Nearly two decades after starring in She’s All That, one of Hollywood’s most memorable romantic comedies, Rachael Leigh Cook decided to pitch one of her own. “I had been producing with Hallmark, and it was really empowering,” she told Refinery29 over Zoom in anticipation of her upcoming Netflix rom-com. “I thought, What would I do if I could do anything? What am I interested in?"
The answer, strangely enough, was Coors beer. Well, kind of. The idea for Love Guaranteed, the Mark Steven Johnson-directed film she produced and now stars in, came to Cook after hearing about a real-life 2016 lawsuit between Miami resident Joaquin Lorenzo and MillerCoors over a dispute about the company’s branding.
“I remembered hearing about this lawsuit years and years before about this group of people who sued Coors for not really brewing their beer in the Rocky Mountains, as their slogan claimed,” she said. “I'm obsessed with romantic comedies, so I thought, Imagine if one of these dating sites made the wildly irresponsible decision to guarantee that if you pay for their service, you too will find the love of your life?” (The Colorado Supreme Court eventually ruled against Coors, but don’t think that’s a Love Guaranteed spoiler.)
Cook plays Susan Whittaker, a Seattle lawyer with a keen sense of justice, who barely scrapes by defending the city’s most vulnerable citizens. But when Nick (Damon Wayans, Jr.) comes into her office with a case that could potentially save her law firm, she initially balks. Suing Love Guaranteed, a dating site founded by wellness guru Tamara Taylor (Heather Graham), over their fine print guaranteeing love after 1,000 dates, doesn’t quite fit into Susan’s quest to right society’s wrongs. Who goes on 1,000 online dates (One Thousand. Online. Dates.) and means it? But when she realizes that Nick’s not out for some quick nuisance lawsuit payout and truly wants to find someone to settle down with, Susan starts to ask herself: Does she?
You can probably guess where this is going, but let’s be honest, that’s half the fun of a rom-com. The destination doesn’t matter as much as the ride that takes you there. And this one happens to have a very good soundtrack, courtesy of Tiffany, whose 1987 cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” plays every single time Susan drives her beater car, in one of the movie’s best running gags.
Refinery29: I love that you flipped the traditional rom-com gender dynamic — the guy, rather than the woman, is the one trying to find love. Was that always the case?
Rachael Leigh Cook: “I wanted it to be the man who is hurt, but I was concerned because I felt like I was giving away the more interesting part. That's where our writers came in and rounded out the whole premise with my character. One of the tropes that we definitely fall prey to is that Susan’s someone who has given too much of her life to her work. But it's also clearly spelled out as to why she's ignored romance for the song. She's completely gun shy about the whole thing, and as someone who likes to win, she just isn't willing to put herself back out there again.”
"We all got sent to movie jail for that one. But I adore it, and I'm grateful to this day that I was cast in it.”
Rachael Leigh Cook On "Josie & The Pussycats"
There’s some truth to that particular trope though, because we demand so much of women who want to succeed in any field. You do have to put parts of yourself on hold.
“A thousand percent. I constantly feel like I'm not doing great at either my job or being a parent. That's the hardest part because you sort of tell yourself, I could be killing it at one of these things. I have enough bandwidth to be able to be great at one. And both the entertainment industry and young children are probably the only two things that you can guarantee with utter certainty will never pat you on the back and tell you you're doing a great job. So... great career and life choices by me. I find the balance really difficult, but I also feel incredibly proud of the fact that my kids will know me to be a working mom. What I do is a little bit abstract to them now, but I want to show them that it's possible to be a grownup who loves their job. So many of us grew up with parents who came home utterly exhausted and left us fearing growing up. I certainly had that feeling. I had no idea how bright the future could be.”
You pitched this movie in the aftermath of your divorce. Did you have any crazy online dating experiences to draw from?
“I don't really have any colourful stories. The reason I like waking up in the morning is that as an actor, I'm obsessed with people. When I found myself single at nearly 40, I was pretty excited to start dating again and to come away with intense stress stories, but I didn't really get any. The strangest was somebody who turned out to maybe not have a home, but I don't judge.”
I’m so pleasantly surprised you said you’re obsessed with romantic comedies! You don’t often hear that from people who got their start in the genre. Usually they want to prove that they can do other things.
“If this movie has been any kind of a life lesson for me — and I can read too much into absolutely anything, if you can get me half a chance — it was in returning to where my personal frequency hones the loudest and where my interests actually lie. As soon as I did that, my luck really turned. I spent a lot of time trying to do the things that would show people that I had range. I still believe that I do, but this is where I feel the most at home.”
Rom-coms don’t get the respect they deserve. It takes skill and craft to make a really good one.
“I really think that romantic comedy encapsulates the best in every genre because the drama in it is real. Sure, it's delivered with a lighter hand. No, one's saying it's Ozark, but the personal stakes are there, and the comedy is there. You get both. How can you beat that? I’ve worked on a few multicam shows and there's no less-fun workplace than when you're on something that's an out and out comedy, and someone has decided that the jokes aren't working. Even in a deeply serious movie with a stressful shoot, people still cut up and have a great time because breaking that tension is the greatest release you ever feel. That's where I'm obsessed with romantic comedy because you get to play in both worlds. I will never look down my nose at the genre that has provided me a living.”
How do you feel like the genre has evolved since you started?
“You couldn’t make She's All That in the same way we made it. A movie about men making over a woman into a more traditionally attractive image? That would be career suicide for anyone now. Even though it's ultimately a movie about people changing their minds about each other, which I'd argue you could use more of these days, but I digress. Also the stakes in rom-coms are higher. I think [the movies] I started out in would sit somewhere between Knocked Up and the John Hughes movies of the ‘80s. That's kind of a nice sweet spot, but I look forward to the genre continuing to evolve. As long as people want to watch me fall in love with anyone else for the next 10 years. I'm totally up for it.”
Speaking of falling in love, was Damon Wayans, Jr. always going to play Nick?
“I told him the other day, We’re lucky you said yes, because we did not have a strong plan B at all. His character was surprisingly hard to cast because really we needed someone who you believe has been hurt by love, who does have a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but who's still inherently charming. A lot of people only know how to play one or the other.”
You already have your own production company, Ben's Sister Productions. Do you have any aspirations to write and/or direct future projects?
“I definitely have some ideas about what I want to talk about and the stories that I want to help tell. I think that’s going to be what will help me going forward — not just showing up to productions as a hired gun, ready to ‘insert sports analogy here.’ What I really love about being in on the ground floor is that I get to talk about what I want to talk about. Funnily enough, now that I have enough distance from it, what I'm sort of excited to explore next is divorce and that second life.”
"A movie about men making over a woman into a more traditionally attractive image? That would be career suicide for anyone now."
Rachael Leigh Cook On "She's All That"
Who picked the Tiffany song that plays on repeat every time Susan gets in the car?
“I swear that song is following me now! It used to be that Sixpence None The Richer was following me around, and now I'm hearing Tiffany everywhere. Our composers sent it over — we had to find something that could be both fun enough to capture the tone of the movie and also sort of be hilariously tragic later on. There's actually a scene that we shot where Damon and I sing that song to a little kid as we’re trying to put him to bed. I was not mad at our director the entire time we filmed until he suggested that we needed to sing. I texted Damon, and asked, Do you sing? Can you carry us through this? He goes, ‘Not even in the shower.’ We shot it. You will notice it is not in the movie. Mark was like, ‘You guys are terrible!’”
Wait, so did you not sing at all in Josie and the Pussycats?
“No! I don’t know how I keep getting cast as singers. I’m all about job creation when you think about it. There's no way that that would have happened today. I remember with Josie, I went to Babyface's office, and they were trying to figure out if I could sing. I sang for them, and they were like, No thank you. I don't like the statement, ‘Stay in your lane,’ but some lanes... you're not safe there. They’re very fast and dangerous.”
That movie was panned by critics, but has evolved into a cult classic. Why do you think it still resonates today?
“That script was hilarious! Harry and Debbie Kaplan did a great job with the movie. It was so incisive and ahead of its time. These are things that I can say now, but if I had stood up and said, You all are wrong, this movie is fantastic, and you're sleeping on this one... Nobody wanted to hear that at the time. We all got sent to movie jail for that one. But I adore it, and I'm grateful to this day that I was cast in it.”
Do young women have more agency today to speak out than when you first started?
“Absolutely. And I think that young women in smaller numbers are making the mistakes that I did, like waiting for permission to speak up or actually trying to do things on my own. Generally people starting out today have a deep and very correct belief that they have something new to say and contribute. There's no better piece of advice than to listen to yourself, and be your personal brand. Not in a gross, ‘I am a brand’ sense, but in owning exactly who you are and sharing your unique voice as much as possible, and as often as possible.”
Did you watch The Babysitter’s Club reboot on Netflix?
“I cannot wait to see it. I want to watch it with my daughter, who’s being a real buzzkill about everything that’s not animated right now. She's almost 7, and almost old enough. I have to convince her to watch it with me because we are having that moment, goddammit!”