Startribune.com - April 11, 2001
What's new, pussycat? Plenty, for busy actress Rachael Leigh Cook
by Colin Covert
Even before ''Josie and the Pussycats'' was released, Rachael Leigh Cook was getting tired of the Obligatory Question.
"So," she says, imitating a typical media blockhead, "three actresses on a movie. What was that like? Any catfights?"
Her tone was mischievous rather than mean-spirited. Talking up her new comedy last week in a phone interview, Cook projected none of the swagger that affects some people who achieve fame at an early age.
Smart, appealingly modest and charming, the 21-year-old Minneapolis South High School alum didn't disguise her anxiety about "Josie." The movie put her in the $1-million-plus per picture club and could nudge her a few steps closer to stardom. Or several paces further away.
Sensing a potential "Charlie's Angels" retro-brand franchise in the making, Universal Studios is pushing the film aggressively. Cook posed with co-stars Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid on the cover of Entertainment Weekly magazine, and the film's marketing spinoffs cover the gamut from a soundtrack CD to pussycat-ear headbands.
Still, Cook denies feeling like the girl of the moment. "There's definitely a couple people ahead of me in line," she said. "Liv Tyler, definitely Kate Hudson, Christina Ricci, Reese Witherspoon, Natalie Portman. Great actresses. I've got no problem with being below them in the hierarchy. We're all very different and I don't take it personally when I lose parts to them," she said.
Not that she's hurting for work. Since the antidrug TV commercial that showed her demolishing a kitchen with a frying pan -- and landed Cook on the cover of USA Today -- she's had no trouble landing roles. She followed her 1995 debut in "The Baby-Sitters Club" -- the film adaptation of a popular children's book series -- with a dozen films in three years.
Her turn as an acerbic nerd turned prom queen in "She's All That" won her a slew of youth-oriented entertainment awards, a recurring role on "Dawson's Creek" and prominent parts in movies as diverse as the English hairdressing comedy "Blow Dry" and Sylvester Stallone's revenge drama "Get Carter."
Her busy, hopscotching career has followed a strategy "up to a point," she said. "Optimally, I would do this great dramatic piece and then I'll do this really funny comedy and I'll do this thriller. And then you know what? The thriller's not suspenseful and the drama nobody goes to see and the indie you made doesn't get into Sundance. These things happen all the time. You do the best work that you can."
Now, full circle, she's back in the teen market with an adaptation of a popular kids' comic and cartoon series. Although some might accuse her of tampering with the classics, Cook said she couldn't resist the role of the spunky '70s cartoon heroine "purely because of the script. I think this was an odd occasion when I got [a desirable script] right off the bat. It was so funny and original and made such a great statement about free thought and individuality. I thought it stood on its own. It just happened to be called 'Josie and the Pussycats.'"
In the film, the band falls into the clutches of an evil Gepetto who manufactures pop groups that brainwash teens into consumer zombies. The irony of publicizing an anti-hype message movie whose merchandise includes Barbie-style fashion dolls of Cook and her co-stars is not lost on her.
"It's like that M.C. Escher image of the hand drawing the hand drawing," Cook said. "In the movie we're all against manipulating the youth of America through pop culture. At the same time I'm on the phone telling you what's great about my movie so you'll go see it. But am I brainwashing you? No. I just want to emphasize that I think it's a cool, funny movie that I had fun making. But if you don't want to see it, please don't go."
That's either remarkable candor or brilliant reverse psychology.
That thing she did
Learning to play a musician convincingly required a demanding stint in the same "band camp" rehearsal studio that tutored the actors in "That Thing You Do" and "Almost Famous."
"I'll be honest with you, that six hours a day was not fun," she said. "There's a lot of pressure to perform. I'm not a very musical person. There's not a lot of intricate fingering -- in those parts they don't show me -- but for everything you see, even though they're basic power chords we're mimicking, everything is so fast!" As for the dubbing of her singing voice, "let's just say for the good of the film, my voice is not used."
Cook, who might reprise her "Josie" role if the film is a hit, isn't banking on the youth market long-term. She intends to be a working actress with a career that extends beyond the ingenue phase. Her role model is Holly Hunter (whom she played as a teenager for a flashback in the movie "Living Out Loud.")
"She's made exceptional choices. More than that, she's just brilliant. She has so much range. She's so intense and has a beautifully native intelligence about her, and yet she's so accessible. She's great to watch."
Cook co-produced her upcoming suspense film, "Tangled," a process she found "very frustrating, actually. You can get the script changes you want made and you can get the people you want in it and all those things. But at the same time, just when I thought the movie was great and we sold it to Miramax, I got this memo this morning -- four pages of proposed cuts. I'm freaking out. The movie's not too long. If anything, it's getting too short. And they keep cutting things! I'm so upset. It's a good movie. I don't know what they're doing.
"It's better that I at least know about these things," she said. "If I was just acting in the film and I saw everything on these pages was cut out, I'd just probably faint. Now I can call somebody up and yell about it."
Copyright © 2001 Startribune.com