"I feel just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman... except for the whole hooker thing."
Ironically enough, when Rachael Leigh Cook delivered that line at the end of She's All That, another rom-com icon was born. Now, more than two decades later, the 41-year-old actress is going back to her roots, starring in a reboot of the movie that made her famous, but as a different character.
In He's All That—Netflix's gender-swapper rake on the 1999 classic, which dropped Aug. 27—TikTok sensation Addison Rae makes her acting debut in the Freddie Prinze Jr. role, while Cobra Kai star Tanner Buchanan fills Cook's "loser" shoes. As for the OG star? Despite being in just three scenes, she makes a big impact as Mrs. Sawyer, Rae's character's mom, proving she's still, well, all that.
Cook doesn't mind passing the torch to Rae and Buchanan, jokingly telling E! News in a recent phone interview, "I've spent more time telling people about the movie than I did working on the movie, which is always funny."
In the age of reboots and revivals, it's rare that an actor gets to revisit the project that made them a star in a completely different role and it's an experience Cook relished.
"The way that the character was woven in in the beginning is a nice ramp for people who were fans of the original," Cook explained, "and closing it out as a nice nod and blessing at the end." She then added with a laugh, "I was totally comfortable with the level of involvement and low level of responsibility."
Here, Cook talks to us about her only hesitation about joining He's All That and the one major decision she made about her wardrobe in the original. Plus, she reveals the first time she met Freddie Prinze Jr.—and it's definitely the opening scene of a rom-com we'd watch over and over on Netflix.
E! News: Promoting He's All That in 2021 must be a very difference experience for you than promoting She's All That in 1999.
Rachael Leigh Cook: I don't know how much I'm the pointed recipient thereof, but it feels like the anticipation around this is big and that makes me excited for the kids who are headliners on this. I'm excited for them. I just think people are really going to like the movie. Honestly, it would've felt bad if, for some reason, this hadn't come out in a fun way or in a way that I wasn't proud to be a part of and I would just have to go quiet and let them field all of this. But I'm really happy for them because they did make an adorable movie that's totally different from the one Freddie and I did, but it's really fun to see the traditions continue.
E! News: Did you have any hesitations when you were first approached about appearing in He's All That?
RLC: Well, our producer Jennifer Gibgot, who was a producer on the first [movie], was the one who called me and she's absolutely incredible. She's a total powerhouse and I love Jen. So when she told me she was doing this, I knew that she was going to do a great job. I didn't really have those concerns about wanting to be involved just based on that. I think my only hesitations existed around the fact that I didn't know if reminding people of what was simply by my presence was needed. I didn't want to be a sort of novelty act or distraction.
E! News: What if you'd been asked to reprise the role of Laney Boggs?
RLC: I don't think my vanity would've felt like that was a great idea! [Laughs.] It feels weird to raise your hand and volunteer to be compared to your twenty-years-ago self and appearance. But I don't know, at the same time, time marches on and let's keep making fun entertainment. I can't let a vanity moment get in the way of that.
E! News: You weren't the only OG to return—Matthew Lillard even brought out his old dance moves!
RLC: Yes! Wow, he is a giant human being and you need a 30-foot radius when you tell him it's time to dance, it's incredible. I love it so very much, he is wonderful.
E! News: Did you two talk before joining the movie?
RLC: Matt and I didn't talk. We never ran in the same social circles. We didn't have crossover scenes in the original, but I love that he wanted to do this reimagining because it feels like less of a gimmick that it's him than if it had been Freddie. Of course, I wanted Freddie to do this, but there wasn't really an organic way to make that happen.
Making She's All That was a little bit strange to Matt a million years ago because he felt wildly self-conscious having to do this huge choreographed dance number. So it even got sprung on him that he was going to be asked to do that in this movie. He thought he was just going to go up and be the principal [in the movie] and say a few words and then [director] Mark Waters, who clearly inspires a lot of trust and belief in people, said to Matt, "Hey, I have an idea. How about we just let you cut loose?" Matt said that he had a moment with himself that was identical to the one he had before he was going to take the role in She's All That, where he had to say, "Am I willing to do this? I'm not a dancer! Am I going to be the laughing stock of the world?" He was absolutely terrified and he said that he was always glad he summoned his courage and did it and so he knew he had to do it again. And damn, he is a braver person that I am, that's for sure!
E! News: You were 18 years old when you filmed She's All That. How do you look back on that experience?
RLC: I remember that shoot pretty well, I remember that time in my life pretty well. I remember thinking it was a great proxy experience having not gone to "real" high school for very long. But the people in that movie, like Matt, Tamara Mello, who played one of my tormentors, and Freddie, I'm going to sound like a complete egghead, but I think of them as people I went to school with. I need them to be that for me and they don't have to agree. It's my reality. It was right around the time it would've been my real senior prom. And yeah, a fake prom would totally do!
E! News: What do you remember the most about the casting process for She's All That?
RLC: I had already done House of Yes, which I'm only in briefly, and also a movie called All I Want to Do!, so I was a little bit on [Miramax's] radar and that definitely fell in my favor on this one. I remember the audition being the closest thing to I had ever done to a screen test, because it was. I had a very old T-shirt from the Art Institute of Chicago that I wore. I think I still have it somewhere. In retrospect, I feel like that was a good choice. I remember feeling like the audition went pretty well. I felt it gelled with who I was at the time.
E!: Do you remember the first time you met Freddie?
RLC: Yes, I totally remember that very well. The first time I met Freddie was in Sundance. We were both in House of Yes and I was in a house that he and Parker [Posey] and Josh [Hamilton] and everybody were in just saying hello to everybody. I was standing in the living room and I felt these giant arms just throw themselves around me and hug me and rest a chin on top of my head. And it was Freddie and he just goes, "Hey babe." I looked up and he screamed a little because he thought I was [his then-girlfriend] Kimberly [McCullough]. He didn't know that it was me because why would you? We had the exact same frame and hair color. So it was a pretty hilarious, romantic-comedy first meeting that obviously never became a real romance, but it was pretty funny.
E! News: Little did you know you two would go on to be connected for the rest of your lives.
RLC: He's just such a wonderful human. I just love that guy. But I probably didn't talk to him again [after She's All That] until a couple of years after Paul [Walker, who co-starred] died and realized you really have to reach out and take some initiative. So we got coffee and I remember saying to him, "I know we never really hung out very much after the shoot, but you have no idea what a big part of my life this ended up being." And he said something very Freddie-like, "Me too, dude. It's crazy." But I'm so lucky that it's someone as charming and as lovely as Freddie to share that with.
E! News: Has Freddie seen the new movie?
RLC: Honestly, I don't know! I texted him because I saw it pretty early and I said, "It's pretty cute, they did a great job." He said, "Oh, that's great. I'm so happy to hear it." And then we digressed into a conversation about a vintage car that he was looking for. So I hope he got his Bronco! That's where that conversation ended.
E! News: The makeover scene is an essential part of both movies. Did you have any say in Laney's before and after looks?
No, nobody cares what you think when it's early days and maybe this is just me being Midwestern, but you're not asked about that. And Denise [Wingate] was such a good costume designer. The only matter of input that I had is that I told her it would be funny if I had a hat that looked like a falafel and all of a sudden there was one there a couple of days later and they thought it was very funny.
E! News: It's funny because Laney's makeover was just removing the glasses and taking out the ponytail and Cameron's in He's All That was taking off the beanie and wig.
RLC: His makeover reveal is just...wow! It completely trumped mine.
E! News: But you had the staircase moment and the red dress!
RLC: I feel like I looked slightly awkward in that moment, which I'm going to try to pretend was for the character. But thank you for saying that!
E! News: Were you nervous at all filming that scene? It was such a pivotal moment.
RLC: I didn't give it a ton of thought frankly. Whenever things don't have a big page count, as a young actor, you don't give them a lot of bandwidth in terms of headspace or investment. I just thought, "OK, I just have to put this on and come down the stairs, do a little bit of dialogue and bond, not a problem. Let's do this." It just seemed like a fun scene. I had a lot more—not stress, but I probably put a lot more thought into the scene where I have to run away from a party and fall into gravel. It just had a little bit more punch.
He's All That is streaming on Netflix.