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White Lotus's Jennifer Coolidge Loves Being a Gay Icon

White Lotus's Jennifer Coolidge Loves Being a Gay Icon

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Fresh off her Golden Globe-nominated performance in The White Lotus season 2, Coolidge admits to The Advocate that the gays are not trying to kill her.

Spoilers ahead:

I was trying to figure out a unique way to begin this column, but I don't think anything I could say would match the uniqueness of Jennifer Coolidge. Regardless of the characters she portrays, she brings almost a patented individuality to her roles, melding sexy, disheveled, brassy, quirky, and outrageous. She is at once indescribable and identifiable. She's an oxymoron within a contradiction, enveloped by authenticity.

Outwardly vulnerable and unwittingly invincible. Unwittingly humorous and outwardly serious.

It almost sounds trite, simplistic, and redundant to say that I first became aware of her, like millions of others, as Stifler's mom in the trifecta of American Pie box office smashes. Because, while that moniker will stick with her, she is so much more. Yes, she was indelible as Jeanine Stifler, who comprised all the attributes listed above. Stifler's mom became part of the American lexicon thanks to her MILF status. Stifler's mom really puts Coolidge in the pantheon of iconic movie characters.

Now Tanya McQuoid-Hunt has replaced Stifler's mom as Coolidge's most memorable role -- so far.

Coolidge has starred in a succession of movies and television series over the last 20 years, most notably, perhaps, in the Legally Blonde films and in Christopher Guest's Best in Show (playing a lesbian), A Mighty Wind, Mascots, and For Your Consideration. And last Christmas, she starred in the Michael Urie gay rom-com holiday hit Single All the Way as Aunt Sandy. Salon referred to Coolidge's "boozy and brash" performance as "the most untraditional character in traditional Christmas films."

Her career has exploded in the last few years, and particularly this year. She had a starring role in this summer's Netflix sensation The Watcher and was the only returning cast member to the second iteration of HBO's Emmy-winning TheWhite Lotus. Her Tanya McQuoid-Hunt won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series for the first season, and there's no doubt she will be a repeat winner for her plucky performance this season, which wrapped last night with some shocking turns, especially for Tanya, whose death stunned all of her devoted fans.

For her outstanding work on season 2, Monday, Coolidge received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie. And she was named Entertainment Weekly's Entertainer of the Year.

When I spoke with my all-time favorite actress, (Coolidge is creeping up on that list) Shirley MacLaine, for a column this summer, I had the same nervous anxiety I had before speaking with Coolidge. I am an unabashed fan, so writing anything negative or even remotely disparaging was a nonstarter. There was that, and the expectation of what Coolidge would be like. I knew Shirley MacLaine was a lot like her characters, calibrating each of her iconic performances with just enough Shirley to make them spark. That's what I imagined Coolidge to be: sexy, disheveled, brassy, quirky, humorous, and outrageous.

And what I discovered once I had the chance to speak to Coolidge was someone who was humbled by all her recent success, so grateful that this moment in time is happening to her, and so appreciative of her LGBTQ+ fans.

I asked Coolidge how she is feeling about being the hottest actress in Hollywood, and in my opinion, America's new "It" girl. "Well, maybe it's because I have a good press agent," she said with a laugh. "It feels absolutely wonderful. I've been in Hollywood a long time, and my career has been kept going by a small group of people, so I'm grateful for them for keeping me in the game; however, now, with all this success, I'm really in the game, and it opens so many possibilities for me to get new roles, work with new actors and on new projects. I'm overjoyed."

Was she surprised, and disappointed, that Tanya's death was the climactic moment of the White Lotus season 2 finale? "Sure, I'm disappointed, and I'm more surprised that everyone on the set was able to keep the secret that Tanya dies in the end. I thought for sure, someone would tell their husband or wife, and you know how rumors can spread, but everyone did such a good job of not revealing what happened."

And that grateful and selfless Coolidge showed her true colors by adding, "But you know, what Tanya's death means is that [creator] Mike White can bring in a whole new cast, with whole new storylines, and give new actors an opportunity to shine that people will fall in love with, and I'll go off and do something different. I didn't expect one or two seasons, so this was all a great surprise."

Regarding the season finale, Time summed up Tanya's conundrum and Coolidge's skills:

"Sure, it's ultimately Madama McQuoid who kills the gays, not the other way around. But in true self-sabotaging style -- and taking full advantage of Coolidge's unmatched physical-comedy prowess -- Tanya manages to shoot her way out of the trap, only to end up in a watery grave of her own making."

And her line from the series finale "The gays are trying to kill me" lit up social media Sunday night. I told Coolidge that she wasn't alone, that gay men have been trying to kill me for years, and she roared with laughter. But that line, like a winning jackpot at a slot machine, rang up even more exposure for Coolidge.

I asked Coolidge if she likes gay men a little less today after what the gay villain Quentin did to her. "Oh, no not all," she chuckled. "It's not your typical gay men story, but it was a genius idea. Tanya was just one of those people who is susceptible and got in with the wrong crowd, and they just happened to be gay."

Again, Coolidge deferred to the future: "It gives Mike the chance to open the playing field to develop new gay storylines for season 3."

While Coolidge might be finished with The White Lotus, she is not done with Italy. "Some of my friends want to go to Italy and see some of the places that were in the series," she said. "So that's on my list, to go back to Italy when I'm not on the job and explore on my own terms."

Coolidge has traveled quite a long run during the last few decades in Hollywood, and along the way she has inadvertently become a gay icon.

I asked Coolidge how she felt about that, and I could feel her smile on the other end of the phone. "Oh, that's so sweet. I don't know, I guess I'm modest, but I'll take that for sure. It feels so good to get acknowledgement for my work. Since I was young, I have had many gay friends early in my life, so my love for the community started at a very young age. And I've been in Hollywood a long time, so I've had the opportunity to work with so many queer actors. They give me credit, but I give it right back to them for always being there for me."

For years, Coolidge has worked with many LGBTQ+ and AIDS organizations, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and Aid for AIDS, and she's been outspoken about her support for the LGBTQ+ community. "I'm always happy to help. I think the love is mutual. I was never conscious of being an LGBTQ icon. It was just the people I ended up being attracted to, we have a lot in common and we become best buds, and the movies I've been in helped too. There's nothing more flattering than having the respect of gay men and women, so it's a joy."

Another joy for Coolidge is the many idols she had growing up. When I asked her who hers were, she stopped for a minute, and became quiet. "That's such a really good question. I'm not used to being asked a question like this, so I have to think," Coolidge said with a hint of modesty. "I loved Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore ... oh, Marilyn Monroe. There's so many. There was Monty Python, George Carlin. I need to start a list."

I wondered about Coolidge's future and if she'd be in season 2 of The Watcher, which was just renewed for a second season. "I know Ryan Murphy has another show going on, but I haven't heard from him yet," Coolidge replied. Note to Ryan: Bring Karen Calhoun (Coolidge's character) back!

Finally, now that she has risen to the top, I asked Coolidge if there's anyone in Hollywood she'd like to work with. "That's the funniest thing, these types of questions never occurred to me. I never had these thoughts, and now that I have changed up my situation, I suppose the possibilities are abundant. I should be able to think of 10 names for you, John, but I can't. And I'm not upset about it. I wished for this for a very long time. This was always in the back of my brain, and I had no idea that I'd have this very upbeat moment. I have so much gratitude. I can't even begin to explain that to you."

Maybe what's most unique about Coolidge; her overwhelming sense of gratitude. After speaking with her, I'm even more impressed with her acting chops. The fact that her characters are so indelible, and perhaps far from who she really is, was revelatory. It's her moment to shine. Jennifer Coolidge is no longer Hollywood's hidden treasure.

John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.