Natasha Lyonne and Jennifer Coolidge Reunite Two Decades After ‘American Pie’
In addition to having a good gripping series in the current Emmy race – and two of TV’s most memorable speaking voices – Jennifer Coolidge and Natasha Lyonne share a distinction that should delight trivia pundits: they both appeared in the sex comedy for 1999 teens American pie. Lyonne played Jessica, a cunning, scene-stealing high school girl, who at one point performed an orgasm in the halls of East Great Falls High. Coolidge was Stifler’s mother, a fantastic figure for the movie’s virgin high school kids, as well as the reason the term “MILF” entered the mainstream lexicon and never went away.
A cultural phenomenon that inspired a wave of raunchy comedies, American pie was very much a product of its time – more interested in male than female characters – so Coolidge and Lyonne didn’t get the screen time they deserved. But after a series of ups and downs, they’re now doing some of their best work and claiming a power that wasn’t offered 20 years ago. As part of VFIn the ongoing series Reunited, which reunites actors years after they shared the screen, I spoke to Coolidge and Lyonne about their past, present, and future lives.
Both actors spent their twenties in New York, struggling not just with their careers, but with substance issues that landed them in rehab. Both have struggled to step out of the boxes their industry has put them in. But Hollywood, and television in particular, has evolved over the years. Last year, Coolidge starred in HBO’s first season The White Lotus as Tanya, a wealthy, directionless woman who travels to Hawaii to scatter the ashes of her recently deceased mother. Creator Mike White is a friend of Coolidge, and the role he wrote for her allowed her to reveal a more dramatic side that has always been there. Lyonne plays a woman whose mother also haunts her in many ways on Netflix Russian doll, which recently launched its second season. Lyonne co-created, co-wrote, and often directs the show, and it draws from her own experience with addiction. She plays Nadia, a woman who, after pulling herself out of a time loop in the first season, finds herself traveling back in time (via the New York City subway) to right an ancestral wrong.
Lyonne took part in the video call from Los Angeles with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. Coolidge, who is currently filming the second season of The White Lotus, connected from Sicily.
Where were you in your career when you were doing American pie?
JENNIFER COOLIDGE: American pie was a huge break for me. I really didn’t have anything on my track record before anyone knew about it except for an episode of Seinfeld, where I played Jerry’s girlfriend, and two female skits—She TV and Saturday night special with Roseanne – and both failed. So I had doors that I could never open until American pie created. I had a very small role, but I’m sure you feel that, Natasha, the timing was amazing.
NATACHA LYONNE: Yeah. It’s Not Like It’s The First Teen Movie Sensation In History, But It’s The One That Started It [a new trend]. Although I remember my experience, it was like deep cynicism – I think it was because I was a child actor. I can hear my mom at auditions telling me to enunciate, and it’s funny that later in life my mumbling was suddenly a bonus or something. When I got the script for american pie, I remember being very confused and offended because it seemed so Ordinary volume. I had never had a normal high school experience. I had only had this teenage angst in Manhattan, a broken kid showbiz thing. I turned down a bunch of times because I was like, “I don’t know how to do this.” I was really into it. It’s a small part. I was just, like, the sidekick.
COOLID: I love that you turned it down multiple times because that’s when they really want you.
LYON: My weird story with American pie it’s that in the first movie—I don’t know if you know this—but I think I was the highest paid person because I was coming out of Beverly Hills slums. Being a new teen actor was my only naïve moment. And then, in all the consecutive films, I was paid the least and had the smallest role. So they made it very clear to me that that era was over, and I really had to fight to get into it because my career was so non-existent. I have such a weird relationship with this movie. Strange things were happening, like press conferences with Shannon Elizabeth – they were asking me how it felt to be sitting next to the hot girl. And I look back and I’m like, “I wasn’t that bad.” I was 18 and 120 and I was ready to scold. I look back and think, “I wasn’t even that weird. I wasn’t even like a goth chick or anything. And they made me feel like a stranger.