It’s been 20 years since Tara Reid played Melody Valentine, the sweet, spacey drummer from Josie and the Pussycats, but she still talks about her as one would a beloved friend. “Out of all the characters I’ve ever played in my life, she was one of the greatest because every day I woke up and I got to play the happiest girl in the world,” Reid told Refinery29 over the phone.
In 2001, Melody was mistaken for a dumb blonde. Now, Reid knows she was right to bet on her. Josie and the Pussycats, once a critical and commercial failure, has since been reborn as a cult classic. What Roger Ebert once called “dumb as the Spice Girls” is now widely recognised as a landmark cultural phenomenon for an entire generation of young women. Josie McCoy (Rachael Leigh Cook, hot off of She’s All That), Valerie Brown (Rosario Dawson), and Melanie weren’t just punk rock prom queens — they were proof that women could value friendship over love, and excel at our chosen path without having to tear each other down along the way.
It’s a lesson that has steered Reid as she undergoes her own transformation. Once an underestimated talent who dominated tabloid headlines as the girl next door from American Pie and Van Wilder, she made an unexpected and unprecedented comeback as an action star in the behemoth Sharknado franchise. At 45, she is reinventing herself once more, this time as a producer. Reid is no longer waiting for the right role to come along. Instead, she’s making that material for herself.
Her IMDb page is loaded with projects — 21 in various stages of production as of this interview’s publishing — but the one she’s most excited about is Masha’s Mushroom, a thriller directed by White Cross, which Reid is both producing and starring in. She plays the titular Masha, a mum whose birthday party goes very, very wrong when she and all her guests are drugged and forced to battle hallucinations in order to get out alive.
There’s been a learning curve — ”Normally, I get the part, I get to set, I do my job, and I leave,” she said. “I never realised how much goes into making a movie.” But Reid isn’t a quitter. After all, the industry has forgotten about her before, and she’s always bounced back in new and unexpected ways. “I’m a survivor,” she said. “At the end of the day, when you love what you do, you’ll always come back to it.”
Ahead, Reid looks back at the legacy of Josie and the Pussycats, and what’s next.
Refinery29: You never auditioned for Josie and the Pussycats. How did you end up getting cast as Melody Valentine?
Tara Reid: “I had a three picture deal with Universal [Pictures]. The first two movies were American Pie and American Pie 2, and the third one was Josie and the Pussycats.”
What did you like about Melody?
“She’s such a free spirit. She seemed naive, and some people called her dumb, but she was never. If you really watch the movie she had these psychic moments, and predictions. Her heart was so big — if a rose fell down, she’d feel like the rose was dying with her. And I was with girls I loved, and we had so much fun together. It was like a sleepaway camp. We had to learn the instruments, which was hard in the beginning. Rosario didn’t know how to play the bass; I didn’t know how to play the drums; Rachael didn’t know how to play the guitar. They made us take lessons for like three months, and finally we learned.”
Do you still play?
“No, because I live in a high rise, and if I played the drums here I’d probably get kicked out of the building! It’s not the most light sound. But when I’d go out before the pandemic — I can always play the bongos. I know my beat now!”
What’s so special about Josie and the Pussycats is that it’s the rare early aughts movie that starred three young women who weren’t playing a love interest or competing with each other for a guy.
“I loved that. I don’t think movies have to be about competing for a guy or always having to have a love interest. Let’s be natural! Times have changed. We’re not in the days where you need a man, you have to get married and have kids. Women can do whatever they want. We have just as much power as they do, but it took a while to do that. Josie and the Pussycats is one of the first female empowerment movies of that time — no one knew that at the time, even we didn’t! And now 20 years later, it’s become this cult film. It was awesome to be working with these incredible actresses.”
If you go back and read the original reviews, it’s pretty shocking to see how dismissive critics were of the movie, given how important it was to young women who saw it.
“It was before social media. It was so ahead of its time. We were saying Puma is the new Adidas, red is the new black, all these subliminal messages. No one understood what that meant. But today, it makes perfect sense. If it came out now, it’d be a huge hit. And it is in a different way — it did terribly at the box office, but now everyone wants to have an interview with us about it, asking What happened, and What changed?
“It was girls, with each other, not being mean to each other. We had the best time of our lives, and I think people see that. When people watch that film, they go, Wow, I wish I could have that.”
Do you have a specific memory from filming that you cherish?
“Something so silly is that we were wearing the smallest costumes, and it was freezing – we were in Vancouver. Everything was custom-made, and they were so small! We were shivering to death every time we had to go outside. And every time we would finish a scene, we would just run to the trailer and they would have three pairs of Ugg boots put together. We’d kick our heels off and put the Uggs on and sigh, Ahhhhhhhh. It was heaven. “
I was obsessed with Melody’s wardrobe. All those early aughts going out tops!
“Melody’s wardrobe was amazing. Leesa Evans, our costume designer, was so cool. She asked, ‘What do you feel Melody should be like?’ We were so involved. I wanted Melody to be a total rockstar, totally cool, but that’s just her. She has no idea she’s even doing it. That was one of the best things about playing Melody. All I had to do to play her is to be happy. I didn’t even have to look for happiness, I had it with my co-stars. It was fantastic.”
Did you get to keep any of the outfits?
“Some of them! We usually had four or five versions of the outfits in case something happened, so I have a piece of all of them.”
You’ve made this pivot to producing, and you now have so many projects in development including Masha’s Mushroom. What prompted this shift in your career?
“Sitting down in my house during [quarantine], I started going back and reaching out to people I’d worked with in the past. White Cross and I have a movie coming out called Mummy Dearest and we really connected, so we decided to make this film called Masha’s Mushroom — I’m Masha obviously. And we started a company together, we became friends and started going at it. Because we were on lockdown, we got in touch with people that usually you can’t get on the phone. But everyone was at home, no one was busy. I accessed so many people and relationships. Right now, Masha’s Mushroom is one film of five. It’s like another American Pie or Sharknado — but this one’s my baby. It’s such a cool movie, when you see it you’re gonna get it. There’s nothing like it.”
"Everyone was looking at my senior yearbook, and yet I was growing into a woman and changing."
What did you learn from the experience?
“Normally, I get the part, I go to set, I do my job, and I leave. I never realised how hard it was as a producer and how much goes into that. How many years it takes to make a movie, to get the financing, to get the distribution. Being on both sides of the fence is the most incredible feeling. Even when we go to negotiate with the actors for different things — I know what they want; I know what they need, because it’s what I want and what I need.
“Instead of waiting for a part, which I did for a long time, I thought: You know what, it’s time for me to create my part. The ones that I want to make, the ones that will make people notice me again and put me back in the game. And it was me that created it all. At the end of the day, everyone says, if you want something to happen, who has to do it? You.
It’s very satisfying. It makes you feel good, and that’s something that’s so important right now.”
Have you found that people in the industry still hold on to the image you had when you started out?
“For a long time I felt like that, but not so much anymore. Imagine you look at your senior picture in your high school yearbook, and then look at yourself now. Do you look the same? That’s how I felt in the industry. Everyone was looking at my senior yearbook, and yet I was growing into a woman and changing. But until you can show them the change, they can’t see it. Like, guys, it’s 20 years later. I’m 45 years old. I can’t even do what I did back then, I’m too tired. It was never a typecasting situation. It was about me turning the page. In Hollywood, it’s hard to turn the page if you don’t show them the next page.”
Speaking of typecasting, I saw you posted on Instagram about loving Bridgerton — would you ever want to take on a period role?
“One of the best shows ever! I’m obsessed with period pieces. That would be a project I would love to do.”
We’re now having this cultural reckoning with the tabloid coverage of young women in the early aughts, especially in the aftermath of Framing Britney Spears. Do you feel like you were unfairly portrayed?
“I hated it, but time is a healer of everything. Hollywood is changing. Women are having their time to come back up — that never happened before, where we have control of ourselves. It’s the women directors who are doing incredible, it’s women actors who are taking over. It’s our time. If anyone is going to get bullied, it would be me, and it’s not me anymore.”
"In Hollywood, it’s hard to turn the page if you don’t show them the next page.”
What advice would you give to young women coming up in Hollywood today?
“To be patient, to be careful, to still always be inspired. Love your craft, and if you love something else, then love something else and go that way. Because it’s not the easiest job in the world. To be a working actress constantly in Hollywood is almost impossible.”
Was it difficult for you to transition into different kinds of roles as you’ve gotten older?
“When you’re that young, you’re playing high school or college roles. That’s not a leading lady. A leading lady is someone like Julia Roberts. Now, I’m getting to that time. I went through the awkward stage, and now I’m getting to a time when I will become a leading lady. [I am] doing it myself with my rules, my territory, and controlling my image, my press, which I didn’t know how to do before because I was too innocent and too young. I didn’t understand it. With age, you learn a lot.
“I wouldn’t even take anything back. If everything was so easy like it was when I was on the cover of Rolling Stone, I wouldn’t be here on the phone with you. At the end of the day, I’ve learned so much. I feel like my career is starting really for the first time now.”
This interview was edited for length and clarity.