She made the cover of Rolling Stone with her pals from TV. People magazine chose her for the cover of its "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" issue. Her show--on which no less an expert than "Cheers" maestro and quintessential sitcom director James Burrows said she acts as the hub--is one of the biggest hits on television, ranking No. 1 for the first time the week of June 5.
All this notoriety after virtually disappearing from the limelight more than five years earlier. What gives?
Maybe it's the eyebrows--which, she told People, she has been known to pluck to perfection for up to two hours at a time.
"Let me set the record straight," said Courteney Cox, 31, one of the six stars of NBC's hot series about young singles, "Friends." "The magazine quoted me saying that I only have to do three things to look halfway decent. But I didn't say \o7 only\f7 . I said, 'Three things I \o7 have \f7 to do'--that are an absolute must. I have to fill in my eyebrows, put on some lipstick and curl my eyelashes."
Then, pausing to think for a moment about whether she could offer admirers any other tips, she deadpanned: "Well, actually, plucking my eyebrows is more of a hobby than a grooming tip."
Pretty women aren't supposed to be funny. It's a stereotype that Cox has had to fight, said Marta Kauffman, one of the creators and executive producers of "Friends."
That fight is in part necessary because throughout much of her career Cox has been cast for her looks. Her big break came when Brian De Palma chose her from an audition of hundreds to play the young woman Bruce Springsteen pulls out of the crowd in his 1984 "Dancing in the Dark" video; she didn't get the job as a result of any dance training. Then, in 1987, she was cast as Michael J. Fox's girlfriend for the last couple of seasons of "Family Ties," playing the straight woman to Alex Keaton.
Even her most prominent movie role, as Jim Carrey's love interest in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," highlighted her ability via her mere presence to make the kooky man seem lovable, rather than her own comedic flair.
"Let's face it, she's adorable and intelligent and really together. She \o7 is\f7 Monica," Kauffman said, referring to the motherly, responsible, compulsively tidy character Cox plays on "Friends." "She has the neatest dressing room. She even cleans up the other actors' dressing rooms because she won't go in there if they are too messy. Yet at the same time, she can do things that are unexpected and wonderful and really funny. Courteney is sarcastic. She makes me laugh all the time. We're really lucky to find an actress who can do that."
Much of her comedy on the show is born of playing against her Miss Perfect image. Monica makes a fool of herself as a klutz in a tap-dance class--something seemingly unimaginable to any casual observer of the athletic-looking actress. The character flips out after she discovers that a randy sex partner is only 17. And she is so compulsively neat that just her facial expressions of discomfort at one of her friends' messing things up in her apartment is enough to provoke genuine chuckles.
"It's funny, because I never think of myself as Little Miss All-Together," said Cox, emoting a rather persuasive display of surprise at the tag during an interview, for which she is curled up on a sofa in the lobby of a plush Santa Monica hotel. She is wearing a baggy blue denim shirt and lint-free black leggings.
"I just don't. But I guess that's the perception people have from 'Family Ties,' where I wasn't the funny one. And ever since, I've had to break through that. Even now some casting directors think they know me before they see me. But that was more than five years ago.
"And that's why I love Monica, because not only is she a grown-up, and that's good for people to see, but I can bring more of my own personality to her, and I've never really been able to do that before. She can be goofy and angry and sarcastic and a little bit naughty. People think of her sort as the goody-good and the prude on the show, but I think she has more sex than any of the others."
So Courteney Cox isn't perfect?
"OK, I am a neat freak. Not about myself. I don't use a lint brush or anything, and I don't iron, but I could easily pick lint off of someone else. I was doing, I think it was 'The Jon Stewart Show,' and I was picking things off of him and I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm just like Monica. This is too scary.' I have a lot of glass in my house, and I remember saying as a joke once that I clean my stuff with Windex while my friends are over, but then I found myself actually doing that the other day. It's horrible."
Power yoga, a vigorous rather than meditative variation of the discipline, has calmed her down a bit, she said. If friends come over and move around a stack of magazines on her coffee table, for example, she'll now wait until they leave before fixing it.