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July 11, 2006

Courteney in Control

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The Real Courteney: "I am very open"

Okay, so the woman wants to be kooky, even if she's actually controlled, focused and organized. Suffice it to say the distinction between the Courteney we see on-screen and the real Courteney is a nuanced one. Cox does not dispute the fine line dividing performer and performance. "There is no 'real me' versus the me you think you know, because I am very open," she says. But spend even a few moments with the high-energy actress — whose dark tresses and cheekbones so sharp they could be classified as weapons are obvious reminders of her early days as a model — and you realize that the comparison only goes so far. Cox in person is smarter, more ambitious and more commanding than any woman she's played on-screen. As she describes herself: "I have, like, hyper-awareness. It's like a disease. I can't help it. I notice everything."

Which goes a long way toward explaining why, on the May afternoon when we first meet, her eyes are going like a pinball machine when she first hurtles into her office, cell phone pressed to her ear, looking at least a decade younger than her 41 years. For starters, she's been up since 6:15am taking care of Coco. She's got two movies opening soon: Barnyard, an animated comedy in which she supplies the voice of a pregnant cow named Daisy, and Zoom, a family comedy costarring Tim Allen. She's also got Coco's second birthday, as well as her own wedding anniversary, to shop for. "I'm a little worried, because David is such a gift-giver," she says, showing off the diamond-and-gold ring and hoop earrings he gave her for Mother's Day.

But on this day, what's consuming Cox is the feeling of being on pins and needles while waiting to hear the fate of her new cable series, Dirt, which she produces and in which she stars as a hard-boiled tabloid-magazine editor. (A week after our interview, it is announced that Dirt is a go and is scheduled to start airing on FX early next year.) "As I'm talking to you, do you see my brain going at 1,000 miles an hour?" she asks. "The reason why I want to produce, to be honest, is for the control," she says. "I was on the most wonderful TV show ever, and I don't want to be just an actor for hire anymore."

Control is a big issue with Cox, who grew up the youngest in a family of six in Birmingham, AL. Her parents divorced when she was still young, and her father moved to Florida. "I came from a big family where everyone was talking and no one really listened, and I just need to be acknowledged," she says. "That's very important to me."

Unlike a lot of pampered Hollywood stars, Cox isn't afraid to do some heavy lifting to get what she wants. She's been working, she points out, since high school. "I wanted things — a car, a certain kind of jeans — and we didn't have a lot of money, so I worked," she recalls. That independent streak surfaced again when she quit studying architecture at Mount Vernon College and moved to New York after receiving an offer to become a professional model. "I thought I was cutesy, not beautiful the way models are, so it was exciting for me to get a job," she says — then she adds with a wry smile, "although, I was no big model. I went right into commercials."

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