By Karen S. Schneider
October 27, 2003 12:00 PM

David Arquette is bugging his wife. Up until now Courteney Cox Arquette has had a perfectly lovely October day. She spent the morning rehearsing an episode of Friends, then had lunch, as usual, with costar pals Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow. Afterward she headed to the Hollywood Hills to rearrange (yet again) some of the furniture in the $4.5 million four-bedroom house she and Arquette have called home since February. Now, snuggled in a corner of a dimly lit Sunset Strip bar, she is all set to enjoy a pre-dinner appetizer—if it weren’t for the maddening way her husband is reducing a piece of paper to shreds. “What are you doing?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he says, continuing to rip. She leans in closer. “Give that to me,” she says, her hand out-stretched. “Court,” he pleads, “it’s my own personal schedule. I don’t want it getting into the wrong hands.” Before he can say another word, she scoops the scraps off the table and deposits them into the ashtray. “There,” she says. “Problem solved.”

Move over Dr. Phil: Court is on the case—and David is not the only one quivering in her wake. As the 10th and final season of Friends draws to a close, Cox, 39, has been rechanneling her prodigious (or, as she has said, “manic”) energy, her penchant, in her mother’s words, for “telling people what to do” and her passion for knocking down walls and tearing up carpet (she has bought, renovated and sold five homes in the past decade or so) into producing a cable show called Mix It Up. Premiering on WE: Women’s Entertainment network on Oct. 22, the weekly half-hour home-improvement show was inspired by the couple’s own struggle to create a harmonious living space with room for both her love of, oh, Moroccan pieces, art deco collectibles and elegant mid-century classics and his love of, well, Bobbleheads. As co-executive producers who stay behind the scenes, they give their designers three days and $2,500 (considerably less than Cox’s $1 million per episode and Arquette’s hefty paychecks) to help other similarly stymied roomies find a happier look—and maybe a happier life. “A lot of times if you are having a problem with design,” says Cox, “there is a problem in the relationship.”

Conversely, her own tranquility with Arquette, 32, is evident in the clean lines of their Kip Kelly-designed house, complete with glass walls, infinity pool…and piles of rumpled shirts and pants?

Yup. Arquette swears that the woman who is almost as notorious a neatnik as her Friends alter ego, Monica, “leaves her clothes laying around the house.”

“Okay,” counters Cox, “but David doesn’t do the dishes after he’s cooked. He hasn’t quite learned the art of follow-through.” Her husband begs to differ. “Not true,” he insists with a laugh. “I happen to believe in a good long soaking.”

Like Fred and Ginger—or Frick and Frack—Cox and Arquette have mastered the art of staying close without stepping on each other’s toes. But their challenges as a couple have been far more complex than her finding a spot for the 4-ft.-high wooden letters from a 1920s nightclub that her flea-market-fiend husband recently carted home. Even before they exchanged vows in San Francisco’s historic Grace Cathedral before some 250 family and friends including Aniston (and then-beau Brad Pitt) and the rest of the close-knit Friends cast four years ago, Cox and Arquette had faced hurdles, including his drug use and the death of his mother in 1997. Since they wed, they’ve also struggled with the deaths of both of their fathers, and their ongoing attempts to have a baby—including in vitro fertilization. “I get pregnant pretty easily,” says Cox, “but I have a hard time keeping them.” Despite having miscarried “quite a few times,” she says, she and David “bounce back pretty quickly. I don’t say it’s a walk in the park. But what are you going to do? We just try again.”

Their ability to “get to the other side” of problems is part of what makes them work as a couple, says David’s sister, actress Rosanna Arquette. “They’re totally committed and accepting of each other. Even in their disagreements, they have this rhythm. They laugh through everything.”

Now, maybe. But their energy was quite different when they fell for each other the set of the horror film Scream in 1996. Opposites who attracted, she was a southern lady schooled in architecture at Mount Vernon College in Washington, D.C; he a one-time graffiti-artist who, with his family (including Rosanna, 44, Richmond, 40, and Patricia, 35), spent part of his childhood on a commune in Virginia. Cox saw him as “someone I wanted to kiss,” she says, “but not my type for a relationship.” Why? Consider one evening at the start of filming when, sharing a limo, Cox watched Arquette guzzle vodka from the bottle. “This guy is a complete whack-a-doodle,” she recalls thinking. “Hey, it was free vodka,” he explains. “Though I did get a bit, uh, wasted.”

His penchant for getting wasted soon became an issue between the two of them. He “dabbled” in cocaine and speed and smoked heroin, they recently told 20/20. By the time they got to the set of Scream 2 in 1997, they were constantly at odds. “We didn’t have clear boundaries or a real commitment,” says Arquette. The relationship, she adds, was “on the verge of not making it.” Then, on Aug. 8, 1997, Arquette’s mom, Mardi, died from breast cancer at age 57. “She led a very complicated life and suffered abuse as a child, but she grew to study and resolve all her problems,” he says. “While she was in her final days, her certificate for being a marriage and family counselor came in the mail, and it was like her diploma for her life, for fixing all the problems she had faced. To me, everybody should be like that, trying to make this world a better place.” The loss of his mother “forced him to grow up,” says Cox.

So did the fear of losing her. Neither Cox’s mother, Courteney Copeland, nor her father, Richard Cox (who divorced when she was 10), were sure Arquette was right for the youngest of their four kids. When Cox, a native of Birmingham, Ala., introduced him to her mother, Copeland, 69, says she thought Arquette “was flamboyant and a little bit different. One time I saw him in a regular button-down Brooks Brothers shirt and pair of pants and I said, ‘David, you look wonderful.’ Courteney said, ‘Mama, he thinks that’s a costume. He was dressing up to be in the South.’ But I could also tell he was crazy about her.” In the end, it was Cox’s brother Richard, 45, who urged the two to “move in with each other or break up,” says Cox.

The pair entered couples therapy and “learned how to listen to each other,” says Arquette. And they established boundaries, says Cox: “We aren’t allowed to kiss other people.” Another rule, she later told Harper’s Bazaar: “We have an understanding that we live a drug-free life.” As they grew as a couple, she helped him, he said, “have fun in a healthier, safer, sweeter way.” And he just helped her have fun—evidenced by the life-size Winston Churchill and Elsie the cow statues he brought with him when he moved into her Brentwood bungalow. (They sold that house last December.) Once they wed on June 12, 1999, “I knew they were going to make it,” says Cox’s mom. The couple embraced a relationship that was “more responsible,” says Cox. “When something happens, you don’t slam the door and leave for the night.” The inscription on their wedding bands: “A deal is a deal.”

That deal was quickly tested by distance. While Cox stayed in L.A. shooting Friends, Arquette was often away on location, making several movies in their first year of marriage. The tabloids reported that their marriage was unraveling—gossip Arquette found “creepy.” But the real difficulty came February 2001, when Arquette’s actor father, Lewis, died of congestive heart failure. Seven months later, Cox’s father, a pool contractor, died of liver cancer—but not before he told her he believed that her marriage was going to last. “It was kind of like getting a blessing,” she says. Buoyed by his faith, the couple decided to try to start a family. “I don’t know if you’re ever ready for kids,” says Cox. “But I wasn’t getting any younger.”

Two years later, they are still trying. Their first round of in vitro fertilization was “nerve-racking,” Arquette says. His usual playful spirit could not block the frustration and tears after each miscarriage. Says Arquette: “I feel terrible that she has to go through so much.” The couple are cautiously optimistic about trying IVF again. “It’s a fact that after a certain age you have less of a chance,” says Cox. Her mother gives her “advice about being patient,” says Copeland, “but knowing C.C., she’s going to get information from every doctor and specialist. They’re determined to have a baby.” For obvious reasons, says Arquette’s sister Rosanna, “Davey’s the kind of guy who will dress up in a bear costume to read Goldilocks. They’re going to be incredible parents.” Neither is ready yet to discuss possibilities such as surrogacy or adopting. But nothing, says Arquette, is out of the question: “We’ll look into any option we need to in the future.”

In the meantime, the two keep busy parenting their three dogs, Hopper, Harley and Ella—as much as work allows. Arquette is about to start shooting the Stephen King movie Biding the Bullet. And Cox portrays a photographer in the low-budget drama November, which she hopes will play at Sundance next year. Heading her own production company with Arquette feels right to Cox, who wants to produce both for TV and the movies. As she says, “I like the control.” Which is why practicing the design harmony and compromise preached on Mix It Up is not always easy-especially when those close to you have, you know, their own taste. While she has managed to find a place for most of Arquette’s stuff—giant shoes, Magic 8 balls and a bunch of little nesting dolls he brought home from a trip to Russia—Churchill has been relegated to the garage. So has Elsie. As Cox explains, times have changed since early love helped her embrace all his treasures. “I was still in that phase of ‘Oh, anything for you,’ ” she says. “Now I’m a little more like ‘Okay, this is why God invented storage.’ ”


Todd Gold in Los Angeles