I recently had the opportunity to have a lengthy chat with Rachael Leigh Cook about her filmography and her new Netflix movie, Love, Guaranteed. While we did spend a good deal of time talking about fan favorites like The Baby-Sitters Club and She’s All That, there was no way we could discuss Cook’s career without touching on an especially memorable part of it that fell outside of the film realm – the 1997 “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA.
While one might assume a 35-second PSA is nothing compared to making a feature-length film, Cook stressed there was a lot that went into the piece and she wanted to do that time and energy justice:
“Something like a PSA isn’t just walking in and making a more serious face and saying several lines. You really want to feel like you gave to the people who put weeks and maybe months of prep into making a thing. You just get to show up and sort of run the ball across the end zone … It’s fun to be there for part of completion, but I really feel a great sense of duty to the people who’ve put a lot into it.”
As time went on, the conversation surrounding that PSA changed and Cook wound up seizing the opportunity to send a different message in 2017. She explained, “It was incredibly meaningful to me to be able to reprise my role in that PSA given what history has taught us about structural racism, mass incarceration and the ultimately pretty disastrous ‘war on drugs.’” But, making her way from the 1997 to the 2017 rendition of the PSA did require some education and Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th played a significant role in that:
“The only reason I hesitated about saying yes to it immediately was that I wasn’t as well educated as I could have been about what seemed to be the impetus behind making it in the first place which was, ‘Hey, we need to legalize Cannabis in all forms, in all 50 states right now.’ I was just like, ‘I don’t have all of the information on this,’ you know what I mean? I didn’t want to be the ‘just say no to drugs’ girl, but I didn’t want to have that spun into the ‘say yes to weed’ girl, because I’m not a weed person. Me and that just don’t go together. So I felt reticent about joining the campaign for a moment but then I remember hearing about Ava Duvernay’s 13th and I saw that and it completely bowled me over and taught me things that I was afraid I knew, but sort of really communicated them in technicolor to me, and I was really glad to have been part of the piece which we had just shot pretty recently.”
The conversation in the 1997 PSA most certainly needed to change, but Cook did stress that there’s still validity in that original copy:
“What’s strange is that, yes, the original PSA was paid for by Partnership for a Drug-Free America and got splashed across the cover of newspapers all over the country. I end up sort of the face of the war on drugs for a little while, but truthfully, the copy to that PSA reads, ‘Don’t do heroine,’ which I think we can all agree is still a pretty non-controversial statement.”
For more on Cook’s journey through Hollywood, her experience finding her place in the feel-good sector and her new movie, Love, Guaranteed, click here to give her full Collider Ladies Night interview a watch.