The Film Intuition Interview
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachael Leigh Cook about the independent film Bob Funk, which hits DVD shelves on 6/23.
As a fellow native Minnesotan who’d grown up around the same time and in similar neighborhoods as Cook, it was an interview I was very much looking forward to tackling. And this was especially the case since-- aside from realizing that she is incredibly professional and truthful-- once our mutual backgrounds came into play, the conversation became much more free-flowing.
While Film Intuition is nearly three years old and more than twelve hundred reviews have been compiled into our database, it’s only over the course of the last year that I’ve been fortunate enough to take part in interviews and Cook’s in particular is one that I know I won’t soon forget.
Aside from feeling completely at ease, there was an element of great humor involved. For, after confessing to Cook that like her Bob Funk character Ms. Thorne, I’m a terrible klutz, midway through the call, somehow we got disconnected.
Terribly embarrassed and worried I must have done something wrong, I looked at my phone in panic. Yet thankfully after a few seconds, Rachael Leigh Cook called right back, confessing that most likely the mishap had occurred due to her mischievous cat who had been trying to sabotage the interview in the hopes of gaining Ms. Cook’s undivided attention as well as a trip outdoors.
Earnest, self-deprecating, far too humble, and quick to laugh or give a refreshingly honest answer—although I was voted off the island by her cat, which marked my first celebrity pet hang-up experience since the feline was just not that into me— I was honored that Cook took time out of her busy schedule to not just help promote a film but also discuss her extremely varied career.
Thus, Minnesota nice-- I’m happy to say-- still triumphs in Hollywood.
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Jen Johans: How’s your Monday going so far?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Monday is going good so far-- just trying to spread the Funk I guess.
Jen Johans: Great, well I wanted to say I really enjoyed your Jean Arthur-like screwball performance in the movie because I thought you added some humor and brightness to it. How did you become involved in Bob Funk?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Well, pretty standard channels. The script went to my agency-- the agency submitted a list to the producers of people they thought might be right for it and I met with the producer and director. I really loved the script when I read it. I had a feeling I would when I heard the title-- not to judge a book by its cover-- but I just had a good feeling about it. It sounded like a good indie and sure enough the writing was just all there. I really got a kick out of the producer and the director-- they're just so passionate about it and I felt the same way so I just did my tap dance, did my best… and got it… just lucked out really.
[On working in independent films like Bob Funk]
Rachael Leigh Cook: When you shoot movies this small, you gotta be ready to go. You gotta know your lines. You can’t mess around. You have to be able to anticipate variables because things are going to be crunched as they are without too many random things like “I don’t know if I can say this line.” You better air your stuff in rehearsal because nobody has time for that.
[Discussing that it was made 1.5 or 2 years ago]
Jen Johans: It’s great that it’s finally getting released now.
Rachael Leigh Cook: Yeah, definitely. We went to Cannes last year for it and did some sales there. Cannes I like the way I like Las Vegas in that it’s exactly what you think it’s going to be—when you have an image of a place and it completely delivers--that’s what I like. It’s an amazing experience; I’m lucky. I have a really cool life. I’m not bragging; I’m just grateful.
Rachael Leigh Cook: It’s good that it’s finally now getting out there; it had a really limited theatrical release—just enough. And everybody likes to watch things at home nowadays—well, not the blockbusters but there’s some movies like this you don’t need to see on the big screen… not really. I’m sure that that’s not like the right thing to say but--
Jen Johans: No, I mean—I think sometimes it’s like finding lost treasure when you can watch a good independent movie at home and you can’t wait to share it.
Rachael Leigh Cook: Exactly.
Jen Johans: Well you brought a lot to the movie and as a total klutz myself I loved the character of Ms. Thorne--
Rachael Leigh Cook: Oh, you are? Oh, I'm sorry.
Jen Johans: No, I thought it was great! I was wondering-- what's the strangest thing you've ever broken?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Let's see, I've bent eyeglasses out of shape constantly but that’s just more—you know-- how you fall asleep on them somehow and that’s not good. Um, nothing that serious—I break glasses—I can’t walk with a glass of water. I don’t know why but water flies everywhere; I don't know what's wrong with me-- my husband [Daniel Gillies] just says I can't be trusted with anything liquid. Gosh, I don’t know—I remember wiping out in front of boys I liked growing up in Minnesota but other than that, I can’t think of one thing in particular. What about you?
Jen Johans: Oh well, the strangest thing—I’m from Minnesota too by the way--
Rachael Leigh Cook: Oh, no way!
Jen Johans: Yeah, the Minneapolis area and I think we’re shy back there so that’s part of it. But when I was new in school, I ended up knocking down part of the ceiling on my first day—we were playing silent ball…
Rachael Leigh Cook: What?! How’d you knock down part of the ceiling?
Jen Johans: Well, we were playing silent ball-- you know where you get to know your classmates and I think I let it go a little too soon and the ceiling was old and I’m tall so yeah, I knocked down part of the ceiling…
Rachael Leigh Cook: Oh, you’re awesome! Oh my God!
[We discuss Minnesota and high school]
Jen Johans: Do you go back there often?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Yeah, I hear your familiar accent. I went back a couple of times last year. I actually went to the Republican National Convention-- not because I am one but because I went with a nonpartisan group… not that it’s a bad thing but I went out to St. Paul for that. I want to go out—oh gosh, maybe I missed it—there’s this giant neighborhood garage sale called the Echo Super Sale that I love going to so I flew out for that last year.
Jen Johans: I know, I miss the garage sales-- those are the best!
Rachael Leigh Cook: Aren’t they?!
Jen Johans: Yeah! I was going to ask you—of course, aside from family and friends—what are some of the things you miss the most about the Midwest?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Well we have the best state fair on the face of the Earth—I’m certain of that; I love the state fair. About the Midwest? I miss the seasons, I miss the way people talk to each other, I miss knowing who my neighbors are… gosh, so much of it—being around people who really truly know what’s important in this life. [She mentions that of course, our adopted cities of LA and Phoenix aren’t bad and asks me the Midwest question]
Jen Johans: Probably the same things—for me it was the Fall leaves, you know because it’s pretty gray and lots of cactus—I mean there’s colors in the desert but the same things like knowing who your neighbors are. But it’s funny you mentioned the Republican National Convention because I wanted to applaud you for your efforts on the Obama campaign.
Rachael Leigh Cook: Oh, thank you. You never know where people stand. I didn’t want to--
Jen Johans: Oh no, not at all. What was it like?
Rachael Leigh Cook: It was an amazing experience.
Jen Johans: And how did you become involved in the Obama campaign?
Rachael Leigh Cook: There's this woman who is an incredible champion of Barack’s who coordinated out of Los Angeles. She’s a really big, awesome Dem and has always been a huge supporter of Barack’s. She was volunteering anybody she could find who might mean something to the campaign in terms of name value. I really wouldn’t have made it onto the list of people the campaign approved in terms of the people who are the most famous by a long stretch but I think just having a pretty clean reputation served me well because I passed their screening process.
So I was able to go out and mostly just register people to vote—we registered almost 900 people in the state of Pennsylvania but it’s not something that somebody else couldn’t have gone out and done also. It was really just pretty typical things—we had access to the platform because of being involved in the campaign but mostly we would just wander the neighborhoods and register people to vote the same way that anybody could have done. It really made me want to get involved in things just on my own—just get active and sort of do something with my life rather than just pretending to be other people occasionally.
Jen Johans: I know you’re most well known for She’s All That but after that movie I loved that you were really willing to become part of good ensembles in movies like Blow Dry. What draws you overall to the material that you end up selecting?
Rachael Leigh Cook: I don't know if there’s much rhyme or reason to it. I've just sort of done what I wanted to do and clearly a lot of things didn’t turn out the way I wanted…just to be honest. But I found material; I work when I need to make money like anybody does. I just—I love what I do. If I have any problem in my career choices, it's just that I like to work too much—I like to stay busy so that’s part of it.
But why do I choose what I do? It’s always just one element, it’s either I gotta play this character—or hopefully it's many combined-- like I've gotta work with this director or I love this cast or I just have to be part of the telling of this story. You know, anything that speaks to you loudly enough you'll sort of rise to whatever that is.
Jen Johans: Of all the different projects you've undertaken from TV to movies, do you have any particular favorites or works that you were surprised maybe didn't an audience the way you felt they deserved?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Let me think—I want to tell you about this film that my husband and I are making that he wrote and is directing. It’s not done yet but it's going really, really well—it’s pretty heavy stuff, it’s the most heavy lifting I guess I've ever done. It’s a really challenging and confronting story—oh, I’m crap at describing things-- but let me see, in the past, I liked this movie I did with Jon Favreau called The Big Empty. I really liked the writing for that as well and I liked the character I got to play and Jon’s amazing of course and that was a real thrill and I’m sure no one will probably still ever see that movie as beloved as he is…
Jen Johans: Yeah, I missed that one myself but I’ll definitely look for it.
Rachael Leigh Cook: Cool.
[On her extensive advertising and modeling work such as the famous frying pan ‘90s “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” ad]
Rachael Leigh Cook: I used to do hair commercials for different hair products for Japan. It was a lot of fun; it was really cool. We didn’t shoot them there—we shot them here in LA. I remember thinking, “I don’t think I’m gonna get rehired” after my third commercial because I couldn’t toss my hair properly. I just looked kind of like I was injured or something and I didn’t know what they were saying but I remember thinking, “Okay, I know this is funny but I also really want this to work out.” So yeah, it was kind of embarrassing that I didn’t know how to do a proper hair toss.
Jen Johans: Yeah, like the Paul Mitchell hair flip?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Exactly, no I could not do this at all!
Jen Johans: You mentioned the film you're making with your husband—is that Broken Kingdom?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Yes, that’s correct.
Jen Johans: So how was it working with your husband—had you guys collaborated before?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Well, we’re both actors so we would both run lines with each other for auditions or what have you but he started writing a couple of years ago and took that sort of turn in his career which is really exciting but no, we hadn’t actively collaborated like this before.
When it gets released, that will be good for him because I think it’s going to turn out really well. I’m biased but I think he’s a really incredible talent. Being a director’s a real personality type and I didn’t really know that as fully as I did until I saw him work because he’s a natural leader and really works incredibly well with actors. He knows filmmaking and has seen so many films—I mean thousands probably-- God, I just have real respect for his degree of knowledge.
[We discussed future possibilities like her interest in producing]
Rachael Leigh Cook: In terms of producing, yeah—I’m trying to get some stuff off the ground now. My friends and I are trying to develop a show that’s about cuisines of different cultures possibly for a Food Network or PBS kind of place. I’m looking to produce a film with a company I do some animated work with—just random things. I’m just trying to put myself on the other side a little bit because I love acting but it’s just good to diversify.
Jen Johans: I think as a woman it’s important to inspire more women to get involved in behind-the-scenes work as well.
Rachael Leigh Cook: Yeah, absolutely—no doubt. And you know it’s a really ageist industry—if I don’t want to be someone’s crazy aunt in 20 years… I don’t know what kind of parts I’ll get. It is what it is.
Jen Johans: I know you just made a movie with Mario Van Peebles. Is it Kerosene Cowboys?
Rachael Leigh Cook: That one’s done, yeah-- the one that we shot in Russia and Nevada—the fighter pilot movie. Mario’s a nice guy… um, I don’t know how that movie’s going to come out—I just don’t know. I'm very hesitant and I don't like doing press for everything and I haven’t seen that film so I’m not gonna--
Jen Johans: Oh, of course—that’s fine, definitely. After catching up with the show on DVD, I’ve become a huge fan of Psych.
Rachael Leigh Cook: Oh, cool!
Jen Johans: Were you familiar with the series before you appeared on the show?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Yeah, I’d seen the show a couple times and really loved it. I love the references and if you watch-- I don't know how old you are but I know we’re of the same generation-- I just think it's hysterical. I love working on it; I've been going back a couple of times this season-- I'm sort of the girlfriend for season four so that's been just a real treat.
Jen Johans: That’s great and yes, I am around that age so I love all the John Hughes references and the energetic feel of the show. I was wondering is that what the environment’s like or is that just the show?
Rachael Leigh Cook: No, it's just so laid back-- so much better to work on than a lot of shows I have friends that do and say it’s really run by committee and really stressful. And this doesn’t really feel like that, it’s a really creative environment-- sometimes you have to improvise a lot. They don’t have like stuffy execs over their shoulders and the people who work on the show really get it. It's a great environment. I really don’t feel like I know what I’m doing with the comedy; I'm not there to be the funny one and so I don't really try to set foot in that ring—that’s sort of their arena but I love it.
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Rachael Leigh Cook