Courteney Cox is back on television with her new drama Dirt, in which she plays the devious editor of a celebrity gossip tabloid. Time Out met her on set in Los Angeles and talked about the series, the nature of celebrity magazines and why she doesn’t think there’ll ever be a Friends reunion.
Good grief, Courteney Cox is tiny – just like a little brunette pixie. I know the camera puts on 30 pounds and all that, but she’s so thin and so petite, but looks great for 42 and it’s…well, just like the sort of thing you only see in a celebrity gossip magazine. Ironically, the kind of magazine her new series is about and it really is her series.
Courtney is not only the main character – Lucy Spiller the unscrupulous editor of Dirt magazine – but also one of the executive producers. So after a decade on the small screen with Friends what made her return?
‘It’s just a world that I’m very familiar with and I was a part of it from the very beginning,’ she says although admits that originally she wasn’t sure if she was going to be acting in the series herself. When it comes to tabloid gossip mags though, Courteney knows the score.
‘Well, yes, it’s something I know so much about. And then it seems like a fun character that I haven’t done, and the more I play Lucy, the more fun it actually is because now I can feel like I can be outrageous with her and what she does to people – it’s great to have that. I think once people get involved, it’s like a delicious soap opera.’
In the history of TV super-bitches – from Alexis Carrington to Edie Britt – Lucy Spiller is up there with the best (or worst) of them. If her character of Gail Weathers in the three Scream films was the epitome of sensationalist news anchor then Spiller is a wonderfully overblown caricature of an editor without morality.
For Courteney it was the change she’d been looking for: ‘I was on Friends for 10 years, and that was a very high energy, obsessive-compulsive character. So to play someone who is a lot more solid and less emotional was something that was fun and challenging for me. But now it’s more challenging to find ways to make her, you know, the person you love to hate.’
There’s sex, blackmail, lies, betrayal, prostitution, drugs, gossip, bitching, dishing the dirt a sacking and a taser gun to the groin. And that’s just episode one – we’re not kidding. Say what you like about gossip tabloids, but they give the public what they want and Courteney’s series is, in many ways, doing the same as the fictional magazine it portrays. In the season finale, Jennifer Aniston guest stars as a rival editor and the pair kiss.
So, purely for technical reasons, how many takes for the kiss scene did you do with Jennifer? Courteney smiles, ‘the kiss was so not important… we did a lot of takes. But I literally kiss her longer saying hello when we meet than that kiss. I mean it was just… Oh, people make so much of it but we had a ball. It was really fun to come on the set and play completely different characters and just be together.’ Cox seems sweetly flustered, but, like her character, she knows what sells and how to play the game.
That scene added over a third more viewers compared to the previous week. In a ratings obsessed industry, Friends reunited gave the series an undeniable boost. But will there be the full Friends reunion we keep hearing about?
‘You know what? I have a feeling it’s not going to happen,’ she says with a hint of disappointment, before starting to laugh, ‘We’re close to 80-years old now and the longer we wait, the older we get.’ It’s a question she’ll probably be asked until she really is 80 years old and one that won’t disappear from the pages of those celebrity magazines.
Not that Courteney actually reads them. ‘Except for last summer,’ she admits, ‘when we were in the writer’s room every day, and, it’s like candy. You can’t stop. It’s fantastic to look at pictures, but I don’t really read them. There really aren’t that many words, are there?’
You must have some great gossip of your own for the writers though? ‘I do,’ she giggles, ‘I have a lot of stories to bring to the table, yes.’ So we’re watching your friend’s private lives on screen? ‘Well, it could be like a bit of a friend of a friend’s issue. We don’t really ever copy anyone’s exact life, but you could take a little bit of everyone and then add a twist to it. Maybe it’s the conglomeration of about four people.’
Her friends haven’t stopped telling her things through fear they might end up on the show, but Courteney believes that the nature of the paparazzi and celebrity reporting is becoming more intrusive. ‘It’s getting so much worse than it ever was and with the video cameras, you can never say the right thing,’ she sighs, and indeed that night Time Out meets packs of paparazzi with video cameras outside bars and restaurants in the city. ‘It’s not just a picture anymore,’ Courtney continues, ‘the photographers, I love them now. It’s the videographers that are tougher.
‘Someone said to me, “check out this website,” and I went on and they’re so mean. It’s brutal. It’s amazing how mean are.’ Not that Courteney actually reads them, you understand. In Dirt, her star photographer Don is a fiercely loyal, high-functioning schizophrenic played by the superb English actor Ian Hart. Between her editorial leadership and Don’s photos they rake the Hollywood muck, although interestingly the stories are always truthful. Is that realistic? Do these real magazines ever lie about Courteney?
‘I just saw in a magazine where I’m coming out of my doctor’s office and I’m going through menopause, so I’m really upset because I can’t have another child. It’s not worth it, but I do read lies like that all the time.’ Of course, not that Courteney actually reads them.
So having been in front of the tabloid’s lenses for over a decade, and now playing an editor of a celebrity magazine, what’s the best way to deal with it? Just ignore them? ‘It’s going to happen, no matter if I get upset about it. A lot of it is ignorance is bliss. I have so many other things to be upset about or to be interested in or to be having fun with.’
And then she starts to laugh and, perhaps, gets to the bottom line of the way most actors view the sort of publications Courteney has portrayed in the series: ‘Y’know, if I am looking OK in the picture, I don’t care.’•
For Time Out, November 2007