Whether you know her from her brief stint as a teenage heartthrob or from her work as a Hallmark movie mainstay, Rachael Leigh Cook has been one of the most memorable actors in the romantic comedy genre since the late 1990s. Having starred in films like Disney’s Tom and Huck and the teen rom-com She’s All That alongside Freddie Prinze Jr., Cook all but disappeared from the romance film lover’s eye until the mid-2010s. Aside from adding to the consistently growing collection of Rachael Leigh Cook Hallmark movies, Cook has been busy working with animal adoption efforts and raising two children.
Rachael Leigh Cook - who is a Minneapolis, Minnesota, native - first got her start in show business as a model and commercial actor, working with brands like Target and Milk-Bone. By the time she was 14, Cook had begun auditioning for feature-length movie roles, which set her on the path to rom-com stardom. And though she seemed to fall from the big screen after her sudden success with She’s All That, Cook has been busy. So, where’s Rachael Leigh Cook now?
- Video: YouTube
As Becky Thatcher, She Lived Every Tween's Dream Of Kissing JTT
In one of her earlier rolls on the big screen, Cook played Becky Thatcher in the 1995 Disney adventure-comedy film, Tom and Huck. Cast alongside Brad Renfro and rising tween heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the film tells the story from a classic Mark Twain novel about two boys who witness a slaying in a cemetery late at night.
However, what people remember most about this film is the scene in which the characters played by a young Cook and JTT become engaged while flirting on a bridge, and then proceed to kiss, leaving its mark on a generation of JTT fans.
- Photo: Miramax Films
Her Role In 'She's All That' Skyrocketed Her To Heartthrob Status
Most fans of Cook fell for her not for her role in Tom and Huck, but after her starring turn in a film released some four years later. Cook dove headfirst into her romantic comedy career with her role in the 1999 film She’s All That, where she plays Laney Boggs, an awkward but charming high school art student, alongside the already well-established teen heartthrob Freddie Prinze Jr., who plays the film’s leading jock.
Anyone who is familiar with the film no doubt gets Sixpence None the Richer’s song “Kiss Me” stuck in their head immediately upon reminiscing. But aside from the plethora of teen rom-com clichés, this role without a doubt landed Cook a highly coveted spot among the other teen heartthrobs of the '90s - whether she wanted it or not.
In The Early '00s, She Was A Music Video Vixen And CovergirI
After quickly rising through the ranks of teen heartthrob success after her role in She’s All That, Cook found herself at a bit of a professional crossroads. Success had brought her a number of new acting opportunities that could have continued to lead her up in the ranks of rom-com heartthrob-dom, but she opted out.
Despite loving romantic comedies and being a “complete romantic at heart,” Cook made a conscious choice not to pursue further roles in the genre. After having worked on the less-than-successful film Josie and the Pussycats alongside the indie film icon Parker Posey, she was inspired to take on roles in edgier, smaller films. One such role was in the '00s New Found Glory music video for “Dressed to Kill,” in which she plays the punk girl next door whom the male protagonist has his eye on.
In addition to these less mainstream roles, Cook found herself as a cover girl for FHM magazine’s March/April 2000 print issue. She also landed herself the No. 26 slot in Stuff magazine’s 2002 “102 Sexiest Women in the World” issue.
- Photo: Psych / USA
In Reality, She Never Went Away - She Just Pivoted To TV
After her strategic turn away from her big-screen romantic comedy career track, Cook set her sights instead on television. Cook quickly landed roles on a number of TV series, including Lt. Jodi Yanarella on the short-lived sci-fi series Titan Maximum, and then as Abigail Lytar on the comedy crime show Psych.
She then transitioned more into made-for-TV movies, with roles in comedy films like Nevermind Nirvana and the thriller Stealing Paradise. Though none of these brought her nearly the level of notoriety that She’s All That did, they did manage to slowly direct her career back toward what she loved doing most - romance films.
- Photo: Summer in the Vineyard / The Hallmark Channel
She Has Finally Embraced Rom-Coms Again
After her career-launching role in She’s All That, Cook essentially disappeared from the romantic comedy world for over a decade. She explained in an interview:
I am a complete romantic at heart. A total wimp for whom the world often feels like too much. I love romantic movies with every part of my being... As soon as I had options in my career, I almost immediately swung my career [toward edgy, smaller films]. The problem with that being, I was not being true to who I really am: someone who is not "cool." Someone who is very soft at their core. Someone who is thrilled to bring you a love story.
Cook officially began making her way back toward romantic films in 2016 with the Hallmark Channel’s made-for-TV movie, Autumn in the Vineyard. Since then, she has become a Hallmark Channel staple, having starred in a number of films, including Frozen in Love and the Christmas romance film, A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas.
Cook Met Her Husband At A Bar In Los Angeles
In 2003, a few years after her intentional pivot away from the world of rom-coms, Cook found herself in a new kind of romance. While out at a bar in Hollywood with friends, Cook met actor Daniel Gillies, who would later star in The Vampire Diaries.
Cook remembers first seeing him talking with a costume designer she had once worked with, making it a good opportunity for them to meet. Cook and Gillies began dating, and within five months, the pair had become inseparable. In 2004, when Cook was 24, they got married.