Reese Wither­spoon’s Big Lit­tle Life

The film and TV roles Reese Wither­spoon has cre­ated for women chal­lenge stereo­types. And view­ers are re­spond­ing to these more com­plex, nu­anced roles with a re­sound­ing thumbs-up!

Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By San­dra Parmee

‘What did you want to be when you were five years old?’

That was one of the ques­tions put to Reese Wither­spoon dur­ing The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter’s (THR) Drama Ac­tress Round­table dis­cus­sion about sex­ism in Hol­ly­wood. And for any­one fol­low­ing Reese’s tra­jec­tory, her an­swer was un­sur­pris­ing: ‘The first fe­male pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica!’ Some cheeky lit­tle boys in her kinder­garten class laughed when she said that, but for­tu­nately her fe­male teacher was quick to come in with a pos­i­tive re­tort: ‘I’ll be the first one to vote for you.’ With cred­its for di­rect­ing, pro­duc­ing and act­ing to her name, Reese is one of the most pow­er­ful women in Hol­ly­wood to­day, and is a strong ad­vo­cate for chang­ing the per­cep­tion of women in so­ci­ety.

‘Women make up 50 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, and we should be play­ing 50 per­cent of the roles on screen,’ she says. ‘We need more fe­male sur­geons, supreme-court jus­tices and soldiers – but on screen. Not just as the girl­friends to fa­mous men.’ At the same THR round­table ses­sion, Reese noted that great strides have been made in this re­spect: ‘The thing I par­tic­u­larly en­joy about the evo­lu­tion of tele­vi­sion is that we have the op­por­tu­nity to show the en­tire spec­trum of hu­man emo­tion that women have. We aren’t just the wives and the girl­friends. We’re ac­tu­ally liv­ing, breath­ing peo­ple who have in­se­cu­ri­ties.’ It’s fair to credit Reese with con­tribut­ing a great deal to this progress. Not con­tent to sim­ply talk the talk, she started her own pro­duc­tion com­pany, Pa­cific Stan­dard, in 2012, with the stated aim of ‘see­ing dif­fer­ent, dy­namic women on film’. And with the huge suc­cesses of Gone Girl, Wild and, of course, the TV se­ries Big Lit­tle Lies, Reese has cer­tainly achieved that.

Big Lit­tle Lies was ini­tially con­ceived as a one-off show, but af­ter the over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­sponse it re­ceived, it was green-lit for a se­cond sea­son – with no less than Meryl Streep join­ing the cast! Re­view site Rot­ten Toma­toes gave the show a rare ap­proval rat­ing of an in­cred­i­ble 92%, de­scrib­ing it as ‘bit­ingly funny, highly ad­dic­tive; a twisty, thrilling, en­light­en­ing ride led by a first-rate cast’.

What’s more, Big Lit­tle Lies has col­lected a se­ri­ous

num­ber of shiny stat­uettes: it swept the Emmy’s last year with eight awards, win­ning for ‘Out­stand­ing Just-About-Ev­ery­thing’, with act­ing, writ­ing, di­rect­ing, cin­e­matog­ra­phy all get­ting a nod or win. And the show made an equally im­pres­sive show­ing at the Golden Globes this year.

Both Reese and Ni­cole Kid­man were up for the lead ac­tress Emmy as well as the best ac­tress Golden Globe – Ni­cole took home both awards. Clearly the world was ready for a se­ries that show­cased the ‘com­plex­ity of the fe­male ex­pe­ri­ence’, as Reese puts it.

Laura Dern, one of her besties and a co-star on the show, ex­plains that their re­cent projects have in­spired them to ‘step for­ward’.

‘Reese has been such a cham­pion in that way and con­tin­ues to in­spire me,’ she said. ‘I think we care deeply about how we can in­spire other women to sup­port each other and cre­ate art for fel­low women.’

But Reese’s drive to con­tribute to pos­i­tive change doesn’t end there. She serves on the board of the Chil­dren’s De­fence Fund, a child ad­vo­cacy and re­search group. She is a sup­porter of Save the Chil­dren, which helps pro­vide chil­dren around the world with ed­u­ca­tion, health­care and emer­gency aid. She’s a global am­bas­sador for Avon and the honorary chair of the Avon Foun­da­tion, which sup­ports women and fo­cuses on breast can­cer re­search and the pre­ven­tion of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. It’s ev­i­dent she’s dead se­ri­ous about putting her time and star sta­tus to work to sup­port those who make it their busi­ness to fix the world.

For some­one who hasn’t been out of the pub­lic eye since her star turn in the 1991 drama The

Man in the Moon at the age of 15, Reese is re­mark­ably grounded. She at­tributes this to her ‘de­fin­i­tive South­ern up­bring­ing’, which, she says, gave her a sense of fam­ily and tra­di­tion. As a child, she had two big loves: read­ing and act­ing. She was ‘a big dork who read loads of books’, and had her first taste of act­ing at the age of seven, when she was a model for a florist’s tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ment and signed up for act­ing lessons.

‘I don’t see any of it as re­mark­able,’ she says. ‘Maybe that’s the at­ti­tude I choose to have to keep me sane and keep my feet on the ground. I grew up

‘I cer­tainly think the longer you can keep your val­ues and your moral­ity in­tact, and keep your head on your shoul­ders about what’s im­por­tant at the end of the day, you can get the most out of this busi­ness and re­ally emerge with some­thing won­der­ful.’

in an en­vi­ron­ment where women ac­com­plished a lot.’

Reese is a wife and a mom to three chil­dren; she works hard at her act­ing and phil­an­thropic work and in her pro­duc­tion com­pany – and that’s the way it is.

The Man on the Moon was an un­ex­pected break­through for Reese. She went to an open cast­ing to au­di­tion as a bit player and in­stead landed the lead role of Dani Trant, a 14-year-old girl who falls in love for the first time. The movie re­ceived rave re­views, with Reese’s per­for­mance be­ing de­scribed as ‘mem­o­rably touch­ing’ and earn­ing her a Young Artist Award nom­i­na­tion for Best Young Ac­tress.

On the back of this suc­cess, the of­fers came thick and fast. Among oth­ers, Reese ce­mented her rep­u­ta­tion in the highly ac­claimed Diane Keaton-di­rected

Wild­flower, in which she played one of a pair of teenage si­b­lings who be­come friends with an epilep­tic girl named Alice (played by Pa­tri­cia Ar­quette), who’s been locked up in the barn be­hind her fa­ther’s house as he be­lieves her seizures to be the work of the devil. With the help of the two teens, the girl is able to be­come part of ev­ery­day so­ci­ety.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school, Reese de­cided to take some time out and won a place at Stan­ford Univer­sity to read English lit­er­a­ture. But the movie in­dus­try was hav­ing none of it, and she was lured away again to play op­po­site Mark Wahlberg in Fear and op­po­site Kiefer Suther­land in Free­way. Her break­through role was Elle Woods in 2001’s block­buster Legally Blonde, which was an outand-out box-of­fice hit, gross­ing US$96 mil­lion. Movie critic the late Robert Ebert sang her praises at the time, say­ing: ‘Wither­spoon ef­fort­lessly an­i­mated this ma­te­rial with sun­shine and wit.’ Her fol­low-up hit, Sweet Home

Alabama, did even bet­ter. Then came her Os­car-win­ning role: June Carter Cash, the se­cond wife of coun­try singer and song­writer Johnny Cash, in Walk

the Line. She took singing lessons for six months to pre­pare for the role, which also won her the Screen Ac­tors Guild Award, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. Reese’s bril­liance in this film was per­haps in part a func­tion of her pas­sion for it: she de­scribes June as a woman ahead of her time, and the movie as por­tray­ing ‘… a real mar­riage, a real re­la­tion­ship where there are for­bid­den thoughts and fal­li­bil­ity. And it’s about com­pas­sion in the long haul, not just the short, easy so­lu­tions to prob­lems’.

Those val­ues are re­flected in her life. ‘The bat­tles we face in this busi­ness aren’t fi­nan­cial, but moral,’ she says. ‘And I cer­tainly think the longer you can keep your val­ues and your moral­ity in­tact, and keep your head on your shoul­ders about what’s im­por­tant at the end of the day, you can get the most out of this busi­ness and re­ally emerge with some­thing won­der­ful.’

Reese has a great role model in her own mother, who was both a teacher and a nurse.

‘There are some sac­ri­fices you make and it hurts your heart some­times, but my kids tell me they’re proud of what I’ve ac­com­plished, and that just means ev­ery­thing.’

One rule that’s stayed with her since child­hood is fam­ily din­ner ev­ery night.

‘That’s a big thing I learnt from my grand­mother – to spend time with your kids and lis­ten to their dreams.’

Reese is big on fam­ily, and big on sym­bolic con­nec­tions. Her real name is Laura; Reese is her mother’s fam­ily name. Her daugh­ter with ex-hus­band Ryan Phillippe is named Ava, af­ter his grand­mother; their son, Deacon, is named af­ter foot­baller Deacon Phillippe, a rel­a­tive of Ryan. She has a third child, Ten­nessee, with her se­cond hus­band, Jim Toth.

In 2015, she launched a South­ern-in­spired life­style brand called Draper James, which was in­spired by her grand­par­ents, Dorothea Draper and Wil­liam James Wither­spoon. ‘I hope my grand­par­ents know how much I look up to them,’ she says. ‘I truly be­lieve that they look down on me and guide me in this life.’

They would cer­tainly be proud of what she’s ac­com­plished. But for Reese, it’s not about earn­ing any­one’s ap­proval. It’s il­lu­mi­nat­ing and in­spir­ing to hear what drives her:

‘Hol­ly­wood is one of those end­less com­pe­ti­tions, but it’s like run­ning a race to­ward noth­ing. There’s no win­ning… I just want to be the best ver­sion of my­self that I can be.’

Reese Wither­spoon with her se­cond hus­band, Jim Toth.

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