Rachael Leigh Cook and Malia Baker on playing Mary-Anne in The Baby-Sitters Club decades apart
WRITING: RANDI BERGMAN
Before we were Carries (or more recently Mirandas), we were Kristys, Dawns, Staceys, Claudias and Mary-Annes. The OG personality signifier was The Baby-Sitters Club, a book series that told stories of a group of enterprising pre-teens who ran a babysitting service in the fictional Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Written by Ann M. Martin and released from 1986 to 2000, the books discussed much more than the trials of care, from developing crushes to dealing with divorce. In 1995, after a short-lived HBO series, The Baby-Sitters Club was immortalized on screen, with a movie set during one epic summer in the lives of the BSC. The movie starred Schuyler Fisk as the tomboy leader Kristy, Larisa Oleynik as free-spirited activist Dawn, Bre Blair as the sophisticated Stacey, Tricia Joe as fashion plate Claudia and Rachael Leigh Cook as the shy, studious and organized Mary-Anne Spier. After the film’s success, Cook went on to play several iconic roles, including Lainey Boggs in She’s All That and Josie McCoy in Josie and the Pussycats, cementing herself in the cannon of nostalgia we hold so dear.
Decades later, Cook has become a goddess of the Hallmark Channel, just as a new reboot of The Baby-Sitters Club has hit Netflix, with newcomer Malia Baker in the role of Mary-Anne. The BSC reboot couldn’t have come at a better time: it’s sweet, sunny and tackles issues that are important for a new generation of aspiring babysitters. Plus, it centres around the transparent ’90s phone of our collective dreams.
Last week, we connected Cook and Baker for a phone chat, during which they discussed all things BSC. From their shared love-hate relationship with Mary-Anne to Cook’s reflection on the ‘90s roles that made her famous, the two seriously bonded. Read on for their adorable conversation.
Capsule 98: Malia, how familiar were you with The Babysitter’s Club before getting this role?
Malia Baker: I was very familiar with the books. My mom had always referred to herself as being a Dawn. So, I was 8 years old and really curious about who the heck Dawn was and where was she from so I did my research and I stumbled upon The Baby-Sitter’s Club books and I found love right away.
Rachael Leigh Cook: That’s beautiful. I love that your mom did that for you. I wish my kids listened to me about that kind of stuff. Would you say your mom is a Dawn to this day?
RLC: It’s funny, thinking about the role that we both play; even the most Mary Anne people don’t fancy themselves as a Mary Anne. Not to say that it’s a bummer role but do you know what I mean?
MB: It’s so true. Everyone is like, “Oh I’m the Mary Anne but I wish I was a Claudia!” I still think she’s cool though.
RLC: She is cool. She’s intensely loyal and sensitive and she represents all of the shyer people out there and that’s important you know.
MB: Yeah. Did you relate to one of the characters before you got the role of Mary Anne?
RLC: I was an aspiring Claudia. What about you?
MB: Oh yeah, I was definitely the same. There was one point in my life where I wanted to be a full-on artist and a painter and that’s all I wanted to do.
RLC: That’s very cool. [kids screaming in the background] Sorry! My little ones! When I was your age, I did not believe for one second that I was going to be taking my own little kids around one day, and that’s exactly what I’m doing right now.
MB: Aww, they sound so cute, no worries.
RLC: Don’t you love how everyone wants to know about your potential history as someone who may have actually babysat?
MB: Yes, I’ve gotten so many questions about babysitting, and now, I’m so glad that I took the babysitter test when I was in grade 6 because now I have something to say!
RLC: And it’s true, the only real job I had before acting was babysitting. The best kids to babysit for are the ones who can’t tell time, because it’s always bed time and they can’t tell.
C98: For both of you, this was the first role, right?
Both: Yes, it was.
RLC: I was widely underqualified, but I love that we’re both coming from the same place. Malia, did you do plays? I’m sure you did.
MB: I had been doing theatre for a very long time and then I realized I didn’t like dancing or the singing portion of theatre, so I just stuck with the acting. I booked myself in a Hallmark movie and I was supposed to be an extra actually but one of the girls got Pink Eye, so I had to fill in for her. I got one line and I thought it was going to be my breakthrough. I was like, “Oh my goodness, I’m going to be a star!”
RLC: You reminded me of a minorly similar thing that happened to me. I was in a public service announcement about adopting kids in the foster care system when I was like 11 and I was supposed to just be like supportive sister in this family scene where the foster kid is sitting around with his new family and everyone’s feeling great about it and it just involved sitting and smiling.But then the boy who played foster kid wouldn’t let them put makeup on him and so they were like, “You’re foster kid now,” and I was like, I can do this. So that’s what I thought would be my big break.
C98: My mind just went to your iconic PSA for “This is your brain on drugs.”
RLC: The whole war on drugs thing didn’t go great, at the time it seemed like the right thing to do.
C98: I think about it every time I crack an egg.
RLC: Wow, and you don’t seem like you do heroin, so….
C98: I don’t, I just eat a lot of eggs.
MB: Rachel, Did you stay in touch at all with the cast?
RLC: Oh yeah, we have a text chain, with various check ins. Someone will say, “Oh look at this photo I found!” Funny enough the person I’ve seen the most is Marla Sokoloff who plays Cokie Mason, my frenemy. Who’s playing Cokie in this one?
MB: There isn’t a Cokie! This series is more based on the book series 1 through 10, not like the movie which was based on the BSC camp.
RLC: Cool, very cool. And you guys have got Alicia [Silverstone], who is incredible, I know her just from around, you know.
MB: It really is.
RLC: So, I’m sure you and your castmates are already best friends.
MB: We became friends instantly, we actually found out that we were cast at the last audition which you probably know, is super rare. They got it on film and we were crying and our parents came in and they were crying so it was just a really great moment.
RLC: That’s incredible. It can really go any which way and that’s a beautiful story, I’m so glad they captured that moment.
MB: It still feels like a dream. Was it surreal for you too?
RLC: I feel like it’s still this home movie and me and my friends made. It’s no Netlfix.
I love these roles. I love that it portrays four young women as entrepreneurs and puts their friendship first and it’s just, it couldn’t be more timely you know I’m really glad that there weren’t things throughout the books that didn’t carry over 20 years later that would’ve made it irrelevant.
MB: I agree completely and with the new contemporary spin, I feel like with the newer issues that need to be discussed are being incorporated into the series.
RLC: I love that so very much. I can’t wait to watch the show. How are you with watching yourself?
MB: I actually have never been asked that question but I’m glad you did because it is so weird, I’m just like oh should’ve done that better. I am always criticizing myself, and I feel like we’re all going to be our worst critics but I just need to remember that Netflix casted me for a reason you know and this isn’t just me dreaming. But I’m still very proud, I’m very honoured to be up on the screen.
RLC: I promise you, nobody does any favours in this business, so you completely earned it. So many actors are self-hating at times, that’s part of our make-up and maybe it’s just a little bit of the make-up of the people who are going to play Mary Ann throughout the rest of time but you know, I think that that sweet, sort of reflective side of you is what’s going to make the character so powerfully sympathetic and sensitive and just lovely, so I love that about you.
MB: Thank you so much. You take your own advice too, don’t be so hard on yourself!
C98: Rachael, how is it to look back at things that were from the 90s? Not only are you looking at your own performance but looking at something that’s a time capsule of a different moment in time.
RLC: It’s horrifying to look back on that, not for any other reason expect for that I just, I had no formal training. But to look back at that time, real talk, it was just quite literally a simpler time, so I feel nostalgic for that but otherwise, my life is beautiful right now, I have two great kids and a lot of fun things going on in my workplace and so in that sense I couldn’t be happier, and I feel lucky to have had the support that I did that made all of that possible. I feel lucky to be on this call and I feel lucky to be able to look back on something that was really positive.
C98: 90s nostalgia is everywhere right now. How do you interact with that?
RLC: I don’t know, I think I just have the same sort of sense and memory of it that everybody else does who experienced that time, like I remember pre-pandemic being in a store and they played a Backstreet Boys album, like track 1 to track 13 straight through and I didn’t want to leave the store. And so, I find it synonymous with a simpler time, to some people that’s a such good thing but it’s hard for me to gage it in the other way because I don’t know, I just see myself as a participant and that’s about it.
C98: You were a participant, but also part of the culture.
RLC: Yeah, I suppose so. I feel lucky whenever I’m recognized from something that was literally 20 years ago. My vanity is very down with that.
C98: Can we pause to discuss one of my favourite movies of yours? It has a bunch of different names, but I knew it as Strike! Over the years, it’s also been called All I Wanna Do and The Hairy Bird.
RLC: I thought nobody saw that movie. It was a really great girl power movie of that era. That was sort of an interesting get for me. I guess that’s because I did a small part in the Miramax movie called House of Yes, where I played a younger version of Parker Posey and they wanted to work with me after that. And so that’s how I got that. And then this movie really got me She’s All That.
C98: I don’t know if this still exists for kids today, but I feel like at that time if a movie or a TV show or album was impactful for you, it became this sort of weird thing that only you knew about because there was no social media to connect with people about it on. I know that people my age are all coming out of the woodwork being like remember that movie Strike!/All I Wanna Do/The Hairy Bird?
RLC: I remember I did an interview about its 20-year reunion. I reconnected with Sarah, the director, over email and she’s this very big, very prolific writer actually, it was the only movie she directed but it was so nice to reconnect with her after all these years. And that’s another movie that was an incredible group of girls and again, none of them I necessarily kept in touch with, but I treasure that experience you know, it was a great time.
C98: How have the last few months been for both of you?
RLC: I could use The Baby-Sitter’s Club over here!
MB: The last few months for me have been okay. I’m naturally an introvert and I’m okay being away from a lot of people, so I think that helped me during this time. I’ve picked up new hobbies, baked a lot more than I should, and just tried to stay outside for a lot of things.
C98: Those are the hallmarks of quarantine life I think. Baking, being outside, bingeing TV. Have you guys been consuming a lot of pop culture?
RLC: I ravaged about four different seasons of that show 90 Day Fiancé and was not proud of it, really don’t know why I admitted it out loud right now but it’s tremendous and I highly recommend it.
C98: Rachael, what’s been your favourite role that you’ve ever played?
RLC: The one that gave you the best friends are the ones that stick with you the most. So, on those notes, The Baby-Sitter’s Club is a big standout. Same with Josie and the Pussycats.
C98: What are your thoughts about the legacy of She’s All That, specifically your character, Lainey Boggs? So many aspects of that film would not fly today.
If you laid the movie now, the network note would be he’s disgusting he irredeemable for even wanting to change her physical appearance, and my character would have been seen as weak for taking him back after finding out that that happened. Like this never, it never would have been made today but I think one thing about that movie that gets really overlooked in favour of the superficial makeover of it all is that Lainey was a complete snob of her own right. She has all of her own preconceptions about him and his life and granted not that hard, choosing between two ivy league schools whatever, but you know the movie is about people opening their minds and changing their minds about each other and we are in a time where people change their minds about just about anything. So that was kind of refreshing.
C98: It was great when they parodied it in Not Another Teen Movie. The character just removes her ponytail and she’s transformed.
RLC: The joke now is if you made that movie today, with the deep hipster culture, that it would go in reverse. She would get glasses and overalls and be cooler.
C98: Do you stay in touch with your Josie and the Pussycats costars now?
RLC: Not so much. A year to two after, our lives just sort of went back to the way that they were. Rosario went back to New York and I think Tara went to Taradise and I just kept on being Rachael.
C98: I feel like Josie and the Pussycats has had a particular resurgence. Have you noticed that?
Rachael: I think it came out in what, 2001? So it must be the nostalgia for that time. I think people are craving right now but it just literally took people this long for people to kind of get it. It got a cult following over the years slowly and then somewhere around the 20 year anniversary articles came out about how it wasn’t appreciated and I think it just made it in peoples’ consciousness as a fun romp from another time.
C98: I think the scene where they reveal the brainwashing that’s behind the promotion of the band is also very relevant now. It’s almost like a commentary on social media.
RLC: There’s a guy who watched the movie every day for a year. I’m not going to comment further on what his mental health might be, but I do think that there’s an element where you can watch it again and again and again and get different jokes in a different way, from a different angle every time.
C98: Aesthetically, it’s also incredible.
RLC: I take no credit for that, but I love that movie, I love all of its silliness. Yea, it was shot in Vancouver. Malia, I feel bad dragging you down that avenue for a minute – Where are you based?
MB: I live in Vancouver.
RLC: Oh lovely, I might be down there in a couple months for a Christmas movie. Maybe I’ll come bother you guys when you resume filming.
MB: Ooh yes, please bother me. I would love for you to bother me! And you would have to try the copious amounts of candy that we have on set all the time.
RLC: The Claudia candy, of course you have that!
MB: It is insane how much candy I consumed on that set.
RLC: You have to, it’s a great tradition. I’m glad you’re somewhere lovely, I’m glad you have your family with you. I’m happy for you that you have this great project coming out, you know what I mean about best case scenario to be walking into these next couple of months with so, seriously congratulations to you and I wish you guys nothing but the absolute best, and if I had a torch that I could safely pass to you I would totally do that.
MB: Thank you so much. It means so much coming from you. When I first got the role I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m stepping into Rachael Leigh Cook’s footsteps, this is historic.”
RLC: Girl, you need to aim so much higher than that. I’d like to think that I was being kind by just leaving the bar nice and low for you, so you’re welcome.
MB: you know what’s funny, I said the same thing to my friends recently, they’re just like, “You’re literally my idol right now,” and I was like, “Nuh uh, make your idol Beyoncé. That’s as low as you can go, okay?”
RLC: That should be a shirt, by the way.