by Dennis Hensley
Even though she's been in over a dozen movies and done the attendant publicity, Rachael
Leigh Cook has never posed for a magazine spread with her hands over her breasts. "Everyone has done that but
me," she says with a shrug. "Sorry."
"Are you ever going to do
that?" I ask.
"No," she says casually.
Could I have just stumbled upon
secret of Cook's specialness? That elusive inner something that
kept us sticking around to see how the prom turned out in She's All That even
though we've been to that dance a zillion times before? That rare combination of knowingness
and innocence that has everyone from Sylvester Stallone to Jane Austen wanting in on the
action? I mean, what if she were to do the
hand over breast pose, would it all go away? Would she become just like all the
other three-named starlets, cock-teasing us into the new millennium? I can't let that happen.
"Promise me you won't do
it," I implore. "Even if they ask you to."
"I promise," she says
raising up her delicate hand as if to swear. "My rule for movies and
pictures is, if I can't sit at the premiere with my father next to me, I won't do
it." That's our girl! "I mean, the
Bikini cover I did recently, it's not gonna be the family Christmas card but I'm okay with
it and I think he will be too. I'm just waiting for somebody to
take my head and put it on somebody else's body. I have no problem with that because,
most likely, they're going to help me out a little bit."
All this is not to say that we
wouldn't want to see Rachael Leigh Cook doff her kit and turn up in Basic Instinct 2:
Has Anybody Seen My Panties. I'm sure it would be quite pleasant. It's just we like her the way she
is. Right now. We like the way she mows down a
lunchtime breakfast here at Jerry's, the San Fernando Valley deli where the Seinfeld cast
used to nosh after work. We like the way her silky hair falls
around her face and her brown eyes light up when she talks about her pubbing adventures in
London. We even like her blue polyester slacks, the ones she bought used from the men's
section of a thrift store and had altered to fit. "I'm sure they picked up a lot
of chicks in their past life," she quips.
Cook's off-hand way with a funny
line was well showcased in She's All That.
In fact, it was that
droll deadpan quality that made us buy her as the bushy-browed, glasses-wearing misfit,
Laney Boogs, even though we could tell from the get-go that she was just one makeover
montage away from babedom. Pretty as she is, the movie worked
because Cook had the inner-geek thing happening in spades. When Big Man On Campus Freddie
Prinze, Jr., who had previously bet his buddies he could turn her into the prom queen,
falls for Laney, we fall right along with him. She's All That may have
been short on originality but it was long on charm.
Were you surprised that She's
All That was a big hit?
Totally. But when I started thinking about
it, it made sense. I mean, I love those feel-good
movies from the 80s. You don't want to know how many
times I've seen The Breakfast Club.
Who did you relate to?
All of them. Like when I go down the red carpet
and people make you feel like you're important, I'm Molly Ringwald. Then when I fall down in front of
some cute guy, I'm Anthony Michael Hall.
And when you shake the lice out of
your hair and onto a piece of notebook paper...
I'm Ally Sheedy. (Laughs) I'm telling you, I can't
buy the video because then it will be too easily accessible to me. I have to have the barrier of having
to get in my car to go to the video store to keep me from watching it at all hours of the
She's All That climaxed
with a prom. Did you go to yours?
No. No one asked me and I was working. It was weird because I think only
one of us in the movie had ever been to a prom. I remember it was about eight o'
clock in the morning and we were all riding in the elevator up to the set and Paul Walker
said, "This is weird, I'm nervous." I said, "I know what you
mean." It was like we were really going to
Do you ever feel like you missed out
on the typical teenage experiences?
Sometimes. When I was 15 and shooting Tom
and Huck, my mom and I had just gone to a movie and there were all these teenagers
out in the parking lot throwing ice at each other and laughing and I hadn't been around
anything like that in over a year. While I didn't want ice thrown at
me, I felt so much like I was supposed to want that.
It was a little
Rachael Leigh Cook was born and
raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, home of both Prince ("I think we're the same
size") and professional wrestler-turned politician Jesse Ventura ("My governor
could kick your governor's ass") not to mention the setting The Mary Tyler Moore
Show ("There's always some yahoo tourist throwing their hat in the air by the
building they used."). Her father is a social worker who
counsels at-risk or abused kids. Her mother works free-lance for a
Think Tank-type company. Cook has one younger brother, after
whom she named her production company: Ben's Sister Productions.
The spotlight first beckoned to Cook
at age nine, when she would gaze at the department store ads in the Sunday newspaper and
wish that she was in on the fun. Before long, she was, modeling in a
slew of print campaigns. It was during this time, while
posing with a cocker spaniel for the Milk Bone dog biscuit box for mid-sized dogs, that
Cook got her first taste of difficult co-stars. "The dog kept drooling and
squirming," she recalls. "It was so bad that they had to
shoot him separately because it looked like I was trying to strangle him." At 14, Cook played the lead in a
short film in Minneapolis, which got her the attention of a Hollywood manager. At 15, she moved to Hollywood,
leaving her family and friends back in Minnesota. "When I first moved out here I
had a roommate," Cook says. "She was older, so I think my
parents found some kind of solace in that but she was crazier than I was! I'm pretty conservative."
Soon she started landing features
like The Babysitter's Club and Tom and Huck in which
she played love interest to teen heartthrob Jonathan Taylor-Thomas. "That part got me a lot of hate
male," she says. "Girls would write, 'I can't
believe you kissed Jonathan Taylor-Thomas. I hate you. I hope you die'."
Through much of her early films,
Cook had to contend with being compared to other actresses. She's been called the young Winona
Ryder, been mistaken for Natalie Portman on the street and played younger versions of both
Holly Hunter (Living Out Loud) and Parker Posey (The House of Yes). But thanks to the success of She's
All That, Hollywood's dealing with Cook on her own terms. And she's got the offers to prove
it. "People equate someone making
money with like, 'Oh, she's good,'" figures Cook, who will soon be seen in a trio of
new films. "Hey, I'll take what I can
Tell me about the movie you just
finished shooting in England called Blow Dry.
It's from the writer of The Full
Monty and it's about the world of competition hair dressing and it's really funny. I play an aspiring colorist, and I
become the unwitting hair model of my father who has a hair studio in London. He's a "win at all costs"
type of person and we're kind of the bad guys. He gets me cheating in the
How can you cheat in a hair
Like we switch all the combs
backstage so as soon as everyone turns on their hair dryers all the combs melt except for
Do you have insane hairdos?
Yeah, and they're all wigs, because
my hair wouldn't do that stuff. At one point, there's like there's a
chandelier in my hair with all these jewels and pieces. Usually, on a film, you'll be in the
hair trailer and the A.D. will be like, "We need Rachael on set. This is not a movie about her hair,
get her out here!" but this time it was about hair.
Do you play English or American?
I was English until the last minute. I got a call from the director and I
said, "Yeah, I start voice coaching tomorrow. It should be fun," and he said
"Oh, there's one other thing...you're American.
Talk to you tomorrow,
Were you relieved?
No, I wanted to do it because I
wanted to DO something. I just kind of hang out now, but
it's a fun movie and a sweet part.
Josh Hartnett plays your love
Yeah. It's kind of a Romeo and Juliet
thing because our fathers are arch-rivals.
What's the most fun you had in
I can go out to clubs there. Here, I'm not old enough. Josh was
in the flat above mine, so after work we'd be like, "Wanna get some pizza?" We'd just hang out. It's so funny because Josh and I
went to the same high school, South High in North Minneapolis. We knew some of the same people, but
we didn't know each other. I met him in LA a couple years ago.
Do you have a fake I.D.?
I used to. I got busted with it once at a club
and I didn't really break it out after that. I really wanted to go in and the
bouncer takes my I.D., looks at it for a minute, and then, in front of this whole big line
of people goes, "This one is pretty good," and then starting laughing.
You're starting another movie soon, Get
Carter with Sylvester Stallone. What's it about?
It's about this guy whose brother
dies, semi-mysteriously, and he senses something's up and starts to look into it. I play a troubled teen, and you find
out that I'm really Stallone's daughter.
Is there a lot of action in it?
Some. Mostly it's just, you know, people
beating up other people with a cool line at the end.
Have you met Stallone?
No. I've just heard stories.
What kind of stories?
The ones I'm probably not supposed
to tell you! (Laughs)
Then there's the western Texas
Right. There's kind of a love triangle
thing going on between me, James Vanderbeek and Ashton Kusher.
Texas Rangers is another
Mirimax movie of which you've done several. Is working for the Weinstein
Brothers little like working for family?
Is it like, "(Twists her arm
around her back) So how do you like the script?" No, it's not. The truth is, I didn't
think I wanted to do Blow Dry. I was like, 'Would you go to see a
movie about hair dressers?'
Of course! You're asking the wrong guy.
(Laughs) But I started thinking,
"This is funny and when was the last time Harvey Weinstein was wrong?" So I'll start arguing with him when
he messes up and I don't think he's going to. I trust him. Plus, they got me the main role in Northanger
Abbey, a Jane Austen movie which we're hopefully shooting this year. I'm extremely happy about that so
I'll pretty much do whatever they say.
At the moment, Rachael Leigh Cook is
single, having broken up with actor Shane West (from the new TV series Once and Again)
a few months ago. She admits successfully juggling a
romantic life with a career is something she hasn't quite figured out yet. "People
are like, 'Well, stop dating actors,'" says Cook whose previous beau was also a TV
actor, Ryder Strong from the sitcom Boy Meets World. "But most people don't
understand like, 'Honey, this is really good, and I really love you, but I have to leave
for four months, but I'll be back, I promise! Come visit me!' But Shane is a really good
If you like someone are you good at
flirting with them?
It depends how much I like them. If I kind of like them, no problem. But if I'm like, "This person
is really cool," then I'm not very good.
What's the most you've embarrassed
yourself in front of a guy?
Well I wasn't trying to pick him up
I was at the yogurt shop and my friend starts talking to Jeff Goldblum, and he asked how
old I was, and I said, "18 1/2!" Jeff just looked at me like I was
smoking so much crack.
What's been your wackiest star
When I was shooting this movie Strike
in Toronto, we were having like a girl's night slumber party in one of the rooms and I had
to go down to my room to get something. It was really late, and I was just
in my pajamas, but I thought, "It's just three floors, who could possibly be in the
elevator at this hour?" I get in and it's like, "Oh no! That's Marilyn Manson right there,
isn't it?" And I'm in my boxer shorts.
Who's been your most surprising
Well, Jeff, my manager -- who also
seems to think that he's my pimp -- corners Luke Wilson on a plane and he was like,
"Oh, I'm just meeting my client Rachael Cook" and Luke's like, "Oh yeah, I
saw that She's All Right movie," and I'm just thinking, "What's this
respected 28-year-old actor doing watching She's All That?""" Not to bash it, it's just not his
Do you ever meet Luke?
We ended up meeting for drinks and
the subject of someone's age came up and I was like "Uh-oh, it's coming," and
he's like, "So how old are you?" I told him I was 20, and he goes, "I've
got almost a decade on ya." And I'm thinking, "Well, there
What is the lamest audition you ever
The one that stands out was at CBS. I was meeting this guy and I come in
and trip over something, myself, and spill coffee all over the rug, all over the floor, on
the wall, everywhere. And the worst part is that it wasn't
even this guy's office. He was borrowing it because they
were painting his. So I go back the next week -- I had
another meeting with another guy -- and this new guy goes, "Just come in my
office" and it's the stain office! And we're having a good time, just
talking, and he's got these little antique figurines on his desk and I picked one up and I
accidentally snapped its arm off! And I'm like "Oh my God, I'm so
sorry, I'm so sorry," and he goes "Don't worry about it. Last week some girl was in here and
spilled coffee all over the place!" I was so mortified. You don't even know.
Did you act like it wasn't you?
Yeah. I was like, "That bitch! Some people!" (Laughs)
Have you ever thrown a star tantrum?
No. I get most fed up when people do
things for me. I'm notorious on set for having the
drivers take off their seat belts and have the door half open while the cars still running
so they can be on the other side so I don't open my door. I don't like people going out of
their way to do stuff for me. Some people think that just cause
I'm a little white girl from Minnesota who looks 15, that I can't handle myself. But I
The next time I see Rachael Leigh
Cook is a few days later at the Hollywood Reporter Young Star Awards, where she picks up
the trophy for Best Young Actress in a Film Comedy for She's All That. In true inner-geek fashion, she's
turned up not with a brooding actor, but with a charming middle-aged chap with an
ear-to-ear grin: her father. "It makes me laugh how much fun
this is for him," she says, of the man who saw She's All That four times. "There's a ton of other people
who would rather be somewhere else right now and my dad's just having the best time." Cook's looking particularly glam
tonight, sporting a sleek black pantsuit she picked up in London with impeccable hair and
makeup, but she can't really take credit for it. She came directly from a cover shoot
for the American magazine Details. "They wanted me to do the
hands-over-the-breasts shot," she informs me. "They gave me these gloves and
everything." Oh my God, she didn't. She couldn't have."But I said,
'I promised someone two days ago that I wouldn't do that.' So I didn't." That's our girl. All That and true to her