The Globe and Mail - June 19, 2000
She's all that -- and more
by Leah Hendry
At 20, actress and uber-babe Rachael Leigh Cook is already a veteran of 17 movies.
Toronto -- Rachael Leigh Cook looks like a deer ready to bolt. Even though it's warm outside, a portable heater is on in her trailer -- in the countryside north of Toronto -- making the room temperature seem at least 30 C, but there she sits, perched on the edge of a leather couch, clutching an oversized blue wool coat around her small frame. Her eyes are in high-flicker mode, constantly moving to the door, to the window and back again. Occasionally she fiddles with the tab of her can of pop -- or soda, as they like to call these things in her U.S. homeland.
At a mere 20 years of age, Cook is frequently compared to a young Winona Ryder, and is best known for her role as Laney Boggs, the esthetically challenged art-student-turned-prom-queen who captured the heart of Freddie Prinze Jr. in last year's hit film She's All That.
Do an Internet search on her name and it will bring up hundreds of Web sites devoted to her movies and image.
Cook finds her status as a sort of uber-babe all rather amusing.
"It wouldn't happen if they saw me or knew me," she says with a shy smile.
And you know something? She's probably right. Freshly awake from a midafternoon nap, Cook looks rumpled and groggy, and you can tell she's had a run-in with the odd pimple or two.
But no matter. She has one hour in the makeup chair to freshen up and get on the set of her new movie, Tangled, currently being shot in and around Toronto, with Shawn Hatosy and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as her co-stars.
It's being hyped as a dark moody flick in the tradition of The Usual Suspects; Cook describes it as the complicated relationship among three friends who will ultimately do anything to keep it that way. She plays Jenny, an aspiring photographer and recent college graduate at the centre of the story's love triangle.
"All three characters are extremely passionate. They do and say things normal people wouldn't dare," she says. Cook describes Jenny as a pest and a "spaz" -- the closest reflection of her personality to date. "I'm a disaster," she says as she tucks her long, scraggly, brown hair behind her ears.
Shy and slightly guarded, Cook relaxes only when director Jay Lowi drops by the trailer. Her whole demeanour changes, and her face lights up as they engage in some good-natured banter. "He's such a freak," Cook squeals. When she first met Lowi she was stunned.
"He looked like a 12-year-old kid."
A native of Minneapolis, Minn., Cook started her career as a child model in print ads for Target, 3M and Milk-Bone dog biscuits. As a mere freshman in high school, she was offered the lead in a 1994 black-and-white indie film called The Girl in 26 Summer Street. Before her breakthrough role in She's All That,Cook co-starred with Heather Matarazzo and Kirsten Dunst in Strike. She also recently completed The Hi-Line, and is featured in Bumblebee Flies Away with Elijah Wood.
Although she has already acted in 17 films with heavyweights such as George C. Scott, her idol Parker Posey, and most recently Sylvester Stallone in Get Carter, Cook remains humble about her stardom.
"I never thought I'd be here. My dad was a social worker and my mom sells cookware. That's the way it was supposed to be," she says.
"I had this cardboard desk when I was little and I would cut out coloured paper and put it in piles.
"My parents thought I wanted to be a secretary," she says with a laugh.
She returned home last week, for the first time since Christmas, to attend her brother Ben's high-school graduation. His friends had grown up so much and some of the girls she used to babysit dropped by her house to ask Cook if she could babysit them again. "It was mind-boggling," she says. Despite the attention, she still doesn't consider herself a celebrity.
"In L.A., no one would bother me if Mick Jagger was three tables over," she says. "I'd never be at a table near him, anyway."
She dated Ryan Alosio, her Hi-Line co-star, for a short time last year, but she is now single. She has lived in Los Angeles for about three years and says it can be lonely. Although she has e-mail, she hasn't had time to check it in five months, and it sometimes takes her two weeks to return a call.
"It's hard when you get back from the set and want to talk to someone who thinks you are okay, but it's 3 a.m. and no one is up," Cook says.
Despite the lonely nights, she considers herself career-driven, and knows she is there to do a job.
"It's what I do and it makes me feel good. I like camp," she says with an elfish grin.
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