Courteney Cox: Shining through

Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010

The former “Friends” costar sat on the sidelines while others in the cast grabbed statuettes. With ‘Cougar Town,’ she could get her own mantel decoration now.

“Friends” racked up 63 Emmy nominations during the decade it pillaged pop culture and reigned as a Thursday night television mainstay on NBC. Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow each received six nominations and each won once. Their costar Courteney Cox? Never nominated. Not once.

To which, the only reasonable reply is: What the heck? Playing the group’s mother hen, Monica Geller, Cox took a character loaded with obsessive-compulsive quirks and a goofy, overly competitive nature and fashioned a flesh-and-blood woman. Cox’s comic timing was impeccable, and she brought out Monica’s insecurities in a way that turned self-deprecation into an art form. Of all the friends, Monica actually was more multi-dimensional.

“I’m not competitive like Monica, but would I like to win an Emmy? Forget winning. I’ve been doing this for a thousand years and I’ve never been nominated,” Cox says, laughing, over a glass of wine at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge. “I’ve made a good living and keep getting jobs that give me happiness. But it’d be such a great feeling to be recognized by your peers who you respect. I’ve never had that. And I’m not going to act like I don’t care because … guess what? It’d feel … great.”

Having reinvented herself this year on ABC’s unfortunately named freshman sitcom “Cougar Town,” Cox might finally experience that feeling. The comedy began its life last fall as a show about Jules, a newly divorced, 40ish woman trying to figure out how to start anew after the end of her 20-year marriage. Her initial plan: Date younger men. Lots of younger men. Like, a new one every week.

But after a few episodes, “Cougar Town” ditched the whole cougar thing (the show might soon be changing its title too) and became an ensemble comedy about a bunch of friends trying to find their way through (mid)life. It quickly settled into its happy groove and even ended with Jules starting a relationship with her divorced bartender neighbor.

“Courteney really pushed us to the new direction of the show,” says “Cougar Town” co-creator Bill Lawrence. “To have somebody of her star power embrace the ensemble nature of the show, while still having to be the one who works 99% of the time, was really cool to watch.”

Cox deflects any notion of magnanimity on her part. Shows evolve, she says. You roll with the changes. As for working “99% of the time,” Cox, 45, says, “Bring it on.” She already has the date circled on her calendar when she’s returning to work on “Cougar Town” (or whatever it’s called by then) in August.

“I’m ready to start back now,” Cox says. “People talk about the grind of doing a television show, but I love that grind. I missed that grind. I love the focus it brings. When I’m not working, I can’t get anything done.”

That kind of high-achiever quote makes Cox sound a little like Monica, which, Lawrence, a friend from when he wrote for “Friends,” says might be part of the problem when it comes to appreciating her comic talents.

“I think people think she’s just a personality playing an extension of herself when, in fact, she’s not like the people she’s playing,” Lawrence says. “Courteney is beautiful. It looks easy for her. She doesn’t seem like an underdog. She doesn’t get as much credit for working as hard as she has.”

That point hit home for Lawrence in the late-season “Cougar Town” episode when Jules’ teen son flips through her old high school yearbook and comes across a picture of Mom onstage dancing with Bruce Springsteen. It’s a meta moment, recalling the actual Brian De Palma-directed music video that had Cox, then 20, playing a fan pulled on stage to go dancing in the dark with the Boss.

“If people remember that young girl super-excited to get a part where she grabs Bruce Springsteen’s hand and dances like an idiot, they’d see her in a different light,” Lawrence says. “She has had to fight, just like everyone else.”

Cox has a slightly different take, not about the fighting or the dancing “like an idiot” part, but about using the clip in the first place.

“I thought it was too wink-wink, but Bill convinced me to do it, and he was right,” Cox says, laughing. “I fought it because I knew I’d have to watch the video again. I looked it up on YouTube right before we shot the scene. Can I just say one thing to get it out there? I’m a much better dancer now.”