Handy Woman

[from People, 11/27/95]

It is a Tuesday afternoon in late fall, and Courteney Cox has arrived in Hell. Actually she's in a New York City taxi. But the car, tangled in traffic, has a faulty transmission, and for Cox, 31, that's close enough. Like chef Monica Geller, the character she plays on Friends, Cox is an avid problem solver, just this side of compulsive. "Do you hear that?" she asks her fellow passenger as the cab whines in protest.

Sure, Cox is a star pulling in around $500,000 per season. But she is also a dedicated if - you - want - it - done - right - you - gotta - do - it - yourselfer. If her $65,000 silver Porsche Carrera back home in Santa Monica had this defect, Cox might dive into her well-stocked toolbox and tinker with the differential. Here in the cab, all she can do is lean forward and whisper the words that have broken so many men's hearts: "Your transmission is slipping."

Listen to the woman, buddy. For years, Cox's career inched along (a Noxzema ad), lurched forward (her two-year run on Family Ties in 1987-89), only to stall out in unmemorable Hollywood duds. But these days, Cox is in high gear. She was in New York filming Commandments, a dark comedy in which she plays a troubled housewife opposite Aidan Quinn, due for release in 1996. That's on top of Friends, a gold-plated hit that has been in the Nielsen Top 10 the entire season.

Friends execs and cast members give Cox a lot of credit for helping the program thrive. "Courteney centers the whole show," says Friends executive producer and co-creator Marta Kauffman. "There's this real human earthiness to her that [balances out] the silliness we do." Kauffman originally envisioned Cox as Rachel, Jennifer Aniston's role. But at her audition in April of 1994, Cox convinced everyone that she was Monica. Cox's sister Dottie Pickett says, "I don't think they know how close they got it. The character's neat, capable, controlling."

"And a little sarcastic," adds Cox. "So I'm like Monica. Big whoop."

It is a big whoop to the cast, who see her, in Aniston's words, as "the mother of the group." Says Aniston:"She's explained that we have to watch out for each other. She knew the pressures of being on a hit might drive us all apart." Friends cast members tend to use Cox's dressing room as a kind of student union, where they hang out, gossip and abuse each other in a comradely way. "Hey, freak show," Matthew Perry says, dropping by after a recent rehearsal. "Hi, freak face," Cox retorts.

Lately, Cox has needed the company and the support. Four months ago she and Batman star Michael Keaton, 44, ended their 5-year relationship. Cox says it was a joint decision. "It's the most important relationship I've ever had, and I think he's the most wonderful person I've ever met," she says, as tears well in her eyes. "We still love each other." They were an intensely private couple who rarely appeared together in public. "The things we liked to do were all in the neighborhood," Cox says--window-shopping on Montana Avenue near her Santa Monica home, going to the movies, cooking at Cox's place (her specialties are pasta primavera, garlic chicken and shepherd's pie) on the six-burner commercial stove Keaton gave her as a housewarming gift in 1992.

Throughout their relationship, Cox and Keaton practiced their movie scripts together. "He always came up with the most clever ways of making a line funny," she says. "No matter how upset or pissed off I was, Michael could make a little face and crack me up."

Still, they never made enough of a commitment to move in together. Cox's half-carat diamond ring is actually "my grandmother's," she explains. Although she and Keaton split last July, she's not sure what finally drove them apart. "Nothing about our relationship was ever simple," she says.

So far, Cox says, she has not tried to fill the breach in her love life. "I'm not even thinking about that stuff now," she says. "I don't live a soap opera life. I sleep on the edge of a king-size bed. I don't snore. I don't even turn over." She laughs at tabloid reports that had her rebounding into the arms of actor Christian Slater. "Christian and I have been friends for eight years," she says. The gossip started, she says, when both attended a book party in September for Gore Vidal and had dinner together later that night.

The 5'5", 110-lb. Cox also denies persistent tabloid rumors that she has an eating disorder. "I don't have any skeletons in my closet!" she says in mock outrage. Although she's a size 2, she claims to love junk food, and on a recent afternoon at the Friends soundstage she surveyed the snack table--overflowing with doughnuts, cold cuts, cookies and chips--and tilted a package of raw chocolate-chip cookie dough to her mouth. "You've got to be kidding," groaned Aniston. But Cox wasn't done. "Chips or Cheetos?" Finally she took one of each and moved on.

Cox blames her frequent noshing on her hectic schedule and laughs at talk of bulimia. "I couldn't make myself throw up if I tried," she says. Her mother, Courteney Copeland, 61, a housewife in Cox's hometown of Birmingham, Ala., agrees: "She's thin, but she's healthy. Courteney's just little-boned."

And dedicated to exercise. Cox stays in shape by working out on a treadmill at the studio gym during shooting breaks, and each week takes three hour-long Pilates classes--a strengthening rout

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