Jennifer Coolidge Reflects on How 'MILF' Role in 'American Pie' Shaped Her Career

Monday August 8, 2022
Originally published on August 4, 2022

Jennifer Coolidge in "The White Lotus"
Jennifer Coolidge in "The White Lotus"  (Source:HBO Max)

It was unprecedented that the ensemble of HBO Max's "The White Lotus" received Emmy acting nominations, but the performance that has been the most talked about is Jennifer Coolidge's. On writer/director Mike White's scabrous send-up of the wealthy, Coolidge plays Tanya, a 50-something single woman mourning the death of her mother at the luxury Hawaiian resort for which the show is named.

Despite the show's ensemble nature, it was Coolidge who stood out, so much so that she is the favorite to win the Emmy for Movie/Limited Series Supporting Actress at the upcoming Emmy Awards, according to the awards tracking site Gold Derby.

Jennifer Coolidge in "American PIe"
Jennifer Coolidge in "American PIe"  

But it is an earlier role — that of Stifler's Mom in the first "American Pie" film (1999) — that is getting Coolidge attention this week.

"I got a lot of play at being a MILF, and I got a lot of sexual action from 'American Pie,'" Coolidge told Variety. "There were so many benefits to doing that movie. I mean, there would be like 200 people that I would have never had slept with."

Coolidge is said to be the original MILF because of the film. Actor John Cho (billed as "MILF Guy #2") "proclaims that Stifler's mom is a MILF, even providing the audience with the now famous definition of the familiar acronym. Perhaps all the craziness surrounding Y2K led you to forget about this piece of arcane cinematic trivia, but John Cho is the actor who popularized the expression MILF," Decider wrote on the 20th anniversary of "American Pie's" release in 2019.

It was a role, she added, that helped open doors. "Maybe I got this special attention because people saw me as Stifler's Mom or the 'Legally Blonde' woman." She originated the role of Paulette in the latter film, famous for her "bend and snap" moves.

Jennifer Coolidge in "Legally Blonde 2"
Jennifer Coolidge in "Legally Blonde 2"  

But she admitted to having some career snags, such as in 2011 when a London production of the musical "Legally Blonde" asked her to audition for the role she had played on film.

"I said to my agent, what do you mean, audition?" she recalled. "It's not a straight offer?" He reiterated the request: Would she be willing to fly to London to try out for a part she'd already played? "My agent said, 'I think they just want to see if you can sing and dance.' Look, if I got up onstage and farted, and that's all I did, it would still be the lady from the movie!"

When White fashioned the second season of his hit HBO Max series, this time set in a luxury Sicilian resort, Coolidge was the only actor he asked back. Season Two of "The White Lotus" is currently filming in Sicily with an October launch date.

Coolidge expressed her gratitude to her costars. "I feel like the coach asked the other actors to let me dribble the ball more. Give the ball to Jennifer once in a while," she told Variety. "I get to shoot now."

But White credited Coolidge, saying she "improvs much more than the other actors. I tend to just shoot what I wrote, but her ideas are genius, bizarro stuff. She's dialed in."

Jennifer Coolidge in "The White Lotus"
Jennifer Coolidge in "The White Lotus"  

Coolidge's insecurities led her to almost talk herself out of the "White Lotus" role, despite it being fashioned for her by White. "But there was just no way she was ever going to say no, because I would have forced her by her hair. The reason I was doing this was to do it with her," he said.

White added how he likes to push her. "Whenever I'm lying in bed thinking about what I want to make Jennifer do, I know it's something that she would not want to do. One minute, she seems fragile, like it's all going to fall apart, and the next minute she's sturdy and doing hilarious riffs. Just when you think all hope is lost, she knocks it out of the park."

"The performance cemented a career renaissance, more nourishing for how long Coolidge waited to deliver it," Variety said.

"I have done one thing really right in my life," Coolidge said. "I've picked great friends. If Mike was never successful, and we just did 'White Lotus' as a play in a little theater where everyone paid 10 bucks to see it, it would still be one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. Because it was a killer job that no one else thought I could do."

"The White Lotus" has brought more attention, and more work, for Coolidge. "People that I could never get in the door — all of a sudden they're asking me to be part of their things," she told Variety.

Based on that, it seems Coolidge will be sticking around in the entertainment scene for quite some time, which is good news for, well... everybody.