Rachael Leigh Cook has gone from being a marquee name to a Trivial Pursuit answer. The talent is still there; the rabid attention is not.
Now she's on TV as a tough-as-nails FBI agent in TNT's new drama "Perception"
Cook, 32, didn't altogether disappear. In addition to getting married in 2004 to actor Daniel Gillies ("The Vampire Diaries"), she paid the bills by guest-starring on established TV dramas ("Psych," "The Ghost Whisperer") and lending her voice to a variety of characters on Comedy Central's "Robot Chicken."
But she's nowhere near the level of fame she rose to a little over a decade ago. She was still in high school when she taped an anti-drug commercial, featuring the pixie-ish actress tearing apart a kitchen with only a frying pan. That ad was followed by lead performances in 1999's "She's All That" and 2001's "Josie and the Pussycats," not to mention a yearlong fling with People magazine's future choice for Sexiest Man Alive, Ryan Reynolds.
But Cook quickly decided she didn't want to be the next Julia Roberts. She preferred to follow the path of her "Pussycats" co-star Parker Posey, an actress who continually straddles the line between commercial and independent film.
For a while, Cook was banging out four movies a year, joking that she preferred working on a small-budget projects, if only because the terrible catering service helped keep her weight in check. But when indies took a financial hit, Cook discovered that studios considered her as dated as Carole Lombard.
Despite being eager to work more, Cook told her agent there was one genre she had no interest in: procedurals.
"I didn't want to get chased by a serial killer in the woods," she said. "I didn't want to say 'Freeze!' or 'Stat' or 'Your honor.' That's just not where I thought my happiness would be."
But she surprised herself by signing up for "Perception," a series about neurology professor Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack), who helps the FBI solve a new crime every week, at least when he's not hallucinating characters and paranoid scenarios, much in the way Russell Crowe did in "A Beautiful Mind."
"I realized after a while that I was looking at it the wrong way," Cook said. "You can't judge a character by his or her job. You have to approach everything as a character piece."
In "Perception," she's Kate Moretti, an FBI agent who's demoted because she cares too much about her cases. Oh, and she also has a daredevil streak that compels her to leap two stories off a fire escape to pounce on a fleeing suspect.
"We saw a lot of terrific actresses that were believable as cops, but we were looking for that one thing that made them odd and what Rachael brought into the room was a sense of humor," said McCormack, best known for his Emmy-winning role on "Will & Grace." "She reminded me of Jodie Foster in 'Silence of the Lambs.' You look at her and go, 'Wait a minute. She's going to come in here and bust this big guy?' But she does it in a surprising way, and it was having those odds stacked against her that I loved."
Premieres 10 tonight on TNT