A Friend Indeed

[from Hot Press, 4/1/98]

The nineties - defining brunette bombshell, Courteney Cox has shot like a rocket to the top of the Hollywood ladder on the back of Friends' phenomenal popularity, and in common with fellow ensemble wisecrackers Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow and Jennifer Aniston, is sensibly pursuing a movie career as a spin-off.Unlike her co-stars, whose choice in scripts indicates their deep Reluctance to brake out of lightweight comedy mode, Courteney has actually been involved in a truly excellent movie-Wes Craven's masterful 1996 suspense chiller Scream, in which she conjured up a memorable (if sadly short-lived) performance as ruthless, ultra-manipulative superbitch journalist Gail Weathers. By popular demand, Craven and his scriptwriter Kevin Williamson have issued a sequel. Scream 2 re-unites the survivors of the original, with Boogie Nights' Heater Graham and The Nutty Professor's Jada Pinkett joining in the fun. Cox's role is expanded in the film, which otherwise promises more of the same: a clever and consciously clich´-ridden blend of parody and homage, suffused throughout with unsheathed knives, trembling teenagers, piercing screams, copious blood-letting, and enough sly humour to keep you grinning from ear to ear. The original's success (it scooped over $100m at the box office in the US alone) took everyone involved by surprise, but this one is a surefire box-office banker, and a third instalment will probably follow. Whether or not the film career takes off, however, Cox is hardly in dire need of extra exposure or more money, Friends having secured her position as one of the most popular and recognizable TV faces of her generation. Either way, the 33-year-old Alabama native refuses to accept that she's quite reached the peak of her powers: "I feel that, like, here's the prime, the top (waves her hand her head) and I'm right here ," she says sadly, with a lower wave of her hand, before reflecting on the consolations. "But I'm figuring myself out, I think my career is getting much better. I think I will be allowed a lot of opportunities that I haven't in the past .I think I'm ready for them. I probably wasn't before. Exuding self-confidence by the bucketload, Courteney Cox is absolutely nothing like the neurotic Monica Geller persona she essays on "Friends"-and despite her obvious ambitious nature, she bears even less resemblance to her unforgettably hard-headed "Scream" character. "I am pretty tough, but I think I'm a lot nicer that she is. I'm not as ruthless. I'm not manipulative," she testifies, before mischievously adding "I'm just very straightforward." Her steel-blue eyes twinkle. "Seriously I'm not ruthless about my career at all, the way she is," she adds. "I'm tough when I have a job, not before. And I think I'm a little more easygoing than Monica is. I'm probably a little tougher. I'm not neat; I'm pretty organized, but not as compulsive as she is." Cox makes no apologies whatsoever for her business acumen, proudly explaining that "when I made 'Scream', I was the only one in the cast who would't sign a clause in the contract promising to do a sequel for the same price. As a result, when Wes decided to do "Scream 2", my agent was able to get me a nice salary increase." Courteney grins broadly at the recollection of this little coup, virtually licking her lips at the phrase "salary increase". The character of Gail Weathers is a vicious parody of the stereotype "National Enquirer"-type journalism, and Cox freely confesses her loathing for the breed: "I've met those people. I have, actually, met people that come into your life and try to get information in a manipulative way. It's a blast playing her, though. The character was written that way in the very beginning, and as far this movie goes, she's now a producer. She has money, so she's even more bitchy. I just think it's a really fun thing to play. I just love Gail. Love her; she's really funny. I think she's a great character and I wouldn't trade her for the world." Wes Craven says you're a lot like her. "He did?" He said you're tough, and that no woman in this business can afford not to be. Is that sexist statement? "I don't if that's true. I think that there are a lot of woman out there that aren't though, that are really vulnerable and get really affected by this business-but are great actresses because they can show their emotions. That's that." Is ruthlessness an essential part of every actor's make-up? "No. I don't think so. I think a lot of it has to do with luck and timing-and, obviously, talent." When did you decide this was your calling? "I Kind of fell into it. (Pause) I just moved to New York and started doing it. And it worked. When you live in Alabama, it's not something that you think of as an option. There is no other actors in my family. But than when I started doing it, I was like 'Oh, I really like this'. Then when I decided I knew what I was doing was probably after 'Family Ties'. About a year after that, I went 'Okey, I get what I'm doing here'."

What was the most enjoyable thing about making "Scream 2"?
"Well, I love Wes Craven, I think he's one of my favourite people. He's so talented, he's so smart, he gives you so much freedom-yet he reins you in when you go too far. See, I'm very detail-oriented... I'm just very particular. I like to know why I'm doing something. I need to justify my movement: I won't just go 'okay, I'll do it'. I'll say: 'You've got to give me a reason for stepping over this dead body, it might look stupid', or 'You explain to me why the hell you think Gail would actually walk over there and not walk into the house first', whatever it might be. And he will always come up with a reason to justify everything, he's just so smart. And we have a battle over it, y'know? But fun battles. I challenge him and than he challenges me." And he had to pull you back? "No. There is one scene, but this was not going too far as an actress-this way actually physically going too far. I kept saying to him I wanted to go ahead and get to the crime scene-I don't think Gail would stop for anything-and he kept saying 'Courteney, look at your mark', I'd say 'Wes, I've gotta get there', 'No, no, you don't'. He usually likes to make you go further, but I think maybe he was worried or something." The set of the original "Scream" was renowned for it's sociable, easygoing atmosphere, with tales of all-night bar binges after hours. Wes there a conscious effort to try to recreate that atmosphere for the sequel? "I don't think it was conscious. Wes interviews every single person that's gonna be on the movie set, from the assistant wardrobe person up, and he creates such an atmosphere that everyone's really relaxed. There was never any pressure. It was just like going on a big family vacation. We were just all very good friends and we hung out. And not just the cast, I mean the entire crew. It's the nicest crew I've ever worked with." Were you one of the ringleaders? "I was a little bit more of a hang-out person in the first "Scream" because I realized I was the oldest person in the movie. And I was like 'All right. I'm gonna hang out with the rest of them', We were doing a lot of nights than, and we were swimming at five in the morning and being kind of crazy. But on this movie, I was a little more subdued I had my whole family there. So I would fine my self hanging out with them a lot more. But there was always late-night pool playing, in the lobby of the hotel. Even Wes. I'd say 'Wes, you have to go to bed. You've got to be our leader now'. (laughs) I came home and bought a pool table." Did any part of the movie disturb you at all , give you strange dreams or anything? "No. Never . Not at all. (laughs) 'Cause I usually knew who the killer was, and he was my friend, and we'd probably come from lunch. It's really funny-when you're doing it, it doesn't scare you at all. But when you watch it, it does. Isn't that strange? I'd watch it, and if I knew a nasty scene was coming, I'd keep my head long enough to miss it. And then I'd turn back, and then there's something else. I'd be almost screaming 'Wes! Give me a brake!'." Were you not looking around the corners in your house, or double-checking the shower? "In the first one I was a little scared the house we were filming in was really scary. It was on top of a hill, and it looked out over a valley, and all the shoots were at night. So it was a little freaky." Were you a fan of slasher-movies as a teenager ? "I loved to be scared. Halloween is my favourite holiday of the year, I love being scared. I love being chased even by my brother. I just think that stuff is fun." What was the toughest scene in the film? "My toughest scene was the scene with Dewey, when I was picking up the bag of videotapes. That was the toughest, just because I wasn't really ready for Gail to be that vulnerable. Courteney wasn't ready. I was ready to keep going with the other stuff. And to make that shift-that was a battle for me, internally." Did you have any idea the original would as enormously popular as it did? "I had no idea it was even going to be a hit. But I can tell you this: immediately I read the script, I wanted to do it there and then. I hadn't even gotten to my character by the time I thought 'this is a great movie'. I was really excited, sitting there with my mouth open going 'this is just great. It's been so long since there's been a really good, scary movie'. I knew it was going to be good, but big... I don't know box-office stuff. Matthew Perry knows box-office-I don't.

Friends are they...

Before you read the script for the sequel, were you at all Apprehensive about being killed off? "No, they told me." Had you the choice to make the film, or were you signed along with the first one? "Oh, I had the choice. The script was written-I don't know what they were going to do if I didn't go for it. Wes and Kevin basically made me say 'yes' again. I hadn't even seen the script when I was negotiating my deal. I'd just heard a little bit of the story. And Kevin's such a great guy. He's so enthusiastic when he talks about your character, he makes it sound so great that you just believe him." What's the key to a good movie scream? "Don't hold back. Just scream as loud as you can and don't worry about how embarrassed you might feel afterwards at the fact that you're screaming at nothing." What difference has "Scream" made to her careerwise? "I can't tell," she shrugs, "I think because it happened so quickly. I think that if anything, I'll feel it more after this one than the first one, and I could be totally wrong. Like 'Ace Ventura', it happened so fast and people weren't expecting it. This time, people are looking for it." Have you been getting a load of script sent to you lately? "I don't know what you'd call loads. Your agents always give you tons of scripts-they want to make you fell important. But I don't know how much you're actually going to get out of it. There is one thing I really want to do next. If it works out. It's a comedy." If you carved out an A-list movie career for yourself, would you knock the television work on the head? "I would stay with the show for as long as it works. Definitely for two more years. There's no reason not to do that. Because we have time to do other things. Working on "Friends" allows you to have a normal life. It really does. And it's terrific. There's no reason to leave it." How about a "Scream 3", if it materialises? "If Wes and Kevin did it. But also, if Gail has the umph that she's had so far. If there were something to play like that. I wouldn't want to just be chased. If they keep the spice in her, than absolutely." No holidays this year than, I presume. (grinning) "Well, I'd rather be busy than board. I like to keep myself busy 24 hours a day. Maybe it's healthy, maybe not. I can't decide." Although a magazine poll last year revealed Cox/Monica to be the least popular of the "Friends" ensemble-reportedly to her intense annoyance-the show's producers say she's the glue that holds the show together. Is this the case? "Well I'm one of the oldest Friends. Lisa and I are the oldest Friends, so I think that certain things people come to me for, and certain things they don't. It depends on what the topic is. A lot of people call me the mother, and that's not true either. So I don't think I'm the glue. I think what they meant by that is that at the beginning of the show, I'm the reason that everybody knows everybody."

There is no great mystery attached to the success of "Friends": it's extremely easy on the eye, a given episode is guaranteed to spill forth and amount of brilliant one-liners, and they really are quite a likeable lot. Courteney Cox attributes the show's appeal partly to the quality of the writers, and partly to the uncanny chemistry its six key actors manage to generate: "These are six people that really, really get along. In real life. We have amazing writers, but on top of that , the chemistry just works." Has being on the show restricted your life in other ways? "No, I don't feel that way at all. I mean, I might not be able to visit the Midwest and go into a mall, but nothing that you'd notice, there's no problems. I don't know, I hear people talk about that kind of stuff all the time, and I don't get it. If anything, it allows me to have freedom. I get to go to a restaurant that I want to go to, and call at the last minute. There are kind of nice perks about the whole thing. "People that complain a lot about fame. I don't really understand, unless it starts to hurt you personally or it hurts your family. But as far as signing autographs, who cares? Yeah, you sign some autographs and maybe people might whisper, but I'm kind of oblivious to that. I don't even notice people noticing me. First of all, I really can't see that wall, and I don't wear contacts, because I hat them. When the sun goes down. I take my sunglasses off and I don't think of putting my glasses on, so I miss a lot of stuff. And also, I've got blinkers on anyway, When I need to go someplace, I don't stroll. I walk, fast. (laughs) So there's a lot of things in life i miss out on." Does the non-stop attention make going out with people a shade trickier? "That part's a drag. Because you can't just go out with somebody, like, 'Let's check this out', without having everyone write about it, and then you feel pressured. It puts a lot of pressure on a relationship . Or you can have a friend, you can go out with someone who's a cute friend, but you might also be seeing someone else, and now you've gotta brake up with that one, because they've heard about the other one. There's no freedom in that. That part is a total drag." Cox is currently single, after the termination of her six-year relationship with Michael Keaton, and is increasingly fond of staying in at home: "I don't that much really". Courteney Cox, remarkably, fails to notice anything special about her physical appearance, lamenting that 'my nostrils are two different sizes, so are my eyes. One is smaller than the other. I have a lot of freckles, that all-American thing." Is the atmosphere around "Friends" still the same as it was? "If anything, we're more particular. We want it to get better and better and better. Kind of get past the backlash that we had." Do people tend to assume that the cast are all friends offscreen? "Well, that part is true. We really do hang out, like the girls really hang out a lot; the guys hang out with each other more than we hang out with them. We're all good friends." The entire cast of "Friends" seem to be in the process of conquering Hollywood. Do they all deserve it? "Oh yeah, I think that all of them picked really good movies-Matthew's, Jennifer's and Lisa's. And David's got three movies that he did over the summer. Matt LeBlanc has "Lost in Space" coming out. So I think everybody's getting good stuff. I don't know how the timing works." A devout dog-lover, Courteney Cox counts an Alsatian and a border collie called Rags among her closest companions. She enjoys cooking, throwing parties, buying and selling houses for a profit, and playing the drums, with time enough to fit in a few power-yoga classes on the side. She lists body-piercing and irresponsible people as her two especial pet hates. "My father is the kind of man who would rather have fun, then worry about the bills later. That's probably why my parents got divorced. I don't think that there was security for my mother. As a result, I'm very conservative. I take care of myself, always have." Any regrets, careerwise? "None at all." Not even your 'breakthrough' Tampax ad? (Turning several shades of scarlet) "I cringe when people remember that I was the first actor to say the word 'period' on television and not mean a punctuation mark!" I guess we all have our problems, eh?

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