Reese Witherspoon doesn’t act as if she has become one of Hollywood’s major players. Petite and unassuming, she has little make up and looks pretty wearing a pink, cashmere sweater. Perhaps it is motherhood that has brought 25-year old down to earth, following her instant star-making turn in the unexpectedly successful Legally Blonde.
The actress admits that being a mother is influencing her choice of roles. ‘Motherhood has definitely changed me in a lot of ways. It sort of takes all the self-obsession out of your life and really gets everything together, meaning that you really only have time to focus on the things that are important,’ says. Witherspoon adds that being a mother has ‘also really helped evolve my sense of humour because when you have a three-year-old and they’re prostrate in the middle of the grocery store screaming and having a temper tantrum you HAVE to have a sense of humour, otherwise you’re just going to die of embarrassment.’ Which has happened to mother Witherspoon, she insists, laughingly.
It is no surprise that the actress feels at home doing comedy, Sweet Home Alabama being the perfect film for the actress. Here she plays a fashion designer about to marry a New York City social big-wig. She just has to extricate herself from that first, teenage marriage that nobody knows about which meant the Tennessee native got to return to her own Southern roots. ‘It was actually helpful because I knew all the euphemisms and it helped we worked with a Southern writer at the very end. He and I sort of hatched out what we really said and what we thought of people and tried to make all the sort of Southern humour really stick,’ explains Witherspoon. ‘I grew up in a small community that’s very closely knit. Everybody was very involved in each other’s lives and that was what was familiar about this and nice because it represents that southern sensibility of closeness and genuinely caring about other people. It also got to explore the fun of southern eccentricities without poking fun at Southern people too much.’
Laura Jean Reese Witherspoon was raised in Nashville by a surgeon father and a mother who is a professor of nursing. The actress describes herself as a “big book dork” as a child and says she sucked her thumb until age 11. “I spent most of my childhood reading books. I didn’t have a lot of friends.” Despite the adolescent start at acting, Witherspoon nonetheless finished high school and enrolled at Stanford in English Lit courses. When Robert Benton called her and offered her a role in Twilight with Paul Newman and Susan Sarandon, her university days were left behind. As she once recalled, “Psych 101 or a movie with Paul Newman’ It wasn’t a hard decision.”
The actress says she does feel very good about the success of Legally Blonde. Celebrity, however, has not taken her by surprise. “It hasn’t been that much of a transition for me. My career has been so protracted that I’ve got to experience fame on incremental levels. It wasn’t a deluge but it was a surprise, though.”
Since 1999, Witherspoon has been married to actor Ryan Phillippe. They have a 3-year-old daughter, Ava Elizabeth, so the thematic concept, as outlined in Sweet Home Alabama, of soul mates, may not necessarily apply to the happily married actress, but she does admit to a belief in Fate ‘in the way that you’re supposed to meet the people that you’re supposed to not just romantically but in every other way. I’m almost constantly travelling all over the world and I’ll meet somebody in Paris that knows some of my best friends in Los Angeles and they’re not in the same industry, which is bizarre.’ Witherspoon adds that she feels the same about her roles, that she attains parts in films that she was destined to play. ‘I feel like even though I work really hard to get the jobs that I do get and I work really hard once I have them, I feel that in some way I was always supposed to do them, while the ones I don’t do, I never was meant to do and that other people were probably much better at them than I was.’
Witherspoon remains as passionate and committed to acting now, as when she began at age 15. Always wanting to act, the actress recalls how supportive her family has been throughout. ‘I have to say that’s one of the greatest things that my parents did was encourage my individuality and they didn’t sort of look sideways at me when I said this is what I wanted to do. They just said okay.’
Now a confident 25, Reese has her own production company, Type A Films. First up’ The sequel to Legally Blonde which the actress says should be out by the summer of 2003. Beyond that, ‘we’re also developing a lot of different kinds of stuff. I think it’s great that the success of Legally Blonde has really helped me develop [my company] more.’ As for the rumoured multi-million dollar salary she was offered to star in and produce Legally Blonde 2, Witherspoon is blas’ about it all, and remains unconcerned with salary inequities between men and women in Hollywood. ‘I don’t use other people’s lives or salaries as a measuring stick for my own life. Frankly, I’d be just as happy to make the same salary over and over again. It’s really a different side of the business that I don’t deal with very much ‘ the monetary side of the business aspect of it. I’m just happy I get to do what I love doing.’