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The Transformation Of Rachael Leigh Cook From She's All That To Now

Actress Rachael Leigh Cook became popular in the '90s when she starred in the hit teen romance "She's All That." The 1999 film featured her alongside Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, a young Kieran Culkin, and a slew of other recognizable faces. The story itself was a retelling of the rags-to-beauty tale told in Audrey Hepburn's 1964 "My Fair Lady," itself an adaption of the 1913 play "Pygmalion," which is yet another adaptation of a classical Greek myth. It's basically adaptations all the way down. For a light teen romance, the story has some deep roots.

Cook plays the nerdy Laney Boggs, who transforms into a beauty queen thanks to a bet made by her mean-spirited peers. Laney's reveal, as she descends the stairs in a red mini-dress while Sixpence None The Richer's "Kiss Me" plays became such a memorable scene that it was parodied in the subsequent "Not Another Teen Movie" spoof.

"She's All That" premiered over 20 years ago now, and its star has continued to have a successful career since her teen dream days. This is what Rachael Leigh Cook has been up to in the years since.

Starring in Josie and the Pussycats

Rachael Leigh Cook rose to stardom with that portrayal of Laney Boggs in "She's All That," and then she built on that momentum two years later with a live-action adaptation of "Josie and the Pussycats." The film, based on characters from the Archie Comics series and subsequent Hanna-Barbera cartoon show, revolves around the adventures of a fictional band called The Pussycats. Cook was cast as Josie McCoy, with Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson playing bandmates Melody Valentine and Valerie Brown. A clever parody of late '90s pop gloss clashing with concerns of selling out, the flick's plot centers on the group's shenanigans after being discovered by a greedy record executive.

In the early '00s, Cook had several high-profile feature films — the Sylvester Stallone vehicle "Get Carter," the fear-big-tech paranoid thriller "Antitrust," the James Van Der Beek/Ashton Kutcher/Usher western "Texas Rangers" — underperform at the box office.

Today, "Pussycats" is considered something of a classic, but upon release it was similarly perceived as a box office dud. The film also failed to connect with critics, still resting today at a meager 53% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Like any good cult classic, the film's audience seems to have steadily caught up with the clever, music-heavy film, however, and it has since become one of Cook's signature roles.

A move to television

In addition to film, Rachael Leigh Cook has been building her career in television. One of her most memorable roles on the small screen may have been Clara Wheeler, a character in the 2005 Steven Spielberg-produced miniseries "Into the West."  Premiering on TNT, the series was set in the early 1800s and told the story of two families, one white and one Indigenous American. 

Featuring a massive ensemble cast, Cook appeared alongside the likes of Skeet Ulrich, Tinsel Korey and Gil Birmingham. Cook would go on to make guest appearances on such notable series as "Ghost Whisperer" and several episodes of the fifteenth and final season of "Criminal Minds." She would also become a recurring player on the shows "Las Vegas" and "Psych." 

As a working actor with a career that has spanned multiple decades, naturally Cook has participated in her share of television projects that did not pan out. In 2010, she signed on to play the lead role in a Fox comedy series called "Nirvana," but the series — about a pair of Indian-American brothers navigating American assimilation (Cook would've played one of their girlfriends) — never made it past the pilot stage. Two years later, Cook could be found in 39 episodes of "Perception," a TNT series starring Eric McCormack as a neuropsychiatrist working with an FBI special agent (played by Cook).

A talented voice actress

Expanding her career beyond film and television, Rachael Leigh Cook began booking voice work in 2000, playing Chelsea Cunningham in two episodes of "Batman Beyond," taking over the role from voice actress Yvette Lowenthal. After reprising that role in the film "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker," she became the voice of "Final Fantasy" character Tifa Lockhart, voicing the bartender and rebel in various projects including the animated film "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children" and the video games "Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII," "Kingdom Hearts II" and "Dissidia: Final Fantasy NT." 

Cook began building a nice side career in video games, portraying Jaesa Willsaam — a Jedi Padawan who falls to the dark side and serves the Sith —  in "Star Wars: The Old Republic." Through her longtime association with Seth Green's Adult Swim series "Robot Chicken," she has not only provided many voices but also many "Star Wars" voices, including Luke Skywalker's ill-fated aunt Beru.

Working with her ex-husband

In 2004, Rachael Leigh Cook married fellow actor Daniel Gillies, a soon-to-be "Into the West" co-star notable for roles in such films as "Spider-Man 2" and later, Roland Joffe's "Captivity." While together, the couple had two children; after nearly 20 years together, Cook and Gillies divorced in 2021. 

During their time together, Cook and Gillies worked together one time, on a film called "Broken Kingdom." The independent film released in 2012 with the duo in the lead roles; the film was written and directed by Gillies.

The story of "Broken Kingdom" revolves around four different stories, from Bogota to Hollywood. The drama focuses on a struggling daycare teacher (Cook) whose story clashes with that of an American writer living in Columbia (Gilles) and a 14-year-old sex worker. Although the film never received a wide release, it did land a 77% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, with one praising the film as "an emotional rollercoaster, gripping and intense."

Living as a vegetarian

One thing even her biggest fans may not know about Rachael Leigh Cook is that she is a practicing vegetarian. In a 2007 interview, Cook revealed that she had not eaten meat since she was 15 years old. While she prefers not to eat meat, and values the idea of not consuming animals, Cook explained that she doesn't judge those who do not share her lifestyle choice.

"I think that a lot of people don't need to eat meat," she explained. "I don't think it's for everybody, but I'm just not somebody who needs it."

Unlike those who have a vegan diet, Cook eats other animal products. She still eats cheese for protein, and revealed in 2012 that Gillies had tried out the diet as a "mostly-practicing" vegetarian, but that she would never want to force her diet or eating habits on him, especially since she doesn't cook.

Happy on Hallmark

In 2016, Rachael Leigh Cook starred in her first of several original films for the Hallmark Channel. Her Hallmark debut was in "Summer Love," as a widowed mother returning to school in her mid-30s to accept an internship at a company where the CEO begins to fall for her. 

That same year, she starred in another film for Hallmark titled "Autumn in the Vineyard." Based on the St. Helena Vineyard book series by Marina Adair, "Vineyard" tells the story of two winemakers with a past relationship, vying for control of the wine business in the town of St. Madeleine, California. The romantic film spawned two sequels, "Summer in the Vineyard" and "Valentine in the Vineyard."

Cook would go on to star in several Christmas-themed films for Hallmark, including "A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas," "Cross Country Christmas" and "'Tis the Season to Be Merry." In 2018, she starred in the film "Frozen in Love," which she also co-wrote and served as a producer. The film follows a hockey player and a book store owner, both struggling with their public image, working together to help repair each others' careers.

Return to This Is Your Brain on Drugs

Prior to "She's All That," Rachael Leigh Cook broke through with a high-profile 1997 anti-heroin PSA for the Partnership for a Drug Free America. An update of the 1987 "Frying Pan" PSA that famously asserted "This is your brain on drugs ... any questions," Cook's quasi-sequel had the pre-stardom actress similarly holding up an egg and explaining that it represents the viewer's brain. 

Rather than simply fry the egg, however, Cook's version got appropriately angsty for a mid-'90s teen-targeted viewership. Smashing the egg with a frying pan, wrecking the kitchen, shattering plates, wine glasses, and more, the PSA made an attention-grabbing, effective point about how drugs destroy lives.

Due to the lasting impact of the ad, Cook has revisited the PSA multiple times. On "Robot Chicken," she voiced a comedic parody, smashing even more objects with the frying pan, including her own head. She made a more somber reprisal in 2017, working with the Drug Policy Alliance to critique the intent of her '90s ad. Beginning the PSA in similar fashion, this time the white egg gets switched out for a brown egg — and a subsequent (largely animated) commentary on how the so-called "war on drugs" unfairly targets people of color.

Other public service work

In the realm of public service, Rachael Leigh Cook might be best known for her campaigns surrounding the "Frying Pan" PSA, but she has done plenty of other public service work as well. Under President Barack Obama, Cook was selected as an arts education advocate as part of his Champions of Change: Arts Education program. The program was built to foster creativity and a love of the arts and humanities in children, and included an alliance made up of actors, teachers, principles, organizations and more. Cook was not the only famous name on the list; it also included Patricia Arquette, Minnie Driver, and Omar Epps.

In 2012, Cook continued her public service work by launching a scholarship grant program. The program, open to students from ages 14 to 19, helps pay for school related needs such as classes, mentorship programs, and other services that help students launch a successful career. While Cook will likely always be known for her acting career first and foremost, she has done far more than just entertain audiences.

Rachael is All That

2021 was a landmark year in Rachael Leigh Cook's career; after 22 years, she made a return to the franchise that helped launch her career, this time in a gender-swapped remake titled "He's All That." Like "She's All That," the reboot offered a retelling of "Pygmalion," the classic George Bernard Shaw play. 

Released via Netflix, "He's All That" cast social media personality Addison Rae as Padgett Sawyer, a TikTok influencer and popular girl (filling the role of Freddie Prinze Jr.'s Zack Silar from "She's All That"). After losing her boyfriend and popularity during a livestream, she makes a bet that she can take an unpopular boy and make him prom king. Enter actor Tanner Buchanan, playing the Cook role of ugly duckling.

Although "He's All That" is not a direct sequel to the original film, two of the "She's All That" stars returned to make appearances in the reboot. Playing a new character, Cook is Anna Sawyer, the mother of Padgett. Unlike Zack and his father from the original, Padgett and her mother have a very close relationship, though on social media and at school, Padgett lies about her family's socio-economic status in order to seem richer. Anna is a nurse who works long hours and still struggles to pay the bills, with Padgett helping out with the money she earns from her career as a social media influencer. Matthew Lillard — who played Brock Hudson in the original film — also returned, this time playing a principal.

Starting a production company

Over the years, Rachael Leigh Cook has also made it a point to establish herself as a producer. In fact, she even started her own small production company in 1995 called Ben's Sister Productions. The name of the production company is in reference to her younger brother Ben Cook, producer of the 2021 – 2022 animated series "Blade Runner: Black Lotus" and the upcoming Amazon series "Blade Runner 2099." To date, her company has only produced two films: 2001's "Tangled" (about two friends both dating the same woman, starring Cook) and "29 Palms" (a well-cast crime flick that had Chris O'Donnell, Michael Rapaport, Bill Pullman, Keith David, Cook and others battling over a bag of money).

Cook continues to produce projects for herself. She has served as producer on the majority of the movies she starred in on the Hallmark Channel, as well as the Netflix original romantic comedy "Love, Guaranteed," which cast Cook alongside Damon Wayans Jr., telling the story of a lawyer who takes on a case from a client looking to sue a dating website. In total, Cook has produced 11 features, with 3 more currently in production.

A Tourist's Guide to Love

The latest producing/starring effort for Rachael Leigh Cook is "A Tourist's Guide to Love," which premiered on Netflix in April of 2023. The story is based on an idea that Cook came up with, though she didn't write the script. The film stars Cook as Amanda Riley, a professional in the tourism industry who goes undercover as a tourist in Vietnam in order to learn about the tourism industry there. She meets a local tour guide named Sihn Thach, with whom she eventually falls in love. The events of the movie primarily take place in Vietnam, and was filmed in various cities around the country.

Vietnam is just as much of a star as Cook is in "A Tourist's Guide to Love." The film's writer, Eirene Tran Donohue, felt it was important to have more American films set in Vietnam that did not revolve around the Vietnam War or the traumas left over by the war. Both Cook and her co-star, Scott Ly, said that they fell in love with Vietnam while filming there, and that the culture and food drew them in.