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Interview: Reese Witherspoon for "Just Like Heaven"

By Paul Fischer Tuesday August 16th 2005 01:05PM
Reese Witherspoon  for "Just Like Heaven"

Reese Witherspoon is like a princess sitting atop of her throne peering across at the vast sea of journalists before her. an actress of ferocious intellect she graciously tolerates the questions that others might regard with obvious disdain.

Playing a ghost haunting a befuddled, confused and depressed Mark Ruffalo when asked by a reporter : ' how did you feel about your body - like if you were exercising did it feel like strange that you were there physically?' Witherspoon graciously responds ' no, because I don't really feel like a ghost, I felt like I was pretending to be a ghost.' Peels of laughter echo through the Beverly Hills hotel room, but it's pure Reese.

Witherspoon is relaxed as she fields questions. A lucid and engaging presence, the luminous actress has long been considered a role model for young woman, a label she adorns with a certain cheerful reluctance but one she dutifully accepts. Witherspoon concedes that following Legally Blonde there remains constant pressure to come up with strong, identifiable women to portray on screen. "I definitely think as soon as I became a mother, I felt the responsibility of being a role model, because that's just the nature of becoming a mother. As soon as they come out, you realize ,Oh no, this person's going to look up to me. Better clean up my act.' So I take it very seriously, it's a big responsibility and I think that definitely carries over into the film choices."

Witherspoon returns to familiar territory in Just Like Heaven, starring as the ghost of an ambitious doctor who discovers an afterlife with a difference. asked why a return to seeming familiarity, Reese says "for me, this one just had a really nice spiritual message about how important it is to nurture yourself. I think women are natural caretakers. They take care of everybody, they take care of their husbands and their kids and their dogs, and don't spend a lot of time just getting back and taking time out. So I like that quality and that sort of Wonderful Life quality where she gets to see her life for what it was and go back and have another opportunity."

In part the film explores loss and second chances and the actress says she responded in particular to the latter. "I think the second chance element was what really interested me about it and the idea of what happens when you don't nurture your spirit. Could it leave you? Could it move on to something else? I thought that was a really interesting idea and I thought it was fun to do a comedy, hook people in and then hoodwink them into watching a serious movie. I like to lead in with the comedy and then hit them over the head with a drama," Witherspoon concedes, laughingly.

The actress further admits she could relate to her character's drive to succeed, her work ethic. "I think she spends a lot of time at the hospital and I certainly had moments in my life where it felt like I was working all the live long day and what on earth was I doing? But that's why it's important to take breaks and get some perspective, sit on the rug with the dog and the kids and just not do anything, which is what I've been doing for the past three months and finally getting used to it a little bit. It took me three months to calm down."

Witherspoon says that she tries to strike a balance between family and work "very carefully. it's important to take breaks as

I just try care of the kids first, sort out their lives and school, and make sure everything's good with their lives. If the kids are happy, the parents are happy, so once I have all that kind of sorted, it's much easier to get on with my life.. My daughter's starting Kindergarten, so I took a little time off just to be there for her. I'm sure she'll be fine and I'll be the one crying and she'll be like, "Get out of here.' "

As hard as Witherspoon tries to balance her maternalism, her career remains in full swing as she reluctantly prepares for the Oscar buzz surrounding her portrayal of June Carter in Walk the Line that premieres at next month's Toronto Film Festival. "I just take it as it comes. I just want people to see the movie first of all. It's just exciting and I just have to focus on what's right in front of me, so for me right now, I'm just trying to get this movie opened. Then it will be onto the next. It's very flattering and it's nice people know who you are."

Reese did her own singing in the film and admits that it wasn't easy sounding like Carter, "so I just tried to be the best version of what I could be, because it was impossible to emulate her and I'm sure on Joaquin's part it was pretty difficult to emulate Johnny Cash. But we trained for five and a half months and learned to play instruments, record an album and worked six or seven hours every day for five months on it. So you can't say we didn't try", the actress adds smilingly.

As Reese reflects on a successful life and career, she is philosophical as to what it is that ultimately keeps her life in perspective as continuous fame and celebrity rear their ugly heads. "We don't read the tabloids or anything because sometimes they say hurtful things and why ruin your day over some piece of trash the dog's gonna pea on tomorrow? So I just try to keep my eye focused on what is really important and not waste a lot of time thinking about foolishness."

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