Rachael Leigh Cook Is Proud Of She’s All That’s Messy But Lasting Legacy

When Rachael Leigh Cook first got the call about starring in a gender-swapped reboot of She’s All That, she wasn’t all that sure about participating. 
“‘How do I feel about being involved with a new version of this?’” she remembered thinking at the time during a phone interview with Refinery29. “I did my thing in the original, and they're trying to make something new, so why am I here as a totem of what was? Let people make their own movie — I don't need to be trotted out to validate it.”

As Lainey Boggs in the Robert Iscove-directed movie, Cook helped kick off an entire genre of rom-com: the teen makeover love story. She’s All That debuted at number one at the box office in 1999, where it remained anchored for 10 consecutive weeks, grossing over $100 million worldwide (roughly 10 times its original budget). Twenty years later, its standing as a pop culture phenomenon is undeniable — even as its cracks are starting to show. Watching it today requires viewers — especially women — to hold their noses in order to swallow some of the fat-shaming, casual misogyny, and an attempted sexual assault brushed off as a joke that come hand-in-hand with the joys of Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me.” 
Photo: Moviestore/Shutterstock.
Cook knows this. In recent years, she’s leaned into her rom-com roots — on screen and off. In September 2020, she produced Netflix’s Love Guaranteed and is actively developing another: A Tourist’s Guide To Love, based on her own original idea about a travel executive who travels to Vietnam after a bad breakup, which Cook will star in and produce. In that sense, she’s very attuned to how the culture has changed since she slipped on that red dress and wowed Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.). Perhaps that’s partly why she ultimately felt it necessary to give the next generation her blessing.  
“I wanted to be supportive in a very forward-facing way because it's important that they feel respected by the old guard,” she said. “Instead of being asked for the rest of my life, ‘How do I feel about this movie?’ I'd rather just simply put my stamp of approval on it by showing up.”
Directed by Mark Waters from a script by R. Lee Fleming Jr. (who also penned the original), He’s All That flips the narrative by centering around social media influencer Padgett Sawyer (Addison Rae) — the TikTok equivalent of Zack Siler. When her YouTube-famous boyfriend cheats on her in a very public way, Padgett vows to replace him with a popular puppet of her own making. The lucky candidate? Cameron Kweller (Tanner Buchanan), a high school misfit as artsy as Lainey Boggs, with a beanie to boot. 
As Padgett’s mom Anna, Cook acts as the He’s All That fairy godmother. A nurse and single mom struggling to give her daughter the kind of rich-kid lifestyle her friends enjoy, she drops in just long enough to sprinkle some nostalgia sparkle dust on the whole operation. Her scenes are sparse but typically charismatic — and though she’s playing a totally different character (not adult Lainey, as some have speculated), you get the sense that a pair of horned-rimmed glasses and denim overalls are lurking somewhere in her closet. 
Ahead, Cook looks back on She’s All That’s cultural legacy (the good and the bad) and the advice she’d give her younger self.
Refinery29: When we last spoke, you mentioned that you could probably never make She’s All That today. Beyond the gender swap,  how do you think the dynamics have shifted in He’s All That?
“The social media angle is what truly makes the remake necessary and it’s what makes it relevant to today's generation. You couldn't just flip the genders and make the movie again. It really needed that other layer to validate its existence. And [in Addison Rae] they chose a great person to represent that message [of] the perils and pitfalls of social media. People will buy it from her. I think it was a great first movie choice for her, frankly.”
Addison Rae has a level of fame separate from this movie, but aside from that, how do you think her experience navigating her first film compares to yours?
“She has more working against her, to be completely candid. People of generations just above her, we don't truly understand TikTok as well as she does. She’s the maestro. And social media is an identity-centric platform with a penchant for total personal transparency. So, for those who believe that that’s the way it works, it’s almost counterproductive and opposite to the objective of someone who is a ‘serious actor.’ The main hurdle is to mute yourself and adopt a different identity. Now, do I consider myself a serious actor? Not even saying that I do, especially not in this movie, but I think she is going to have a little bit of an uphill climb after this movie, and that’s why this one was a good choice for her. She’s a curious person and was very deferential to Mark [Waters], our very experienced director, and has a desire to be good that will get her everywhere she needs to go.” 

"I’m not saying that She’s All That deserves to be on the Mount Everest of film history, but I do think that it should be allowed to continue to be shared with audiences as a marker of how far we’ve come.” 

Rachael Leigh Cook
Watching She’s All That today requires a little bit of mental gymnastics — you have to overcome some of the more problematic moments in order to enjoy it. Have you rewatched it at all? How did you feel about it in hindsight?
“I definitely feel that He’s All That is more socially responsible, and I think it’s also funny that they’re going to need to remake it in another 20 years from now, when people realize that no one should be making-over anybody. The version that I was in… we’re not allowed to just throw out all the history of cinema. I’m not saying that She’s All That deserves to be on the Mount Everest of film history, but I do think that it should be allowed to continue to be shared with audiences as a touchpoint of where we were back then and, indirectly, as a marker of how far we’ve come.” 
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Do you look back with a sense of relief that the culture has changed?
“I definitely do for the industry, because these changes have helped me personally and professionally tremendously. I came up in the industry at a time when I thought I was going to be completely out of a job by the time I was 36, and that I’d have to wait until I was a grandma to play the grandma roles. That was going to be my journey. I thought that if you’re not a man, odds are you’re not going to be a person in power. It’s a really exciting time [now] to be a person my age and a woman in the industry.”
You’ve spoken about filming a She’s All That scene at the beach in a bikini, and your shock when someone gave you cutlets to fill out your cleavage. Do you think we’ve moved beyond stuff like that?
“There will always be roles where cutlets are involved. Probably not for me — and I think that was largely where my mild shock came from. I didn’t think of myself as somebody who got hired the way the ‘pretty girls’ got hired. I thought my niche was being accessible. That was my lane, to represent the audience in most stories I was helping tell at that time, most specifically in She’s All That. So, when [the time came] to be actively objectified, I just felt uncomfortable because it hadn’t been my role. If I had been a Jennifer Love Hewitt, or somebody who was exalted as a notable physical figure, I think I would have had a more seasoned reaction. I was pretty thrown for a minute.”

"I came up in the industry at a time when I thought I was going to be completely out of a job by the time I was 36."

Rachael Leigh Cook
What advice would you give to a younger Rachael Leigh Cook, about to be cast in She’s All That?
“A couple of things: First of all, don’t be afraid to sever relationships that are unhealthy or unproductive. People don’t change all that much. And second of all, when people in the industry ask you what you want to do next, always have an answer and don’t be afraid to say it. Don’t be afraid to be specific about it. You never know who might be the person to help you.”
So, what do you want to do next?
“This is very early days but my friend Utkarsh Ambudkar [and I are] commissioning a script because we really want to work together. I have a project I’m still hashing out in my mind, and I’ll be looking for a writer — it’s a suspense based on an interesting dynamic that happened in my family. I’m really excited about what the future holds. It’s been a very busy and strange yet empowering time.” 

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