In a quiet corner of the room, Courteney Cox stares into the eyes of her husband, David Arquette, and says, ''I guess we just ran out of ways to tell stories about you screwing strippers.'' This is no awkward marital spat; it's a rehearsal for the new FX drama Dirt, set in the world of tabloid magazines. Cox who plays ballsy editor Lucy Spiller is running lines with her fellow exec producer. She soon heads back to the set while Arquette, who works behind the scenes on Dirt, retreats to a bank of monitors as the camera rolls. A studly young actor grills Lucy about why he's stopped getting ink and offers to spill juicy gossip about two celebs who called off their wedding. ''I want a cover,'' demands Hunkboy. Retorts Lucy: ''I want a G5.'' Arquette removes his earphones and huddles with Cox about the G5 reference. (Too insidery?) After ponging ideas back and forth, they reach a solution: ''I want a private jet!''
Forget the Gulfstream they'd settle for a hit show. The duo, who married in 1999 after meeting on the set of Scream, have been toiling for two-plus years on Dirt, which premieres Jan. 2 at 10 p.m. The drama is from their company, Coquette Productions, which has produced WE's interior-design series Mix It Up and TBS' comedy Daisy Does America. It's just one of many projects they're juggling: There's the indie horror film The Tripper (co-written and directed by Arquette), a mother-daughter comedy in development at Paramount for Cox, and the non-Coquette ABC comedy In Case of Emergency starring Arquette (it debuts Jan. 3). But for a budding Hollywood power couple, Cox and Arquette are not very tabloid-worthy. ''The thing that strikes me is how unaffected and passionate they are,'' says FX Networks president John Landgraf. ''They stepped into this new field, and they've succeeded through elbow grease.''
We met up with Cox, 42, and Arquette, 35, to get the down-and-dirty scoop on their pairing, professional and personal.
EW Why delve into such an unsavory world? A show about a gossip rag doesn't exactly evoke nice, warm feelings for celebrities such as yourselves.
CC It may not touch off warm feelings for celebrities, but it's something that [viewers] know about and are interested in. Now you get to see what it takes to put [a tabloid] out.
DA The conception of the idea came from the time when Courteney was pregnant and the paparazzi were at a fever pitch. There were these whole new renegade paparazzi that were kind of lawless. They'd just corner her and chase her in a car, and she'd get really frustrated and try to outrun them. She was with Thea Mann, the head of development at Coquette, and after a few of these incidents, Thea said, ''We have to do a show about this.''
CC Friends told us they were on their honeymoon and someone was literally lying in the dirt, taking pictures of them in a hot tub. Right next to them.
EW How will fans who know Courteney as Friends' persnickety Monica react to Lucy?
DA She's the spider, setting up all the webs.... It's great to see [Courteney] play this because Monica was one aspect of her personality she's got this silly sense of humor. The other side of her personality is this take-charge, no-bulls---, ''don't f—-- with me'' businesswoman. People are going to enjoy seeing a powerful woman in a position like that play this dirty game... And you end up still caring for her.
CC If they can handle the pilot, that's a good start. But it only gets worse. I mean, Monica goes straight into soft porn. [Laughs] It gets bad...
EW Is it true that you used some of your paparazzi encounters as research opportunities?
CC We've brought [paparazzi] into the writers' room. We were at Disneyland [with 2-year-old daughter Coco]. David and I were going on a roller coaster, and Coco was waiting off to the side, and I saw this camera. David gets pissed off and he chases them, because that's what he does.
DA I get really protective when the baby's around.... I caught him, and they were going to throw him out.
CC Then I felt bad because it's Anaheim, and he followed us so far so I said, ''Look, you can have one shot, then leave us alone. But I want your card, and I want you to come to our office and give us information about your world.'' He was like, ''All right.''
EW Describe the Cox-Arquette working relationship.
CC I turn to David for anything that is visual. I trust his taste on any art direction.... I'm probably more practical, especially with editing. I'm less precious.
DA She knows how to get to the meat of the scene but still save the moments. Courteney as a businesswoman is amazing. Before [Friends] took off, she was making more money redoing houses than she was acting.... [With] Courteney, what you see is what you get. She's not hiding behind any facade. It's her greatest trait. She can't be dishonest.
CC I want so bad to be able to hold things in, and I just can't. It's physical. I have no choice. It doesn't always work out well.
EW The words ''A Deal's a Deal'' are engraved on your wedding rings. Whose idea?
CC My best friend, Theresa, was the maid of honor in my wedding and her father said, ''You tell them, 'Don't forget, a deal's a deal!''' We thought it was really sweet, and we had it on the marquee where we had our reception. Of course, we had our reception at a place called Bimbo's 365 Club. We're not your typical get-married-in-some-place-and-vacation-in-Hawaii [couple]. We did it in San Francisco and then went on a roller-coaster tour. [Turns to Arquette] We must've been a little scared of commitment: ''Let's go get scared and maybe we'll die!''
DA I loved [the inscription]. It really makes sense.
CC Interestingly he's not wearing his wedding ring. And I'm not wearing it either.
DA I took it off because of filming.... And it makes it easier to pick up chicks. [Laughs]
CC I think that girls like the wedding ring, David. That means there's a challenge.
EW When you guys are deadlocked over an issue, who wins?
CC I would say David.
DA And I'd probably agree with that.
CC I mean, he's like a pit bull.
DA [To Cox] That's so funny you said that. Someone else called me that recently.
CC [She reaches over and cups Arquette's face] These jaws they're not that big for nothing. I think you have stronger opinions about things than I do. Unless it's about my character then I win.
EW Let's address a crazy rumor: Coco has her own miniature desk at Coquette.
CC No, honey she has her own office. It's one of the nicest ones. Coco holds court.... She's going to stay out of the business until she's at least 18. Unless this tap-dancing thing works out. [Laughs]
EW What can you say about Courteney's mother-daughter movie?
DA It's about a society lady from the South whose daughter gets into hip-hop dance and she gets into it as well.
CC If you knew where I was from.... Mountain Brook [Alabama] is not wraparound porches in the beautiful Deep South. This is high society: Who's wearing what? Who's talking to whom? So to see somebody go out of their element a Mary Tyler Moore character from Ordinary People and break into hip-hop dance was a funny idea.
EW So, do you have moves?
CC Oh, I have mooooves! [Pause] I don't have those moves, but I will learn them. David break-dances. He can do all of it.
DA I do a Worm that's actually pretty impressive.