Different times. Rachael Leigh Cook feels “pretty good” about She’s All That since she stepped into Laney Boggs’ shoes in 1999, but she does admit that she recently had to distract her daughter, Charlotte, from hearing some of the banter that was used in the romantic comedy.
“The only thing that’s funny about that movie — ’cause I let my daughter, who is very recently 9, see it — I was like, I don’t think there’s anything too inappropriate in there, but some of the language that they use to talk about women,” she exclusively told Us Weekly while promoting her new film, Spirit Halloween. “I realize that it’s about Freddie [Prinze Jr.’s] character sort of going on a journey of opening his mind. And people were different than these popular crowd kids, but it is really pretty disparaging and disrespectful. Like, there’s body-shaming and other things that I’m like, ‘La la la Charlotte, I don’t want you even hearing this.’ I’m not embarrassed to be associated with the movie. And it was another time. But it’s not great at points. There’s stuff in there that’s like, it’s a little tough to defend in today’s day.” (She and ex Daniel Gillies are also parents of son Theo, 7.)
Cook, 43, played artsy loner Laney opposite Prinze Jr.’s Zack Siler, alongside Matthew Lillard, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Kieran Culkin, Anna Paquin, Elden Henson, Gabrielle Union, the late Paul Walker and more.
Zack makes a bet to turn Laney into the school’s prom queen. In Laney’s famous transformation scene, she instantly turned heads when she simply got a fresh haircut, trimmed her eyebrows and took off her glasses. (Cut Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me.”)
Some critics have teased that Laney’s change in appearance was simply a quick fix. “I don’t know what they could have done except for slapping a full tilt [brow] like Bert and Ernie, which they basically did. They would like glue little individual hairs in there. I’d forget to take them off sometimes and that’s embarrassing,” Cook recalled to Us. “But really it was not just supposed to be about the physical transformation. It was really supposed to resemble a lot of [Shakespeare’s] Taming of the Shrew and really it’s about her attitude that changes because she’s just as big of a snob as he is. In the beginning really she makes all these generalizations about him. And if you think about the movie that way, it’s about two people changing their minds, not just sort of one.”
The Josie and the Pussycats actress has been an advocate for rom-coms for years. Last year, she led Netflix’s Love, Guaranteed and will next star in and produce A Tourist’s Guide to Love.
“I believe in magic. I don’t know another way of putting it,” she gushed. “I don’t think there’s anything closer to real life magic in this life, in this universe, than love. There’s just, there just ain’t nothing like it. So when you can put that into a movie and take people on that journey with you, that’s everything to me. I drink that Kool-Aid all day.”
Cook made her first onscreen debut as Mary Anne in 1995’s The Baby-Sitters Club and has also worked in TV with Perception, Psych and appearances in Dawson’s Creek, Titan Maximum and Las Vegas. But it was She’s All That that really launched her career and made her a household name.
“When it happens to you, that kind of moment, it doesn’t sink in for quite a while. I mean, probably five, seven years later I was like, ‘Oh, that was a moment that I maybe should have tried to do a little bit more with,’ fair to say,” Cook explained to Us. “And then by the time that sort of sinks in, you’re already scrambling to try to make the best of what’s going on with you. Now you have the actor syndrome of feeling like you’re never gonna work again. So many other things happen by the time that, if you’re me anyway, it dawns on you. I don’t really relate to people who have a movie come out and they’re like, ‘I’ve arrived!’ It’s just not how I ever felt. And by the time I sort of felt like, oh snap things are kind of happening, it was more of a, ‘Oh shoot, things were happening and I immediately felt like I was in catch up mode. Do better mode. You’re not good enough mode.’”
She added, laughing: “I’m just gonna keep working on that with my therapist so it’s fine.”
For Cook, Hollywood is a “winding road” and she’s just “so grateful to still be around.”
“I know that sounds kind of basic and like I have a very low bar for myself. But it’s also been incredibly gratifying moving into producing and the people who were giving me jobs when I started out are the age that I am now,” she noted. “So to be contemporaries with the people who are calling the shots for the most part is pretty neat because you get to see behind the curtain too and be part of big decisions. It’s really awesome.”
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As for what advice she’d give her younger self looking back? “I would say mentally, emotionally, budget for failure. Really make a promise to yourself that you are going to face-plant probably 40 percent of the time. Well, maybe not completely face plant, but you have to just sort of build that into your understanding of the exercise and your commitment to everything,” she said. “And that applies to so much of life, if you remember that failure is part of it from the get-go it makes everything else a lot easier.”