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Rachael Leigh Cook Explains Why Romantic Comedies Will Never Die: “Cortisol-Free Entertainment”

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A Tourist's Guide to Love

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For romantic comedy lovers, Rachael Leigh Cook has been a staple of the genre for over twenty years. In 1999, she wowed Freddie Prinze Jr. with her famous staircase descent in She’s All That. In 2001, she rocked out as Josie in the cult-classic, Josie and the Pussycats. Now, over two decades later, she’s still charming men—and audiences—in Netflix’s newest rom-com, A Tourist’s Guide to Love, which began streaming today.

“I am a true fan of [romantic comedies],” Cook told Decider in a recent Zoom interview. “I think that only true fans should be playing in this pool, I’m sorry. I don’t think that you can fake it! That’s why I keep coming back.”

She chose A Tourist’s Guide to Love, she said, in part because of the film’s fresh setting. Cook stars as Amanda, a travel industry professional who gets dumped. Her boss, the always-funny Missi Pyle, prescribes a post-break-up vacation/work assignment in Vietnam, to scout out a family-owned tourist business for possible acquisition. Things get complicated, however, when sparks fly between Amanda and her Vietnamese tour guide, Sinh, played by Vietnamese-American actor Scott Ly.

Lately, Cook has been behind the camera, too—she’s a producer on Tourist’s, and also produced another romantic comedy, Love, Guaranteed, for Netflix in 2020. Decider chatted with Cook about shooting in Vietnam, how she managed that scooter stunt, and the timeless appeal of romantic comedies.

A Tourist's Guide to Love. (L to R) Scott Ly as Sinh and Rachael Leigh Cook as Amanda in A Tourist's Guide to Love.
Photo: Sasidis Sasisakulporn/Netflix

Decider: I imagine that you get quite a few romantic comedy scripts as a producer and as an actor. What made this one stand out?

Rachael Leigh Cook: What always makes a romcom stand out to me is a new setting or a new way in. And this backdrop absolutely provided that. I cannot be more excited to showcase Vietnam to so many people who’ve never even maybe seen a ton of images of it before. The hardest part about doing press for this movie is—dead honest with you—is trying to describe Vietnam. Because there are truly no words. It’s just more of a feeling than anything. And it’s good that we have images, and instead of me trying to explain it to people. The other new wonderful element that we have going for us is our leading man, Scott Ly. I’m incredibly excited for the world to be introduced to him and his talent.

How did you relate to your character, Amanda? Where did you find that connection?

The life-work balance thing, which I realized is a trope, is very real. I wrestle with that monster every day. And she’s somebody who’s a little bit risk-averse. I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone, by life circumstance, like her, as so many of us have. So I guess I related on a lot of levels there. And who hasn’t been through a terrible breakup—hello!

This movie is somewhat based on a true story of how screenwriter Eirene Donohue met her partner while he was backpacking in Vietnam. Did you get to meet them and witness their relationship first-hand?

It’s completely crazy! Eirene Donohue, who wrote the screenplay, is my neighbor out here in LA. Her husband Brad, who’s incredible, and their daughter—we spent a ton of time together, my kids are around the same age as her daughter. And they got to hang out in Vietnam. There’s a picture of Eirene and Brad, and their now nine-year-old child, in front of the restaurant where they met. She and I cobbled together some ideas, and she and Brad happened to be in that restaurant that night. Now we’re all standing here, and that completely does my head in!

You already touched on this a little, but tell me more about working with Scott Ly. I don’t know how involved you were in casting, but he feels like a find.

Scott is a huge find. He is going to be a gift to the TV and film community, I think, for many, many decades to come. He’s also just a really unique soul. Scott is a complete character. The way he moves through life is totally singular. He’s just inherently magnetic and very quirky. I was really drawn to that. I just think he’s really special, and I’ve been in the business a terrifying number of years—over 20 years. I mean, hell, I’ve probably dated a dozen people you might recognize! All of this to say, I know a movie star when I see one, and Scott Ly is a movie star.

My favorite scenes of the two of you together were the ones where you walked through traffic—but I was also very scared for you, with all of those motorbikes! How did that work?

Thank you for being scared for me! There was not an actual—that was not a stunt. Their whole plan was just to do that, and tell the people on the scooters not to hit us. That was the whole plan! That was it! I realized that that’s what was going on, and then I saw my stunt double there. But then they told me that I was going to be the one doing all of this! Basically, I was like, “What’s she even doing here? I’m gonna die on this street!” The street crossing doesn’t work the way it does [here]. If you’re just a resident of Ho Chi Minh City, those you know those scooters are moving at a pace where everyone understands what’s going on. But there’s hesitancy when they’re told not to hit the actors. The stunt coordinator got hit by a scooter and then just kept directing the scene! It was completely insane. He just sort of hopped off on one foot to the right, out of frame.

That’s terrifying! You didn’t get hit though, I hope?

I did not. But all of my reactions of terror in that scene are completely real.

A Tourist's Guide to Love. (L to R) Scott Ly as Sinh and Rachael Leigh Cook as Amanda in A Tourist's Guide to Love.
Photo: Sasidis Sasisakulporn/Netflix

Near-misses with scooters aside, what was filming on location in Vietnam like? Did you really get to visit all the sites we see in the movie— the ruins, the market, the village, etc?

We built all of that. [Laughs.] No, how gross would that be, building fake ruins? Yes, we got to go to all of these places for real. It almost felt counterintuitive to be shooting in such sacred and ancient places. But I’m glad to be able to share them with people who may never get to see it in person, you know? And I just want all of the coffee straight into my bloodstream. American coffee is not as good. There I said it. Their coffee is better.

You’ve made a career out of romantic comedies. As you’ve mentioned, you’ve been in the business for many years. What is it that keeps you coming back to this genre time and time again?

I think that people have a certain frequency, and also a certain set of tastes, that just can land in one arena or another. I’m not fan of horror. I haven’t really made a horror movie, and I don’t think I have any business doing that, because I’m not a true fan. I am a true fan of [romantic comedies]. I think that only true fans should be playing in this pool, I’m sorry. I don’t think that you can fake it, as it were. So that’s why I keep coming back. It’s the kind of entertainment that I seek out. I call it “cortisol free” entertainment. And I love it.

Say more on that, cortisol-free entertainment.

Cortisol is that hormone that is released in your brain when you are stressed. So none of that. I had a therapist one time said, “I prescribe TV.” It has zero harmful effects! Okay, on children under a certain age for too long, we get it. But it can elevate your mood so much. If I can take people away from the stress of their jobs, or whatever’s going on—if I can do that one small thing then, great!

You’ve been producing a lot of romantic comedies as well, and this is your second time working with Netflix as a producer. Why do you think the streamer has become such a home for this genre, and how does working with them compare to other studios?

I love how global Netflix is. I love that they translate all of their movies into so many languages. Man, what can I say if they want to work with me, I’m inclined to think that they have good taste! I’ve been a subscriber forever. I’m just a fan of their content. I think that they have great taste in romantic comedies. I knew that this was the perfect home for this project.

Romantic comedies are just as popular as they were like in the 90s and early 2000s, but we see them on streaming these days more than in theaters. I’m just curious, since you’ve been in the business for so long, if you have a take on why that is?

I think that there was a tiny bit of an over-saturation [of romantic comedies], and maybe people’s tastes became a little bit darker and more cynical, and then it sort of fell away. And I think that reality TV should get a lot of the credit for elevating television—it brought people back to TV, and then we started making great content for television. But I think that the reason that they are as popular now, as ever, is that there’s a million reasons to be cynical. And there are also a million reasons to believe in love. And that’s why we’re here.

Last question—as a big fan of Josie and the Pussycats, I have to ask: Has there been any talk of a reboot or a sequel? You have a mini-reunion with Missi Pyle in this film, and I know Tara Reid has spoken about wanting to do a sequel.

Missi Pyle, who played Alexandra in Josie, is unbelievable. Like, I think every one of her ad libs stayed in [A Tourist’s Guide to Love]. She’s incredible. That’s why I wanted her to play this part for us. I’m so glad she did. She brings so much energy and life to tourist guide. She’s a national treasure. And I love my Tara! She came to the screening of Tourists last night. In terms of rebooting that franchise, I will always be interested to know how they could ever possibly plan to do that, because I think we hit it so right the first time. I hope that if anything, people make movies that get the messaging of Josie out there in a continued way for new audiences to see, because I think that’s really important. In a lot of ways it couldn’t be more relevant today.