Behind the Screens interview with Joshua Maloni
Like most of us, Rachael Leigh Cook has Olympic fever.
"I am in love with the Olympics," she said in a phone interview Wednesday. "There's just something in me that, every four years, makes me try to vault over my couch. I'm just totally obsessed with the gymnastics and swimming."
Cook's affinity for the Summer Games is not surprising, as her hometown, Minnesota, has ranked among the top five markets for NBC all week.
"You know what, that makes so much sense," she said when told of the ratings. "I didn't know why I was obsessed with the Olympics, and that's got to be why. It's in my blood."
"That is interesting," Cook said. "Are you watching it?"
A conversation ensued, where it was revealed Cook was sneaking a peek even at the time of this interview.
"OK; you're going to laugh," she said. "I am, right now, I'm not saying I'm not listening to you, because I definitely am, but if you looked at the picture on the TV, it's the replay of the (laughs). ..."
Cook was not entirely sure of the event, but, it was the Olympics. And if it was in Rio, it was on her television.
"It's the ... there's a tiny ... girl up on a very high beam. What is this? ... Which one am I watching?" she asked.
Focused back on the interview, she said, "Yes, the Olympics are fun."
Of course, Cook wouldn't mind if people turned away from the Olympics for just a few hours on Aug. 20. That's when her new movie, "Summer Love," debuts on the Hallmark Channel.
"I hope so! I don't want to compete with the Olympics!" she said. "I mean, these people have been, you know, like, they deserve the attention. I want people to watch the movie, but I would understand - I'm just saying."
Perhaps viewers could watch her movie first, DVR the Rio stuff, and then watch it later?
"That's only fair," Cook said. "Everybody wins; absolutely."
If you grew up in the 1990s, there's a very good chance you watched the romantic comedy "She's All That." And, if that's the case, then you undoubtedly had a crush on Cook.
In the "Pygmalion"-inspired film, Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is the high school hunk, abruptly and publicly dumped by his reality TV girlfriend. When Zack claims he can land any girl - and still become prom king - his best friend, Dean Sampson (the late Paul Walker) makes a wager wherein Zack has to win over Laney Boggs (Cook), a shy, makeup-less, awkward art student and offbeat theater actor.
Without spoiling the ending, Laney is transformed into a high school sweetheart: a hero to the less-popular masses, and a real threat to the cool kids.
In the movie's most famous scene, a made-over Laney walks down the stairs as Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me" plays in the background. In that moment, Zack was astounded by Laney's transformation - and moviegoers were smitten with Cook.
More than 17 years later, Cook is not dissimilar to Laney. Like her character, Cook is gorgeous, affable and funny. She's not running with the trendsetters, but working to make the world a better place through her art. (In this case, film.)
The actress, who went on to star as Sylvester Stallone's troubled niece in "Get Carter," as the leader of Josie and the Pussycats in the film of the same name, as Shawn's pre-Juliet girlfriend on "Psych," and as an FBI agent (and Eric McCormack's handler/partner) on "Perception," can next be seen in the Hallmark Channel's "Summer Love."
In the made-for-television movie, Cook's Maya is a single mom who takes on an internship at a tech company. As she attempts to come up with a splashy new app, she draws the attention of both the company CEO and CFO.
Talk about uncomfortable staff meetings.
The film is the latest feel-good feature from the company that cornered the greeting card market. It debuts next weekend.
Cook chatted with BTS about her career, working with Hallmark, and interacting with fans. A selected Q&A follows.
"Summer Love": Lucas Bryant, Rachael Leigh Cook and Travis Milne. (Hallmark Channel photo)
BTS: Tell me about "Summer Love." What attracted you to this project?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Well, you know, I've got to be honest. I don't want to take away from any of the other Hallmark movies that just didn't feel like a good fit for me. Hallmark's offered me over a dozen of their movies over the years. Just none of the scripts, or the roles, really spoke to me. But there was just this, I want to say confluence of events, between becoming a mom for the second time and things just getting increasingly bleak from a world stage, with terrorism and some political things that I won't get into. I just started to feel like the only thing that I wanted to put out there was really positive content.
So, I'm trying to put aside my adolescent desire to be like the cool kid, and I'm sort of embracing who I really am, which is just a total romantic, who loves to be taken away by what I watch. True escapism.
BTS: You've got an interesting sort of romantic love triangle in this film. But your character is also a mom. There are a lot of different things to pique your interest. What can you tell me about the character Maya? What do you like about her, and what did you bring to the part?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Well, what really drew me to her was her boundless optimism and positivity. That was something that I really felt like I need to connect with in myself. And bringing that out, because I had to, for three weeks at a time in myself, I knew would really do my heart good. And that's why people watch a lot of these movies, because they want to feel good. They want something positive put out there, because they can mirror that positive feeling in their own lives going forward, if they feel good.
I think that it's a really responsible artistic thing to do, to contribute to that energy.
"Summer Love": Lucas Bryant and Rachael Leigh Cook. (Hallmark Channel photo)
BTS: You mentioned the Hallmark Channel and, when I was looking at the list of past movies produced in recent years, there's quite an abundance of talent. You've got well-established actors like James Caan and Danny Glover and Andy Garcia, and then you've got top younger actresses like Minka Kelly, Danielle Panabaker and even Candace Cameron Bure. When you're deciding on a project, obviously the script and the character are important, but, in this case, the pedigree of the network, how much does that weigh into your decision?
Rachael Leigh Cook: I really look almost exclusively at the storytelling. This is a character that I had interest in portraying, and I felt like the script was really fresh and funny. And the character resonated with me, and that's why I made the decision to do it.
And it was almost accidentally a really good experience. You never know who you're going into business with. You know, you can go to make a script that feels like the most lighthearted, wonderful thing, and you can be working with people who are tough on their crews. Or you can have a co-star who's moody with you. You can have a bad experience even with scripts that seem like they'd just be a blast.
I had such a good time making this, and it made me all the more sure that I wanted to work with Hallmark again. So much so that the script that I had loosely had in development with them, that got pulled up to shoot, I'm leaving to shoot another movie for them on Friday.
If that's not a reflection of the experience that I had, I don't really know what is. They're just really - I don't know how else to put it - they're good people. Hallmark, I think that they're a network that believes in everyday miracles, and believes in love. And that's something that I need - that I want to be a part of. That I believe in.
BTS: Different cities have different things. Here in Buffalo, our thing is bands. We have a lot of bands - very good bands - that don't know how to break into that next level. They don't know how to get on the national scene. You're from Minnesota. I don't know that that's a hotbed of acting opportunities. How did you break out and start your career?
Rachael Leigh Cook: Well, it was a series of incredibly fortunate events, brought about by a strange and naïve amount of belief in myself at a young age. My parents were just those kind of parents who told us that we could be absolutely anything that we wanted to be. And I think I was young enough to truly take that in and believe it.
And I remember, at 11 years old, looking through the ads in the paper - the classified ads - for acting positions, basically. And I had no experience, and I had, in fact, been rejected from several school plays and drama programs, so I don't really know. Not drama programs. Maybe one theater company. But still, I had no reason to have any perception of my own "ability," or lack thereof. It just sort of called me.
And sometimes all you have to do is just put that out into the universe, and take a couple steps, and doors open. There's a lot of print work for kid models - or really anyone. There's a lot of catalog work; Fortune 500 companies that advertise out of Minneapolis. I was a child model, basically. And let's emphasize child. Very young.
I was on file with an agency, and the agency was on the radar of a manager working out of Los Angeles, who was looking for kids who weren't sort of L.A., razzle-dazzle showbiz kids. Because Minnesota actually has a lot of theater. And so, she saw my photo, and thought that I had a look that was something that could be marketable. And she said, "Tell me if this girl gets any acting work." And, sure enough, I booked a short film by a local writer/director, and she saw it. Met with me, and my family, on a trip that she made out to Minneapolis, scouting kids. And she was able to shop my tape to agencies. And I went out to L.A. and met with agencies. And, on my first feature film audition, it was for a movie called "Baby-Sitter's Club," that I somehow booked. And that was in 1995.
BTS: As you look back on the past 20 years, you've been in some really cool projects. We're talking about "She's All That," "Josie," "Get Carter," "House of Yes." You did a guest stint on "Psych," which is my favorite comedy of all time.
Rachael Leigh Cook: That's great, isn't it? I loved that show!
BTS: That show was awesome. You also did three seasons of "Perception." You've got a very well-rounded resume. What is the conversation with fans these days? What do they ask about most often?
Rachael Leigh Cook: (Laughs) You never know. Gosh, I mean, the most common thing is people will now stop me in grocery stores, in the frozen food section, and say, "Aren't you that cop (from "Perception")? How come that show isn't on anymore?" And I'll say, "I don't know." And what I'm thinking is, "Maybe you didn't tell your friends to watch it, if you like it?" (Laughs)
But that's sort of the most common thing now. You know, I always feel thrilled when people recognize me from stuff like "She's All That" and "Josie and the Pussycats," because I was 19 and 21 then, and I'm 36 now. So, the fact that I'm recognizable as the same human makes me happy.
But, yeah, you never know what it's going to be. I can usually tell what people have seen by their approximate age - is a good guess. But you never know. Some guy in the airport told me that he liked "Nancy Drew," and that was a surprise.
"Summer Love" (Hallmark Channel photo)
9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, on the Hallmark Channel
Maya Sulliway (Rachael Leigh Cook) is a struggling single mom who's studying to become an accountant. When her young daughter goes off to sleepaway camp, Maya accepts a summer internship at Kizzmit, a tech company known for developing a popular social app, in order to receive college credit.
There, the 30-something Maya feels out of place among the company's hip millennial interns - and feels even more intimidated when she meets Colin Fitzgerald (Lucas Bryant), Kizzmit's straitlaced CFO, who has a reputation for being a highly demanding boss. When she's introduced to Will Martin (Travis Milne), the company's handsome and charismatic CEO, Maya learns about Pitch-Fest, an upcoming contest designed to determine who among Kizzmit's staff can come up with the best idea for a new app.
Before long, Will and Colin both take a liking to Maya and a competition heats up between them. - Hallmark Channel