To a certain subset of the population, Jennifer Coolidge will always be the sexy Stifler’s Mom from “American Pie.” But the actress has been a steady presence in the comedy scene for years now, performing stand up and popping up in movies as diverse as “Best in Show” to the “Legally Blonde” series. Now, she heads to Cambridge for a production of “Saving Kitty” from the Nora Theatre Company at the Central Square Theater. The play tells the story of a pair of diehard liberals trying to adjust to their daughter bringing home a Republican boyfriend. We caught up with the Massachusetts native to talk about her stage debut and her famous role.
What made you pick this show for your Boston theater debut?
I thought it was a great play. It was really well written and I really, really liked the part she was offering me. It’s not like anything I get to do ever. I get to play someone who’s a really strong person. She’s really smart and complicated and kind of messed up, and all these things women kill to play and there aren’t enough of these roles out there.
The play is set in Manhattan, but the premise feels very Cambridge.
I know. What’s funny too is that my character is one of those people who think they’re one thing, one of those people wh don’t have any self –awareness at all, who are very righteous about their own point of view. You know, you’re a liberal, and you’re really very judgmental and don’t know it. And that’s what’s so funny. I was just having dinner with a friend last night. He’s a very funny guy, but he’s very critical of people. He’ll say these very cutting things about people. I thought it was hilarious that he was saying he’d like to be friends with this girl, but he said: ‘I can’t be friends with her. She’s just too mean and critical.’ And I thought, people just don’t know! People don’t know who they are.
You’ve been in all these classic comedies over the years. Do you think you’re gaining insight into what works in comedy?
Yeah, well this is the weirdest thing. What happens to you when you’re on a movie, and it can happen to you anywhere. It can happen to you when you’re doing stand-up, you don’t really know what is going to land well or what isn’t. Sometimes when you’re making a movie, you’re like, oh my god, this is going to be a blockbuster, this is going to be the best movie ever made and then it isn’t. It’s really hard to gauge what’s going to be well received.
Is there any movie that comes to mind as one you didn’t think would do well?
Well, I do remember when we were making “American Pie” thinking, how much fun we were all having. And thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if the added dessert on top was that it would make some money, but I didn’t think it was going to be what it was. I got paid like, $1,400, $2,000 for that first role, and that’s before taxes, so my take home was probably $700 after everyone had been commissioned. It was just this little job. It turned into this huge thing. You just don’t know.
So, you basically paid one month’s rent from that movie.
Yeah, exactly. I think that’s what my rent was. That’s what it was back in Hollywood, $700 and I paid it that month.
So will there be a whole section of Coolidge family members coming to see the show?
You know, they’ve threatened to come. It’s so funny. Every time I do a performance or stand-up or something, it’s the people who say they’re going to come that don’t come and the people who never mention it are there. It’s never who you think.
Do you ever get really unexpected people showing up to your shows?
Yeah, I did stand up a couple of years ago at the Wilbur and a teacher of mine showed up. It was really cool.