Courteney Cox makes an unexpected stop en route to her table at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills. Dressed down in black jeans and a gray long-sleeve T-shirt, she’s nonetheless spotted by a diner who jumps from his seat to offer his services as a branding agent—presumably promising to make her more famous than she already is. Cox, gracious, listens to the pitch, accepts a business card and finally takes her seat. “That was weird,” she says.
But it’s probably not the most intrusive moment the actress has experienced. Having played Michael J. Fox’s girlfriend on Family Ties, the obsessively organized Monica on Friends and the ambitious reporter in the Scream movies, Cox is unlikely to ever go unnoticed. The Alabama-born star, 49, has had decades to absorb the vagaries of fame and takes them in stride, arriving without an assistant, let alone a retinue, and seeming utterly relaxed as she orders a glass of Cabernet.
Cox is currently entertaining audiences on Cougar Town, the TBS sitcom she stars in, produces and occasionally directs. Her character, Jules, is the leader of a pack of friends who live on a Florida cul-de-sac. She began the show as the recently divorced mother of an 18-year-old, dating again after 20 years of marriage. Now, five seasons in, Jules is married to her former neighbor and surrounded by hilarious, idiosyncratic sidekicks played by, among others, Busy Philipps and Christa Miller, whose husband, Bill Lawrence, is the show’s cocreator.
After the 2008 cancellation of Dirt, the FX series in which Cox played a hard-bitten tabloid-magazine editor, she was looking for another show to produce as well as star in. “I’ve been doing this too long and have too strong an opinion not to be a producer,” she says. She zeroed in on Lawrence, creator of Scrubs, a co-creator of Spin City and a writer on Friends. “I really wanted to work with him,” she says. “But I don’t think he was that interested in the beginning.” He wasn’t. “Sometimes when you work with a big-name actor or actress, they become your boss in a way,” says Lawrence. “I liked Courteney, and I didn’t want to wreck our friendship.”
Lawrence, who already had the idea for Cougar Town, asked Cox to do an arc on Scrubs, giving her a role as a soulless chief of medicine who loses interest in patients when their insurance runs out. “That went well,” says Cox. “I think he got the idea that I’m not a pain in the ass and am actually fun to work with.” Shortly thereafter, Lawrence invited Cox and Coquette, the production company she owns with her ex-husband, David Arquette, onto the Cougar Town bus.
To create Jules, Lawrence spent time observing Cox, attending the Sunday-night dinners she has hosted for friends and family for about 25 years. “He was getting to know the weird parts of me that he could write about,” she says. “He said he came to my house one time and I poured the wineglass so full, he could barely walk to the table.” So Jules is prone to drinking red wine from a goblet the size of a child’s head. “Part of a comedy writer’s job is to write edgy, snarky people giving each other shit,” says Lawrence, who, with Miller, has become close friends with Cox. “But if you’re doing a show for Courteney, the characters have to inherently love and want to kill or die for each other. Mean and vindictive don’t wear well on her.”