Courteney Cox may have moved to L.A. to make TV shows and movies, like this month's Zoom. But she still appreciates the city that raised her right: Birmingham, Alabama.
Courteney Cox is a Birmingham girl, and Birmingham girls are part magnolia and all steel. Her Mountain Brook High School yearbook lists plenty of extracurricular activities for her: tennis, swimming, and more. After school, she worked in a swimming-pool store "because my father was in the pool business," she says. But Cox, the youngest of four, wanted to be an architect. Right after graduating from high school, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she began studying architecture at Mount Vernon College. After a year, she was modeling, appearing on magazine covers and in television commercials. When director Brian De Palma chose her (out of 300 hopefuls) to be pulled from the audience by Bruce Springsteen to dance with him in his "Dancing in the Dark" video, Cox was on her way. In 1985, she moved to Los Angeles, where she starred opposite Michael J. Fox in the television series Family Ties and Jim Carrey in his breakout movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Then she heard about a new television series, to be called Friends. She auditioned to play bratty Rachel Green. But that role went to her friend Jennifer Aniston, and Cox was cast as Monica Geller, the character that would make her a star.
Ever since the series ended, in 2004, Cox has kept busy with film and television projects, both as an actress and as a producer with her and husband David Arquette's production company, Coquette. She and Arquette are also busy with another coproduction: their daughter, Coco. This month Cox stars with Tim Allen in Zoom, in which she is tasked with finding four kids who have the potential to be superheroes, so Allen, as out-of-shape superhero Captain Zoom, can teach the four to use their special skills and save the world from destruction. Here's what Courteney Cox finds super about the city where she was born and raised.
I was also born in Birmingham. My family is from Mountain Brook, and that's where you're from as well, right?
It's really a small world. So you can just write the article and say it was by me.
I wish I could. How often are you able to go back?
I go home a couple of times a year. Not necessarily for Christmas, because now I have Coco, and a lot of times my family comes out here to California. I usually go home in the fall and in the spring.
What makes Birmingham unique?
Well, Birmingham is one of the most beautiful cities. It has all these beautiful rolling hills, gorgeous greenery - it is so lush. Some of the streets in Mountain Brook, where I grew up, are just the most gorgeous places. I have never seen anything like it. There are these beautiful homes, set back with big rolling lawns and the maple trees and dogwoods. It's just a great landscape. Birmingham is still growing a lot too. They are redoing the Tutwiler hotel, which is going to be a huge thing. The Tutwiler is such a great old building. It's going to bring in a lot of tourism. Birmingham has great malls and stores, but downtown should be built up again. Also, Five Points is a really neat, hip area. It truly has the best restaurant I've ever been to. I feel like I have traveled a lot. I haven't been everywhere, of course, but I've been a lot of places. But there is a restaurant called Highlands Bar and Grill, which is probably my favorite restaurant of any place I've ever been.
What's great about it?
The chef and owner's name is Frank Stitt. He owns a few restaurants in Birmingham. Highlands Bar and Grill is Southern food, but it's not heavy - it's just delicious. They have great hoppin' John [a combination of black-eyed peas, rice, and either ham hocks or bacon], and they have grits, but with some fantastic mushroom sauce. It's just a twist on Southern food - an upscale Southern restaurant with great fish. There isn't anything that does not taste good from this restaurant, or from this chef, for that matter. He has a cookbook out. He's really something else. It's very, very upscale, but when I say upscale, I don't mean you have to dress up, it's very … what's the word? Just classy. And there's a great bar next door.
Do you want to talk about other restaurants now, before we go on? Which other ones do you love?
All of Frank's places I love, and then there's Hot and Hot, which is another great restaurant that's got great seafood. Okay, there's another restaurant I like that isn't so upscale: Gus's Hot Dogs, which is really fantastic. [Birmingham has] the best barbecue places. There's Dreamland Bar-B-Que Ribs, which is good. My stepfather is a huge barbecue fan, so he turned me on to that. He used to send the Dreamland barbecue sauce out to me in California. Oh, I know what else I love: There is a little bitty sort of soda fountain place that's right in Mountain Brook Village. It's called Gilchrist. They have great limeade there. That's the place you go for a tuna sandwich and a limeade. They have the little counter and stools, and it's fun.
What are your favorite public places or landmarks in Birmingham?
I think we have a fantastic botanical garden. It's just so beautiful. It's right outside of Mountain Brook Village, and it's gorgeous. There are beautiful walkways and paths of the most amazing flowers ever and plants that are indigenous to the South. The Birmingham Zoo is beautiful because it's within the trees, and you get to take a little train. I think that's one of the best zoos I've ever been to. I've been to so many zoos, even in the last six months. There are some ugly zoos out there.
What about the Vulcan?
The Vulcan is great. It's a statue that used to have information; it used to be that if someone had an accident on the freeway, there would be a red light on top of the torch. If everything was okay on the freeway, there would be a green light. Now they have taken that away. You know, Birmingham was a big steel town, and it's just symbolic of that. You're asking me history questions. I feel like I might be failing.
I've read that the Vulcan is the largest cast-iron statue in the world, created for the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. It depicts Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge.
Yes, because we're a steel town.
So the statue of Vulcan dominates a 10-acre park atop Red Mountain …
Red Mountain is beautiful, yes. And you get a great view up there. You get to see the twinkling lights of Birmingham. At nighttime, the city really looks large. It's beautiful. There's a Red Mountain Expressway that looks like it is cut right into the mountain.
What other places do you like?
I like Alabama football. I'm an Alabama fan; my sisters are Auburn fans. Alabama plays at Tuscaloosa, a college town about an hour and 10 minutes away. There's a stadium in Birmingham called Legion Field, and they play there a lot. I spent a lot of my childhood going to Alabama football games.
What are the people like in Birmingham?
Really friendly, really sincere. Birmingham is not that small. It's kind of very sophisticated in a lot of ways, but the people are still really caring. It's a great place to grow up. I'm so glad that's where I was raised and where I learned my morals. I just had a great upbringing there. The Highlands Bar and Grill would be a great place to see Birmingham people. You could also go to church. I mean, there are so many gorgeous churches there - and homes, if you go past the Birmingham Country Club and that area. Just gorgeous old homes. They looked like castles to me when I was a kid. They are just old stone or brick houses set back from the road, with gorgeous magnolia trees.
Where can you find local culture?
There are a lot of wonderful Southern artists. I have some great paintings from Southern painters. There is a gallery called the Maralyn Wilson Gallery. My sister used to work there. Actually, I had two friends who worked there, my sister and another friend. I think Maralyn carries beautiful artists, and she is a wonderful lady. It's just a really cool place.
There's one other museum there, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
A lot of good jazz musicians come from the South. [The Jazz Hall of Fame] is one of my other favorite spots.
Tell me about shopping in Birmingham.
Well, there is a store called Parisian. When I was growing up, that was the great department store. Now I'm sure Birmingham has everything. Parisian was something that seemed a little bit ahead of its time. It had all the best designers and great makeup counters, and I just thought it was a really good department store. It was kind of like our Barneys at the time.
What's there to do at night?
Go to Five Points. It's fun to walk around there, with the cool little stores. I'm kind of weird. When I go home or even in L.A., I go to the same two restaurants all the time. I'm definitely a creature of habit; if I like something, I just stay pretty loyal to it. If I say "Highlands Bar and Grill" one more time, you might start crying, so I won't say it. I'm thinking of other places I used to go to. The Nick - it's a good place to play pool and listen to bands. Back then, it was dark and smoky, but now no one smokes.
What about living in Birmingham prepared you for the life you have now?
In high school, I was in a program called Distributive Education Clubs of America, and for some reason, I was the president; I don't know how that happened. I loved my teacher for DECA; her name was Sandy Newton, and I still think she is one of my favorite people in the world. That is where I learned to go in front of an audience. I had to do a little public speaking for the club. It was the most brutal thing in the world, because I don't like to talk in public. But I guess it gave me a little bit of training for what I do now. I took drama and speech classes. I didn't know I was going to be an actor. I thought I would be an architect. I guess all of that was training for what I do. I also went to see Swan Lake, which was really instrumental in my liking musicals and theater. I remember crying, thinking it was the most beautiful ballet I'd ever seen. I don't sing or dance, so it didn't inspire me that way. But it did inspire me to appreciate the arts.