Jennifer Coolidge is having a moment, but she's been working in Hollywood for decades — here's a timeline of her career

Jennifer Coolidge.
Jennifer Coolidge.Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images
  • Jennifer Coolidge won a Golden Globe earlier this month for playing Tanya in "The White Lotus."

  • But the 61-year-old actress started acting long before getting cast in the award-winning HBO series.

  • She has appeared in iconic movies and TV shows, like "American Pie" and "Seinfeld."

Although it took decades for Jennifer Coolidge to become a household name, she's been working towards stardom since childhood.

Jennifer Coolidge holding a Golden Globe award.
Jennifer Coolidge at the 80th annual Golden Globe Awards.Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

Jennifer Coolidge started acting long before she was known as the self-involved, air-headed Tanya McQuoid. Born in Norwell, Massachusetts, in 1961, she expressed interest in acting from an early age.

In a 2020 interview with US Weekly, she said, "When I was 10, I made [a] remake of 'Jaws.' My dad swam with a fin on his back and my sister was the shark victim."

In the same interview, Coolidge revealed another one of her creative interests. "I went to an orchestra camp for three summers," she said, "I played the clarinet. I thought I might do it for a living."

She holds a BA in theater from Emerson College and attended The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduating in 1982.

When becoming an actress was still a pipe dream for Coolidge, she worked at a bar in New York with fellow actress Sandra Bullock. In 2021, she reflected on her time there in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, saying, "Let's just say, Sandra really had her act together ... I was, you know, partying a lot in those years, so it was like, sort of 50/50 whether I made the shift or not."

The Guardian reported that Coolidge was treated "brutally" during the beginning of her career — a casting agent reportedly told her she wouldn't land roles because she wasn't "good-looking enough."

Coolidge's first TV appearance was in 1993, as one of Jerry's dates in "Seinfeld."

Jennifer Coolidge giving Jerry Seinfeld a massage in "Seinfeld."
Jennifer Coolidge in "Seinfeld."NBC

Coolidge appeared as Jodi, one of Jerry's many brief flings. In the episode, titled "The Masseuse," Jerry is determined to get a professional massage from Jodi and breaks up with her when she refuses to comply with his demands.

In 2015, Coolidge told GQ that she lacked professional acting experience before booking her role on Seinfeld.

"I didn't really have any jobs before that," she said. "I only had lies on my resume ... I didn't even have decent clothes to audition in."

Starting in 1999, Coolidge played Jeanine Stifler, better known as Stifler's mom, in the "American Pie" franchise.

Jennifer Coolidge smoking a cigarette in American Pie.
Jennifer Coolidge in "American Pie."Universal Studios

One of Coolidge's most notable roles is the seductive Jeanine Stifler in American Pie. She first portrayed Jeanine in 1999 and reappeared in the same role in the movie's sequel in 2001.

"There were so many benefits to doing that movie," she said in a 2022 interview with Variety, according to Entertainment Tonight. "There would have been like 200 people that I would never had slept with."

Her next standout role came in 2001, when Coolidge portrayed Paulette Bonafonté Parcelle in "Legally Blonde."

Jennifer Coolidge as Paulette Bonafonté Parcelle in "Legally Blonde."
Jennifer Coolidge in "Legally Blonde."MGM Studios

In "Legally Blonde" (and eventually, in, "Legally Blonde 2") Coolidge played the expressive nail technician who builds a trusting relationship with Elle (Reese Witherspoon).

In the film, Elle teaches Paulette the iconic "bend and snap" — a move that she claims is sure to get a man's attention.

Recently, according to E! News, Coolidge joked, "I've never had bending over work for me like it did in that movie. I think that the bend and snap is misleading."

She acted alongside Hilary Duff in the 2004 movie, "A Cinderella Story."

Jennifer Coolidge wearing goggles in "A Cinderella Story."
Jennifer Coolidge in "A Cinderella Story."Warner Bros. Pictures

In the early 2000s, Coolidge continued to land roles in TV shows and movies — among her dozens of appearances were cameos on "Friends" and "Sex and the City."

One of her next iconic roles was Fiona in "A Cinderella Story." While playing the self-involved and greedy stepmother of Sam (Duff), Coolidge showcased her iconic sense of humor.

During a conversation between Fiona and her stepdaughter, Sam, Fiona memorably says, "There's something I've always wanted to tell you and I think you're ready to hear it. You're not very pretty, and you're not very bright."

She adds, "I'm so glad we had that talk."

Following the film, Coolidge continued her stream of steady work, and she had recurring roles in early 2000s shows including "Joey," "Nip/Tuck," and "Party Down."

In 2011, Coolidge began playing Sophie, a recurring character on "2 Broke Girls."

Jennifer Coolidge as Sophie in "2 Broke Girls."
Jennifer Coolidge in "2 Broke Girls."Warner Bros. TV

Coolidge played Sophie Kachinsky, a Polish businesswoman with a thick accent, on "2 Broke Girls." Sophie, who is the upstairs neighbor of the show's main characters, is known for making sexually provocative and generally inappropriate comments.

Coolidge told People in 2015 that, as she gained popularity during her run on the show, a fan asked her to sign a box of maxi pads.

Coolidge believes that her 2018 appearance in Ariana Grande's "Thank U, Next" music video helped re-launch her career.

Jennifer Coolidge and Ariana Grande in the "thank u, next" music video.
Jennifer Coolidge and Ariana Grande in the "Thank U, Next" music video.Republic Records

In a December 2022 Entertainment Weekly interview conducted by Grande, Coolidge expressed gratitude to the pop singer for her comeback.

"I was kind of flatlining, and you got things going for me. I just want to thank you," she told Grande.

"That is a very kind but wildly untrue thing to say," Grande replied. "I love you so much. I think the timing was just so beautiful, and you just deserved the entire world."

She called the "Thank U, Next" shoot with Coolidge "one of the most fun days of my entire life."

In the music video, which references various classic romantic comedies from the 1990s and early 2000s, Coolidge reprises her role as Paulette in "Legally Blonde," while Grande stands in for Reese Witherspoon's character, Elle.

She played a concerned mother in 2021's critically acclaimed "Promising Young Woman," straying from the temperament of her usual roles.

Jennifer Coolidge as Susan in "Promising Young Woman."
Jennifer Coolidge in "Promising Young Woman."Focus Features

In "Promising Young Woman," Coolidge takes a break from providing comedic relief. In the film, Carey Mulligan plays Cassie, who takes on different personas to confront her would-be sexual attackers. Coolidge plays her concerned mother, deviating from the upbeat, dramatic characters she most often depicts.

In a 2021 interview with AV club, she said, "In playing Susan, I think I did steal from my own relationship with my mother. I felt like my mother was sort of naive to a lot of what was going on with me as a troubled teenager—kind of like you just said, she wasn't equipped."

At the time, Carrie Wittmer at GQ wrote, "Coolidge plays the role with a sincerity and subtlety that helps the film set its very intentional polarizing and subversive tone."

In 2021, Coolidge began receiving critical acclaim for her role in "The White Lotus."

Jennifer Coolidge in "The White Lotus."
Jennifer Coolidge in "The White Lotus."HBO

In "The White Lotus," Coolidge put her unique sense of humor on display, portraying the eccentric, wealthy Tanya McQuoid. She appears in the first season, set in Hawaii, and the second season, set in Sicily, Italy.

In a December 2022 interview with Variety, Coolidge implied that her character is loosely based on her real personality, saying of the show's creator, Mike White: "Mike stole that from me, Jennifer Coolidge, and made it a Tanya thing — her obliviousness."

In the same interview, she reflected on what "The White Lotus" has meant for her career.

"'White Lotus' has opened a world of opportunities, and Mike White will be my friend forever, of course," she said.

Her performance in HBO's "The White Lotus" earned her a Primetime Emmy Award in 2022.

Jennifer Coolidge at the 74th annual Emmy Awards.
Jennifer Coolidge at the 74th annual Emmy Awards.Gilbert Flores/Getty Images

In 2022, Coolidge's portrayal of Tanya earned her a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding supporting actress in a limited or anthology series or movie.

In her acceptance speech, Coolidge said, "I just want to say, I took a lavender bath tonight ... and it made me swell up inside my dress, and I'm having a hard time speaking." Her comments were met with roaring laughter from the audience.

Coolidge's award wasn't the only honor given to "The White Lotus" during the 2022 award season — the show's first season ultimately won half of its 20 Emmy nominations.

Coolidge is one of just two characters that Mike White carried over to the show's second season — the other being her character's husband.

Jennifer Coolidge as Tanya McQuoid in "The White Lotus."
Jennifer Coolidge in "The White Lotus."HBO

While all the other characters in the second season are completely new, Tanya and her husband, Greg (played by Jon Gries), provide a continuing thread from the first season.

Reflecting on her time on the show, Coolidge told Variety in December, "I never could have predicted this moment, and that's what's cool about life sometimes: Cool stuff is something you never thought of. I'm in a state of shock still, two years later."

In late 2022, Coolidge starred in Netflix's "The Watcher" as an abrasive real-estate agent.

Jennifer Coolidge as Karen in "The Watcher."
Jennifer Coolidge in "The Watcher."Netflix

In "The Watcher," Coolidge plays Karen, an outspoken, career-focused real-estate agent.

"You sort of dream of playing people like Karen Calhoun because it's not that much fun to just play someone who's extremely obedient and ordinary. I mean, she's sort of a wild card," she said in a 2022 interview with Tudum.

"The Watcher," a Ryan Murphy production, was highly successful following its October release. Less than two weeks after the show aired, it had already amassed 148.2 million hours watched.

In 2023, Coolidge won a Golden Globe for best supporting actress in a limited series for her portrayal of Tanya in season 2 of "The White Lotus."

Jennifer Coolidge at the 80th annual Golden Globe Awards.
Jennifer Coolidge at the 80th annual Golden Globe Awards.Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

The actress delivered a tearful speech as she thanked producers like Ryan Murphy for providing her with opportunities throughout her career that "kept [her] going."

"I had such big dreams and expectations as a younger person, but what happened was they get sort of fizzled by life and whatever," she said. "Mike White," she said, addressing the creator of "The White Lotus," "you have given me hope ... you've given me a new beginning."

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