8 forgotten performances that prove Jennifer Coolidge is a bona fide icon

A graphic montage of actor Jennifer Coolidge's best screen performances - all layed out as if on a piece of celluloid film.

After picking up a Golden Globe, Emmy Award and Critics Choice Award for her iconic portrayal of Tanya in The White Lotus, Jennifer Coolidge is truly the woman of the moment.

As those who have been paying attention know though, Coolidge’s brilliance didn’t start and end with The White Lotus. The 61-year-old has been a star of TV and film for almost 30 years, carving a space for herself in Hollywood’s crowded casting rooms as one of the industry’s campest, kookiest comedians.

From ridiculous teenage romances to mainstream sitcoms, here’s a look at some of Coolidge’s most cherished performances. 

Fiona Montgomery in A Cinderella Story

Nothing sums up the mid-2000s like a retelling of Cinderella starring Hilary Duff, but it’s Jennifer Coolidge’s role as wicked stepmother Fiona that steals the show.

A classic 2004 rom-com, A Cinderella Story follows Duff’s character Sam as she is forced to work in her deceased father’s diner to save money to study at Princeton while forming an online friendship with a secret fellow student who shares the same dream. Fiona is there to give Sam hell every step of the way.

Coolidge’s character is a trope she has perfected – she’s vain and somewhat empty-headed, but her one-line zingers add a new, loveable dimension. She’s cruel, but only ever in a way that makes us want to see more. As Fiona Montogmery herself says: “I am a very appealing person!”

Her best line? Speaking to Sam, she says: “Now that you’re old enough, there’s something that I’ve always wanted to tell you and I think you’re ready to hear it. You’re not very pretty, and you’re not very bright. I’m so glad we had that talk.”

Paulette Bonafonté in Legally Blonde

Montage of Jennifer Coolidge in Legally Blonde
“You look like the fourth of July!” Coolidge smashes it in Legally Blonde. (20th Century Fox)

Jennifer Coolidge’s magnum opus, her portrayal of Paulette in 2001’s Legally Blonde, truly catapulted her into mainstream pop culture stardom. Up until her White Lotus “these gays…” line, if you had heard any Coolidge quip, it would have been from her role as Elle Woods’ (Reece Witherspoon) manicurist.

There are simply too many iconic one-liners to choose from, but “You look like the fourth of July… it makes me want a hotdog real bad”, is the obvious standout.

It’s the definitive role that moulded many of Coolidge’s future characters, and likely secured the longevity of her career to date. In a recent interview with superfan Ariana Grande, Coolidge herself referred to the role as a “gift from God”.

And speaking of Ariana Grande, let’s not forget Coolidge’s revival of Paulette in the singer’s 2018 music video for “Thank U Next” – which Coolidge believes was behind the recent revival of her career.

Elizabeth Charming in Austenland

Austenland was largely panned by critics, but Jennifer Coolidge still managed to deliver a masterclass in comic timing in this 2013 rom-com – so much so, that some reviewers felt she outshined the rest of the cast. A true testament to her acting prowess.

The film follows Coolidge alongside main character Jane Hayes (Keri Russell), as they visit the UK for a trip to a (fictional) Jane Austen-themed resort. They live as women from the regency era as Jane attempts to find her own Mr Darcy, which is all well and good, but it’s Coolidge mimicking the British accent and phrases that make Austenland worth a watch.

“A top of the evening,” she says with a twirl, and once again we are besotted. 

Sophie Kaczyński in 2 Broke Girls

Despite running for six seasons on CBS, 2 Broke Girls is unlikely to be remembered as one of the best sitcoms of the 2000s. The casting, however, was pretty stellar.

Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs play Max and Caroline, two penniless waitresses in New York attempting to save up to start a cupcake business. Jennifer Coolidge plays Sophie, the Polish owner of the absurdly titled cleaning company ‘Sophie’s Choice’, who receives a cheer and a round of applause each time she enters a scene – which is entirely deserved, tbh.

It’s another slightly ditzy character for Coolidge, but one she owns completely with endless tales about her sex life and time spent growing up in Poland.

Plus, hearing Coolidge’s trademark nasal tone with a Polish twinge is pure brilliance in its own right.

Sherri Ann Cabot in Best in Show

Before Paulette, before Fiona, before Tanya, there was Sherri Ann Cabot. In Christopher Guest’s 2000 mockumentary, centred around five dog owners who compete against one another in the Mayflower Dog Show, Coolidge takes on the hybrid role of trophy wife and lesbian Sherri Ann.

Coolidge’s performance as Sherri Ann is famed and adored for several reasons. It’s one of the more aesthetically discernable roles of her career; the pink puffa/white fur hood combo, plus the fur-lined purple jacket look, are both cemented in popular culture in their own right. Ariana Grande has even donned both looks on Instagram, once again paying homage to her hero. 

Then, of course, there’s the one-liners – most of which were improvised. A personal favourite is as she’s talking about her near-death sugar daddy: “We both have so much in common… we both love soup.”

As one fan said: “You have to be very perceptive to play someone so vacuous.”

Tanya McQuoid in The White Lotus

Montage of Jennifer Coolidge in The White Lotus
“Do you know these gays?!” Coolidge’s already legendary role in The White Lotus has given her a whole new fanbase. (HBO)

It’s the role that’s led to all of the recent awards, and with good reason. Of course, there is the iconic line – “Please, these gays! They’re trying to murder me!” – but Coolidge’s portrayal of Tanya McQuoid is as rich in tragic complexity as it is humour.

Across both seasons of the resort-based black comedy, Coolidge plays a rich heiress dealing with deep loneliness after the death of her mother and a phoney marriage to new husband Greg (Jon Gries). Vulnerability tinged with humour is a winning combination, and we’re left with one of Coolidge’s best-ever performances. 

Considering Coolidge is arguably (definitely) the best thing about The White Lotus, it remains to be seen how Mike White will proceed with the third season given Tanya’s untimely demise.

Jeanine Stifler (Stifler’s mom) in American Pie

Coolidge’s role in 1999’s American Pie was short but very sweet, considering the teen sex comedy is now considered one of the defining films of the millennial age.

American Pie largely focuses on four teens as they attempt to lose their virginities before senior prom, like their friend Stifler. Despite very much being a side character, Coolidge’s role as Stifler’s cougar mum is one of the more memorable from the franchise.

It’s the role the star credits with allowing her to break into Hollywood, but it also gave her much more than that: Coolidge has previously explained that the role opened her up to a world of “handsome, younger” men – aka, being Stifler’s mom upped her stardom, and her body count.

Aunt Sandy in Single All the Way

In this 2021 queer Christmas rom-com starring Michael Urie and Philemon Chambers, Jennifer Coolidge plays Aunt Sandy, an essential screen incarnation of Coolidge herself. 

As per usual, Coolidge’s lines are the film’s most memorable, particularly: “The gays just know how to do stuff. For some reason, they’re all obsessed with me.”

If it appears that film writers and directors are appealing to Coolidge’s LGBTQ+ audience at this point, they are. The part of Aunt Sandy was written with Coolidge and only Coolidge in mind.

Bonus: White-Faced Woman #1 in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Popping this one in simply as I was shaken to the core to discover that Jennifer Coolidge played one of Count Olaf’s villainous acting troupe. It’s also possibly the only time I’ve seen Coolidge rock darker hair for a role. Versatility!

So, Jennifer Coolidge is raking in the awards for The White Lotus and finally getting her flowers for being the bona fide screen legend she is. Now, there’s only one thing left to do: get the star her dream role, which is to play a dolphin, apparently.

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