The Stunning Transformation Of Cobie Smulders

When someone says they've been through it all, it's not necessarily true. In the case of Cobie Smulders, however, that's putting it rather mildly. The Canadian actress had been gracing screens since the early 2000s. And in the two decades that Smulders has been a Hollywood fixture, she has approached every role with both dedication and determination, leading to much critical acclaim in film, television, and theater. Perhaps, this has something to do with the actress treating every job like it's her last. "I always feel like, 'Oh, this is the last job I'll do and I'll never work again,'" she once confessed during an interview with Entertainment Tonight. "I'm very, like, pessimistic about the way I work within this industry."

Smulders may not have grown up in the business, but her evolution on-screen has been fascinating to watch. Even more incredible: Smulders managed to achieve everything she has while facing some personal challenges that she never made public until later on.

Cobie Smulders grew up in Vancouver doing school theater

The first thing that anyone needs to know about Cobie Smulders is that she has always been a proud Canadian, having been raised in her native Vancouver, British Columbia. Her parents both came to the country as immigrants, and Smulders' mother's story of how she arrived is particularly interesting. 

When her mother was in her early 20s, she was aboard a vessel when the unthinkable happened. "They were pulling up the anchor and a rusted cable poked a hole in the boat. When they were trying to pump it out, the pump caught fire, the boat sank, she was on a life raft, the Americans swooped in, rescued her and the crew, and brought them to Vancouver," Smulders revealed during an interview with Maclean's. "And there she stayed." Meanwhile, her parents started a family later on. They eventually had Smulders on April 3, 1982. Fans might be surprised to learn that her real name is Jacoba Francisca Maria Smulders. She was nicknamed Cobie in honor of her great-aunt. 

As a young girl, she did theater at school. That said, Smulders probably had no idea that acting would play such a big role in her life at that time.

At 12, she wanted to become a model

At that age, Cobie Smulders wasn't quite sure yet what she wanted to do in life. However, the idea of becoming a model intrigued her after meeting a girl at summer camp. "[S]he came up to me and said she thought I looked the part," Smulders recalled while speaking with Women's Health. "I would have done anything to hang out with her more."

Whether Smulders got to spend more time with her newfound friend is unclear, but she did eventually give modeling a shot. Soon, she found herself traveling around the world, visiting Japan, Germany, Paris, and Milan, where she presented herself as a professional model. That said, the jobs weren't always guaranteed. "I'm in Japan, I don't know the language, and I'm standing in front of these businessmen who I'm hoping will hire me for a modeling job!" she once recalled. And while Smulders did manage to book some jobs, the whole experience wasn't as rewarding financially. As Smulders later told Paste Magazine, "I made zero dollars at it." 

She eventually decided to give up and go home. In hindsight, Smulders also knew that modeling was never going to work out for her in the long run. "I hate having my picture taken," she once admitted to Men's Journal.

A short-lived ABC series led to her first major role at 19

Shortly after Cobie Smulders decided that modeling was not for her, she found herself gravitating toward acting. In some ways, this wasn't surprising because Smulders had some interest in the craft even while she was still in school.

Despite her modest acting background at that time, she suddenly found herself up for a part in the ABC television series "Veritas: The Quest" when she was just 19. There was just one small problem: The character was supposed to be 28 years old. Undeterred, Smulders and her team decided she would still try for the part. "My representation told me to be vague about my age. If it came up, I'd just say I was in my 20s," she recalled in her Women's Health interview. In the end, Smulders landed the part of archaeologist Juliet Droil. Unfortunately, the show would only remain on air for a single season.

After that, work was hard to come by. "I didn't get any acting work for two years," Smulders revealed. She spent that time waitressing and doing some work for her mother, who was a software engineer.

Cobie Smulders almost quit acting

When Cobie Smulders came back home, she thought of pursuing a degree. Growing up, she had always loved the ocean and thought it would be great to take up marine biology at the University of Victoria. But then, Smulders found herself lured back to acting. "[I] started doing theater, and got back into this acting group of friends who were really cool and creative and fun," she told Paste Magazine. "I was like 20. I was like, 'You know what? I think I'm just going to do this for a couple of years and see what happens.'"

Smulders never ended up going to university. That said, her love for nature and the ocean has remained strong throughout her life. Years later, the actress partnered with Oceana to spread awareness about the destruction of seamounts off the coast of British Columbia due to pollution, deep sea mining, climate change, and poor fishing practices. "I love to scuba dive and know the beauty and importance of the ocean. I am proud to advocate with Oceana Canada to permanently protect the incredible underwater mountains found so close to where I grew up," Smulders even said in a press statement.

The actress also later partnered up with Clean Trails and Planet Oat in 2020 to promote National Clean Up Day. For this Canadian native, protecting the environment is the least everyone can do after everything that Mother Nature has given us.

Cobie Smulders found true love at 22

During her early 20s, Cobie Smulders was quite active on the dating scene, and although several romances didn't work out, the actress was still glad she put herself out there. "I've had good and bad ones, but I took away things from them that helped me become who I am," Smulders told Women's Health. That said, she is also grateful to have met the one when she was just 22 and that's none other than actor and "Saturday Night Live" star Taran Killam. The two first met at a friend's birthday party and they knew instantly that they were meant to be together. "It was one of those kismet things where you meet someone and you're immediately like, 'Oh! Now we're dating exclusively,'" Smulders later added.

Smulders and Killam later tied the knot in 2012 after being engaged for three years. The couple share two children, daughters Shaelyn Cado and Janita Mae.

Her Hollywood breakout moment came in 2005

Even when she failed to book jobs after her short-lived ABC series, Cobie Smulders was not one to give up so easily. "I just thought, 'I need to keep moving, I need to keep moving,'" she told Women's Health. "So I was always taking acting classes or doing a play, and it didn't seem like I hadn't worked [on a TV show] in two years. I always had something to keep me going."

As she kept going, Smulders regularly made her way to Los Angeles in time for Hollywood's pilot season. At first, she failed to book anything. But the third time was the charm for her. During Smulders' third year of auditioning for pilots, the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother" was also busy putting together its cast. Early on, Jennifer Love Hewitt turned down the part of teen pop star turned reporter Robin Scherbatsky (the actress decided to star in CBS' "Ghost Whisperer" instead). Not long after that, casting director Megan Branman spotted Smulders while channel surfing and knew instantly that the actress would be Robin.

Meanwhile, thanks to Smulders, Robin also became Canadian. According to CBS, show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas told the actress, "We think we can kind of use it as a way to showcase the positive things about Canada — the universal healthcare, the gun control, great public education, how green up they are." Robin was also written to be a huge fan of the Vancouver Canucks.

She was diagnosed with cancer at 25

Back in 2008, things were looking up for Cobie Smulders. She had a hit show — and she found the man of her dreams. But then, like a cruel joke, the actress was dealt a blow she never saw coming: cancer. Smulders discovered her illness when she decided to go in for a checkup. "My energy was low, I was just so tired all the time, and I felt a constant pressure on my abdomen that I could not explain," the actress wrote on Lenny. Soon after, she learned that she had tumors on both of her ovaries. Even worse, the cancer had already spread.

Following her diagnosis, Smulders underwent multiple surgeries to treat her ovarian cancer. The actress also had to make some drastic lifestyle changes, including eating raw foods, eliminating cheese and carbs from her diet, and fasting for days. "I went to a cleansing retreat in the desert where I didn't eat for eight days and experienced hunger-driven hallucinations," she revealed.

After undergoing several procedures for two years, Smulders no longer has any cancerous tissues in her body. That said, the actress still has a hard time believing that she's cancer-free, although she's determined to move forward. "I'm trying to think of it as a positive thing and what can I learn from it," Smulders told Women's Health. The actress is also grateful that she still got to have two children with husband Taran Killam despite her ovarian cancer.

She made her Marvel debut in 2012

A few years after recovering from ovarian cancer, Cobie Smulders' career was in full swing. As "How I Met Your Mother" continued its run, the actress also made her debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill. At the time, the MCU was still coming together, and director Joss Whedon was tapped to direct its first ensemble film, "The Avengers." In turn, he tapped Smulders. "We were friends, and he asked me to audition for Maria Hill," the actress once told The Standard. "I didn't even know who I was auditioning for."

For Smulders, embodying Maria Hill on-screen also meant learning how to fight like a career S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Just a day after getting the role, she enlisted the help of a personal trainer and got down to business. "He had trained SWAT teams and helped me familiarize myself with weapons and how to load them and how to shoot them and how to roll and all these things so that I could do as much as possible myself," the actress explained during an interview with That Shelf.

Meanwhile, since "The Avengers," Smulders has also gone on to appear in several MCU movies, including Marvel's billion-dollar-grossing films, "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame." The actress also later appeared in the Disney+ miniseries "Secret Invasion." 

Cobie Smulders also did a film with Tom Cruise

By the time action star Tom Cruise and director Edward Zwick were casting for the 2016 action film "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back," Cobie Smulders had already built up quite an acting portfolio, having already done a number of films (including various Marvel movies) and TV shows. That said, none of Smulders' prominent screen work was familiar to Zwick. Instead, he knew the actress from her work in an indie film called "Results," in which she played a personal trainer. "Ed said he saw that and liked me from that," Smulders told Parade. And while the actress was used to doing some action scenes by then, preparing to join the "Jack Reacher" universe as Maj. Susan Turner required a lot more physical conditioning. Aside from training for several hours a day weeks before production, Smulders also spent some time at a CIA shooting range.

Following its theatrical release, "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" ended up grossing over $160 million worldwide against a reported production budget of $60 million. Smulders has also expressed interest in reuniting with Cruise and working on a sequel. "I would love to work with Tom in any shape or form again," she also told Esquire. "He's fantastic, and it was such a great experience."

In 2017, Cobie Smulders took her acting to Broadway

After conquering television and film, Cobie Smulders knew right away what her next stop was: theater. The actress had long dreamed of performing on Broadway ever since she saw "Rent" during her brief time in New York. Years later, Smulders found herself joining the Broadway revival of Noël Coward's "Present Laughter."

Set in the 1930s, the play tells the story of Garry Essendine, a successful actor who is experiencing a midlife crisis. And while Oscar- and Tony-winning actor Kevin Kline played the lead character, Smulders was cast as Joanna Lyppiatt, the wife of Garry's producer who also can't help but be drawn to Garry. "We all feel like we can help him in some way or save him in some way or make his life better in some way," the actress told Observer.

And while the actress didn't have much theater experience before joining the cast, it became immediately clear that she was meant to act onstage. "Cobie was built for the theater," Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the play's director, remarked. "It's been a real joy to watch her take a character that might otherwise descend into a flat archetype and have her flesh the role out with dynamic humanity."

She went on to headline a crime drama series for ABC

After wrapping up her time on "How I Met Your Mother," Cobie Smulders focused mostly on film projects. From time to time, however, the actress made her way back to television. For instance, she reunited with "How I Met Your Mother" co-star Neil Patrick Harris for Netflix's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" and also joined the cast of the dramedy "Friends From College." Not long after that, Smulders also returned to network television to headline the crime drama "Stumptown."

"Stumptown" tells the story of Dex Parios (Smulders), a military veteran who works as a private investigator in Portland, Oregon, while caring for a brother with Down syndrome. At the time, a network show was the last thing that Smulders wanted to tackle next, but she was drawn to the character of Dex. "I fell in love with Dex, and I was so excited to play her — to play a female detective, to play a bisexual woman on network television, to play a woman who is wounded psychotically but fighting through it," she told The Standard.

Unfortunately, ABC decided to axe "Stumptown" after just one season. The show was originally picked up for a second season, but the network later decided not to move forward amid insurmountable scheduling challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cobie Smulders later joined Ryan Murphy's American Crime Story

While Cobie Smulders' return to network television was rather brief, the actress stuck around the episodic project landscape long enough to join the cast of Ryan Murphy's "American Crime Story." Since its premiere in 2016, the anthology series has focused on some of the most well-documented criminal cases in the U.S., focusing on the case of O.J. Simpson during its first season before moving on to the cold-blooded murder of designer Gianni Versace for its second.

When Smulders signed up to join "American Crime Story" for its third season, the show had shifted its focus to the shocking affair between Monica Lewinsky and former President Bill Clinton. In the series, Beanie Feldstein portrayed Lewinsky, while Smulders was tapped to portray conservative commentator Ann Coulter at the last minute after Betty Gilpin exited the project due to a scheduling conflict. And while the actress could have consulted with Coulter, she opted to study her books instead. "She's written quite a few, and I've listened to a majority of them, if not all. So that was helpful," Smulders later told People.

Meanwhile, the actress was also joined by her husband, Taran Killam on the show (the actor signed on to the series first). Killam portrayed Steve Jones, the husband of Paula Jones, a former state employee who sued President Clinton for sexual harassment.

She played Robin again briefly on How I Met Your Father

Years after the end of "How I Met Your Mother," the spin-off "How I Met Your Father" premiered on Hulu. And while the show focused on a completely different group of friends (the main cast includes Hilary Duff, Francia Raisa, and Christopher Lowell), it featured some surprising cameos once in a while. Among them was Smulders' brief return as Robin for the first season episode entitled "Timing Is Everything," in which she buys Duff's Sophie a drink at MacLaren's Pub and gives her romance advice. "We wanted to show that she was at a place in her life where she had great success and had this wisdom to impart onto Sophie," Isaac Aptaker, one of the series' showrunners, told Entertainment Weekly.

As for Smulders, she expressed interest in making another appearance on the show so long as it made sense. "[I]f it works within their storyline and I can be helpful to their show, absolutely!" the actress told Parade during an interview. Later on, Smulders' co-star Neil Patrick Harris, who also played one of Robin's love interests, Barney Stinson, also made a cameo on the show. Unfortunately, however, "How I Met Your Father" was canceled before Barney and Robin could reunite on-screen.