: Wouldn't that be so good if I could just tell you right now? [Laughs] But wait, I do want to say this: I mean, a lot of people say very flattering things to you all the time because you are who you are, and you're the youngest iconic legend I can think of…
ARIANA: Not even close. What are you talking about?
JENNIFER: No, really, you're a superstar, and you know you're a superstar. But I'm curious if you know that when people ask about how my life has changed… Yes, I got to do White Lotus, but I think it really started with you asking me to be in the "Thank u, next" video. I mean, from there I got Promising Young Woman, and this whole thing. You were sort of the instigator. I really believe that. I think if you hadn't put me in "Thank u, next," and done that imitation, I don't think I would be here where I am.
ARIANA: That is absolutely the most untrue thing I've ever heard in my life.
JENNIFER: No, I really think that! And I think it's pretty cool. I was kind of flatlining, and you got things going for me. I just want to thank you. I know you're a very humble person, you wouldn't admit to it, but I'm just going to thank you.
ARIANA: That is a very kind but wildly untrue thing to say. I love you so much. I think the timing was just so beautiful, and you just deserved the entire world. I'm shy, and I just felt so lucky you did that video. Thank you for doing that, by the way. That was one of the most fun days of my entire life.
JENNIFER: Oh my God, that was a great day. We crammed so much in there.
ARIANA: I loved the ad-libbed bit that you were doing about the old man who was doing something under the covers. It was my favorite memory from that whole shoot. I feel like when I watch you in something, I can tell when you've ad-libbed or made something up because they've felt truthful for you in that moment. Do you have a favorite line that you've ad-libbed from anything?
JENNIFER: It's hard to say. I don't know. Sometimes these ad-libs work, sometimes they don't. But I remember being across from [Patrick Cranshaw, who played] my husband in Best in Show, and I was trying to think of something we could do together. And he was showing me that he didn't have any teeth. I had been thinking of all these dirty things we could do because he didn't have teeth, but then, instead, I listed the foods that we could eat together — soups and things that you didn't have to chew. I think, for some reason, people like it better when you don't go for the obvious. I think I'm pretty immature, and I like to sort of do bathroom humor and stuff like that, and sometimes I think people don't appreciate it.
ARIANA: Well, I think everyone really enjoys it. But wait, did you ad-lib the line [from White Lotus] about the nun and the cheese in the basement?
JENNIFER: Yes. But you know what? That was actually a guy at Joan's on Third, that restaurant [in Los Angeles]. There was a guy behind the counter — this was before I went vegan, I was eating cheese — and he let me sample some cheeses. I liked one, and he actually had the balls to say to me, "Well, it's made by a blind nun in a basement in Italy." He really did say that. I mean, those cheese connoisseurs are so full of s---, you know what I mean? It was probably Borden's or something.
ARIANA: [Laughs] Thank you for sharing. I knew that had to be an ad-lib. I said it out loud [when I watched the episode].
JENNIFER: The thing I can say about my improvs is that the best are when I play immature people who have immature taste. Like in White Lotus when I say something about Oreo cookie cake. If you said to me, "Jennifer, you're a rocket scientist. Come up with a bunch of great improvs…" I don't know if I would be able to come up with anything.
ARIANA: Yes, you would. Absolutely. I don't believe that for one second. But out of all of the people that you have worked with over the years, who has made you laugh the hardest?
JENNIFER: I have to say [Christopher Guest's] Corky from Waiting for Guffman. That whole movie just blew me away. There's something about people playing sort of imbeciles but taking themselves very seriously. I'm laughing just thinking of that character.
ARIANA: Who are your comedy heroes? Who's inspired you?
JENNIFER: I've been a fan of Catherine O'Hara's forever. I started watching SNL the day I was born, and I was obsessed with Monty Python. Ab Fab is such a brilliant show... I'm very excited for women right now, because when I was in my 30s and trying to get going and doing these sketch comedy shows and stuff… I did Seinfeld, and then I got this sketch comedy show for women called She TV, and it didn't survive. But it's so weird how, 30 years later, it's a whole new thing where it's actually women who are considered to be funny, and valuable, and they get to be the leads in these big comedies and stuff. And I have to say, I'm so excited for someone your age. The sky's the limit. It wasn't as easy back when I was doing it. I love that Bridesmaids and things like that are being made.
ARIANA: I think you inspired so much of that. What else is on your career bucket list?
JENNIFER: Well, I've done two Broadway shows. One of them [2001's The Women] had a sort of good little run, and then the other one [2010's Elling] didn't really have much of a run at all. But I would like to do a really cool play again. I don't care if it's comedic or not. And I love that White Lotus sort of takes you around the world. I love shooting on the other side of the world. That's kind of amazing to do.
ARIANA: Do you have an ideal location for season 3?
JENNIFER: Oh, I don't know. I would love to do some spooky show in Scotland. Or do a show in Asia. I mean, I'd love to leave town again.
ARIANA: Well, you should. I think you should also build time for a vacation for yourself, being Entertainer of the Year and with all of your work coming up.
JENNIFER: Yeah. Where should I go?
ARIANA: Have you been to Japan? It's the best place in the world. I'm coming with you.
JENNIFER: Really? Well, let's go.
ARIANA: Or Amsterdam.
JENNIFER: I love Amsterdam. But I hear the makeup shopping is so good in Japan.
ARIANA: Everything is so beautiful there, and the shopping is amazing. We should go. We'll have to do a vegan cheese tasting in Japan together.
JENNIFER: I would love that. I don't think our country has really nailed it with vegan cheese, but I'm told there's some around the world that are really good fakes and you can't tell.
ARIANA: There are some great ones in L.A. — at Crossroads and stuff. You should order some today, or I'll send you some today.
JENNIFER: Great. Now let's talk about guys.
ARIANA: Oh God. Let's talk about how much fun we had in New Orleans [ed. note: Where Coolidge has a home].
JENNIFER: I know. I wish you'd come back. Come back sometime. Please come to my Halloween party disguised as Rumpelstiltskin or something and no one will ever know. But no, this is what I want to say: I really like the casualness of "Thank u, next." It's not a heavy-handed song where it's like, "F--- that fella." I heard the story of how you came up with it, and I just love that every time I hear that song, it still has the same sort of casual thing about, "We shouldn't be taking this s--- that seriously." And it's such a good message. You have such a whimsical way of getting a point across and making girls feel better about themselves, and it all being some sort of "Who gives a f---?"
ARIANA: I feel like that is what I get from you as well, the "Who gives a f---"-ness.
JENNIFER: I think this year I really realized I'm living that dream. I'm incredibly grateful for what has happened to me in the last year or two, but I'm trying to channel your "I don't give a f---" thing. And I think it's my favorite feeling I've ever had. I waited my whole life to not give a f---. It's the only time we have power. I mean, I'm not saying I'm not insecure. I'm still insecure about all the basic stuff. I'm still insecure about appearance and all of that. But if someone calls me a D-bag or something… I really don't think anyone can really penetrate me anymore. I don't really care what people think of me.
ARIANA: Do you remember the first moment you realized, "I'm funny"?
JENNIFER: Well, my brother was the funny one in our family, so I guess it was getting out of the family. I was in this show, Grease, during college, doing summerstock. I played Patty Simcox, the cheerleader, and I took this baton and I was doing all sorts of weird s--- with it on stage, and this older summerstock theater guy came up to me, he was like maybe 15 years older than me, and goes, "You know that thing you're doing with the baton, Jennifer?" And I go, "Yeah." And he goes, "That's f---ing funny." And I remember thinking, "I don't ever remember getting a compliment before this moment." So I guess it was Patty Simcox in Grease. I don't know. I was such a weirdo. I was so thrilled to get a compliment.
ARIANA: Well, you just got quite a compliment at the Emmys. Congratulations on your win! What were you thinking when the horrid [play-off] music came in? How dare it.
JENNIFER: Yeah, I know. I didn't really get to say what I wanted to say. People that have really helped you out in your career want to hear their name when you're up there — and I didn't get to [mention] a couple people that really, really busted ass for me. So hopefully I'll get my moment to say something publicly.
ARIANA: You handled it in the most spectacularly amazing way you possibly could have.
JENNIFER: I met the guy at the end of the night who was the one that played the music. He goes, "I was the one that turned up the music to get you off stage." And I was like, "Oh." I was thinking, "I don't know if I would've told me that…"
ARIANA: Yeah, that's such an interesting decision… Is there any advice that you've learned, or words of wisdom over the years that you still adhere to?
JENNIFER: It hasn't been advice. It's experience that has given me something I can pass along. I was really sort of lost in my 30s, and I wished I had stuck to my guns. For instance, I just feel like we always think "authority" has the last word. There were people that told me I didn't have a chance in hell — and we can't listen to all these people. I think girls are getting stronger now, and there's all this sort of girl power cool stuff that's happening. But there's always going to be someone who wants to rain on your parade, and you just can't take it. I do believe that I learned that from experience. Some people say with such authority, "I think you're talented in this area, Jennifer, but you're not very good in this." And nobody really knows, it's all a guessing game. I think, don't listen to anybody, really.
ARIANA: Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to keep going and trust yourself — be sort of discerning about what you intake and not let it impact your performance, or your decisions, or your career, or your life, or your happiness, or health. That's one of the hardest things to balance, especially as a performer who has so much energy coming at them constantly from every angle. So that's valuable to hear. That's a huge thing. I share the concerns. I don't like unkind people either.
JENNIFER: People sort of talk with such a strong point of view sometimes, and you're looking at them going, "Well, you teach acting at college, but you've never been in a movie, or never really had a job, and you have such strong opinions." You know what I mean? Some people that have never worked before are telling you whether you're going to be a winner or not.
ARIANA: Well, I bet they're feeling quite conflicted now, huh?
JENNIFER: I think most of them are dead because—
ARIANA: Oh. [Both laugh] Well, rest in peace.
JENNIFER: Everybody's dead now. [Laughs] I just have to say, you're a fantastic interviewer. It's so weird how you ask me what message I have for young people, and the way you articulated it back to me, I really wish is how I had answered. I mean that — I want to put my name on that last thing you said. That was really good. Can I say that I said all that?
ARIANA: Well, I'm crying. But no, I just said what you said again, back to you.
JENNIFER: I know, but it was so much smarter than what I said.
ARIANA: No it wasn't. It was just faster because I was nervous… Is there anything else we're missing? Is there anything else you've never been asked that you want me to ask you, and I'll pretend that it's my idea?
JENNIFER: No. Well, I know what I want to say is that it's so hard to go through life and have hope when your life has been going a certain way that you don't really approve of. I think of these jobs that you just can't make it through the day and stuff, and I feel like this unexpected moment that happened to me can happen to anybody, where you're going along in the car and you've been going the same speed all these years and then all of a sudden this cool thing happens. I think a lot of people think the possibility of a cool thing happening isn't in the mix anymore. And I think I'm a great example of "What are the odds?" And this can happen to anybody. And I know you don't want to take any responsibility, but I do feel like you had something to do with it — my second run around, my second sort of whatever this is. "Thank u, next" started it. You started it.
ARIANA: Coolidge, you silly queen. I've had enough of this nonsense. I love you so much.
JENNIFER: I love you too. I love you. And thank you for doing this. You're the best.
ARIANA: Congratulations! There's no more deserving person in the entire planet. You've been my Entertainer of the Year since Best in Show came out. And then everything that followed: hit, after hit, after hit, after hit, after hit. It's an honor to know you, to call you my friend, and to watch everything that you do. It is an absolute gift.
JENNIFER: I feel like I just peaked. This is my peaking moment right now. Just happening.
ARIANA: [Laughs] I thought you said "peed."
JENNIFER: No, peaked! I just peaked! Just right now. This is the moment. Thank you for what you just said. This is the moment I will not forget.
Directed by Alison Wild + Kristen Harding; DP: Kayla Hoff; 1st AC: Jacob Laureanti; 2nd AC: Vinnie Bredemus; Gaffer: Sebastien Nuta; Key Grip: Kevin Paniagua; Best Boy: Riley Prichard; Jib Op: Bill Hunt; Senior Video Producer: Ethan Bellows; Color Correction: Carlos Flores; Creative Director: Chuck Kerr; Photographer: Eric Ray Davidson; Photo Assistants: Sam Rivera, Dom Ellis; Digital Tech: Jules Bates; Set Design: Ward Robinson/Wooden Ladder; Styling: Gaëlle Paul/A-Frame; Hair: Marc Mena/Exclusive Artists; Makeup: Elie Maalouf/Rockwell Management; Manicure: Temeka Jackson/A-Frame
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