Courteney Cox Comes Home
Most of us, in our rational moments, are aware that there's a difference between an actor and the character that he or she plays. We know that in real life, Daniel Day-Lewis is not Abraham Lincoln and that Zendaya is not a 17-year-old drug addict. But sometimes, the distinction is easy to forget, especially if the actor played an indelible role in one of the most-watched TV series of all time. It's been 18 years since the final episode of Friends aired on NBC, yet even today, when people go to Courteney Cox's house in Los Angeles, many behave as if they're entering the lair of compulsive neat freak Monica Geller. They hesitate to sit down in the living room for fear of messing up the meticulously fluffed sofa cushions.
Cox acknowledges that her reputation for extreme tidiness is partially justified. "I like things to look right," she says. "I do fluff the pillows." But she's definitely not Monica, and she still savors opportunities to remind people of that — of which she currently, at 57, finds herself with many. There's a new TV series; a new installment of Scream; and a new line of luxury home-care products: Homecourt, her pandemic brainchild that brings a beauty philosophy into cleaning. Cox has also been directing a few things, including two projects that aren't obvious matches for her: a music video for Brandi Carlile and a TV commercial for Clos du Bois chardonnay.
In fact, Cox's role in Shining Vale, the horror-comedy series which began airing in March on Starz, may be the meatiest one of her career so far. She stars opposite Greg Kinnear as depressive author Patricia Phelps, a mother of two teenagers who's suffering from writer's block. After an illicit fling with a hunky, young handyman, Patricia is trying to save her marriage, but things get tricky when her family moves into a haunted house. Pretty soon, she's getting addicted to anxiety meds, seeing ghosts in closets, and wondering if her mother's schizophrenia might be hereditary. "I don't think I've ever played a character that was so layered and had so many things to go through," Cox says.
Among Patricia's many tribulations, Cox admits candidly, one that she found relatable was the stress of a career dry spell. When she got the offer for Shining Vale, Cox was coming off a long stretch of under-employment. Though she'd stayed consistently busy post-Friends — there were two seasons of Dirt, six of Cougar Town and plenty of other TV work — things had slowed down by 2017, when Cox starred in a pilot that didn't get picked up. "That was a low blow to my ego," she says, adding it was kind of scary to put herself back out there again. "Especially with the kind of character that I hadn't played before." Cox prepared for the series by breaking down every scene with an acting coach. "I wanted to find new ways to approach things [and] go deeper."
As for her directorial efforts, anyone who's surprised to see Cox behind the camera hasn't paid much attention to her filmography — or her Instagram account. Previously, she helmed 10 episodes of Cougar Town, the 2012 Lifetime Original Movie TalhotBlond and the 2014 feature Just Before I Go. And it was on Insta that she connected with Carlile after Cox posted a video of herself at the piano, with Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody on guitar, playing Carlile's hit song "The Joke." The singer later came to a jam session at Cox's house, and that led to Cox pitching herself to direct the moodily uplifting video for Carlile's 2021 hit, "Right on Time."
Meanwhile, Cox has been diligently building her own unique oeuvre on Instagram, posting zippy, effects-laden videos of her living-room piano sessions (with partner Johnny McDaid or, in one case, Elton John) and her sister's recipe for low-calorie artichoke dip.
When she first joined the platform, she recalls thinking, "'Am I supposed to be aloof and mysterious?' But that's not me. And the whole point of Instagram is showing a side of yourself." She's shown herself to be a savvy content creator, sometimes enlisting others to help produce her Reels and farming out sound editing to McDaid. "I just want to do something that makes me feel creative, even if it's really silly," she says.
She racked up the likes, and the positive feedback added to the fun. "For a while I thought, 'Oh, great! People are just so nice to me, and this feels so good!' I had no idea that if you keep scrolling, eventually you get to the really mean [comments]. Like, 'Why are you making this stupid video anyway?' and, 'Is that even Courteney?' They were so rude," she says.
Meanwhile, she's been navigating regular feedback from that scariest type of social media critic: a 17-year-old girl who lives in her house. Cox and her daughter, Coco (with ex-husband David Arquette), are very close, and Coco even appears in the occasional post — but she has very mixed feelings about her mother's online efforts. "Coco gets really embarrassed by a lot of the things I put on Instagram," Cox says. "Sometimes, I'll find something on TikTok and put it on Instagram and she'll say, 'Mom, that is so over.' Once, I did this dance, and she was mortified [laughs]. And actually, when I look back, I'm kind of mortified."
While we're discussing the indignities of aging, I ask Cox about a scene in the 2009 pilot of Cougar Town, where her character, a divorced mother in her early 40s, stands in front of a full-length mirror and scrutinizes her body's so-called imperfections — all the sags, the spots, the wrinkles. Looking back now, Cox observes that she was much younger and hotter at the time than she realized. "I already felt like I was aging back then," she says, "but, man, was I crazy!" No matter how elderly you think you look today, she notes, in a few years, "you'll look back and go, 'Oh my God, what on Earth was I complaining about?' So, we shouldn't spend one minute on that."
We shouldn't, but we do. One thing Cox regrets about her youth was neglecting skincare during her 20s, when she didn't find the time to moisturize, but did spend hours in the sun. "You've just got to remember to take care of your body at a young age, because you can't start at 50. It's easy to use Retin-A or whatever and keep your face going. But there are only so many dry brushes you can use."
Intensive dry-brush sessions before a shower are central to Cox's routine. "And I don't mean the kind for lymphatic drainage, where you're lightly brushing towards your heart, or whatever," Cox says. "I don't give a shit about that. I'm talking like the stiffest, hardest brush. I just scrub up and down, to get the circulation going." After the shower, she applies a full layer of Augustinus Bader body cream, topped by another layer of body oil. "Someone said it's called 'slugging'? I don't know — I just put the oil on top of the cream because I think it locks it in."
With her new line of household products, Homecourt, Cox wants to bring the sensibility of a luxury skincare brand to dish soaps and surface cleaners. She developed the idea during the first few months of lockdown in 2020, when at-home time became mandatory and abundant. "At first, the smell of Clorox was like, 'Oh, yeah, this feels clean and it's killing all the germs,'" she says. "And then, you're like, 'I don't want to smell Clorox anymore!'"
To create the line's scents, Cox teamed with elite fragrance experts from Robertet and Givaudan while drawing on some of her favorite aromas, including the cardamom and cedarwood notes that make up her current personal fragrance, a self-created blend she calls Cece. Homecourt products are vegan, cruelty-free, and made in the U.S.A. using sustainably harvested, fair-trade, and upcycled ingredients; they come in bottles Cox designed herself. She brought in a CEO from L'Oreal and a Creative Director who helped launch Necessaire and Glossier. When it launched in January, the line sold out in eight hours.
Friends of Cox's, meanwhile, know that her latest role as a domestic doyenne is not just a pose. For years, her L.A. house has been a major gathering spot, especially on Sundays, when her pizza nights draw a diverse mix of musicians and actors and random friends-of-friends, often numbering in the dozens. A southerner by birth, Cox says her hostess instincts are rooted in her childhood in Alabama, where her grandmother was always cooking huge casseroles for her 21 cousins. ("I'll always think there's no better word than 'y'all,'" she says.)
At Cox's place these days, the center of gravity alternates between the kitchen and the piano. It was at a Sunday dinner in 2013 that she met McDaid — the Irish keyboard player and songwriter for Snow Patrol, who's now her live-in partner — after Ed Sheeran brought him over one night.
Although Cox has lately gotten pretty serious about her weekly piano lessons, her musical leanings aren't exactly new. A few years after Bruce Springsteen pulled her onstage in his 1984 "Dancing in the Dark" video, she worked for the late mega-agent Ian Copeland and was a mainstay at the shows of his clients, which included R.E.M., the Thompson Twins, and the Police. "I've been noticing that I really just love musicians," she says. "I love the way they think, the way they write. Johnny is such a poet. And the people I've met through him, they're so deep and their conversations are so interesting."
Despite Cox's perfectionist rep, she has always seemed to harbor a hidden eccentric streak, a sort of stealth capriciousness; maybe all the rock stars currently in her orbit are inspiring her to loosen up, go after those surprising twists and turns. For instance jumping behind the camera when she's so beloved in front of it.
"Weirdly enough, I think I give the best performances in the projects I direct, because I know the material so well," she says. "You really need to know every word, every camera angle." She's currently developing a fictional take on the Netflix true crime documentary Evil Genius, which she'll direct and produce.
And the Monica Geller jokes? Cox makes light of the facile comparisons to her character, but when she's asked what Monica would be like now, if she were in her 50s and Friends were still on the air, her answer is telling.
"I think she'd probably be really, really competitive with the other mothers at school," Cox says. "I think she'd still be a chef and making her kids eat only the healthiest food. She and Chandler would still be married." But she might not have evolved in a few crucial ways.
"When you get older, sometimes you think, 'I'm just going to let that go — it's not important.' I have a feeling everything is still important to Monica."
Lead image styling: Christopher John Rogers matching set. Eric Javits hat. Christian Louboutin shoes. Lisa Eisner necklace and rings.
Photographs by Jason Kibbler. Styling by Maryam Malakpour. Tailoring by Tatyana Sargsyan. Hair styling by Chris McMillan. Makeup by Genevieve Herr.