Re­dis­cover Reese We talk to the pe­tite pow­er­house

Reese Wither­spoon makes movies, tells sto­ries and, cru­cially, sup­ports other women by giv­ing them op­por­tu­ni­ties – and now she has her own pro­duc­tion com­pany! Ac­tress Jen­nifer Siebel New­som talks to the pe­tite pow­er­house.

Glamour (South Africa) - - La Une - Jen­nifer Siebel New­som You’ve grown into this for­ward-think­ing voice for women. You’ve said that was the re­sult of a strong mother and grand­mother.

Afew years ago, while pitch­ing a movie to seven stu­dio heads, Reese Wither­spoon re­quested an ex­tra 30 min­utes with each ex­ec­u­tive to ask: what do you have in the works for women? “Only one stu­dio was de­vel­op­ing some­thing with a fe­male lead,” she re­calls. “They said, ‘We’re happy if you bring us some­thing, but it’s not a part of our de­vel­op­ment.” Stunned, she started ob­sess­ing over the deficit – rais­ing the sub­ject at meet­ings, to a cho­rus of women say­ing, “We know!”

So in 2012, Reese, 40, co-founded Pa­cific Stan­dard, a pro­duc­tion com­pany, with pro­ducer Bruna Pa­pan­drea. The duo be­gan buy­ing up books and scripts with fe­male pro­tag­o­nists to turn into films and TV se­ries.

By 2015, she saw just how win­ning her com­pany’s by-and­about-women for­mula could be. Wild and Gone Girl, its first two films, fea­tured lead­ing ladies with unique per­sonal jour­neys. Stars Rosamund Pike, Laura Dern and Reese her­self were nom­i­nated for Os­cars, and the films made over R6 482 mil­lion, and Reese made Forbes’ list of high­est-paid ac­tresses and Time’s 100 Most In­flu­en­tial Peo­ple list.

Now she’s break­ing into a full-on sprint to­wards equal­ity: Pa­cific Stan­dard has 32 projects in the works with women front and cen­tre. “With Hot Pur­suit, Reese gave me the op­por­tu­nity to pro­duce and play a main char­ac­ter,” says the film’s star Sofìa Ver­gara. “She’s so tiny, but she’s so strong – she knows what she wants, and she gets what she wants.”

With her pro­duc­ing busi­ness boom­ing, Reese took on a new chal­lenge: she launched Draper James, a cloth­ing and home line, with a flag­ship store in Nashville, Ten­nessee. Lest you think she’s su­per­hu­man, she hasn’t taken an act­ing gig in two years so she could spend time with her hus­band, Jim Toth, and three kids, Ava, 16, Dea­con, 12, and Ten­nessee, three.

Of course, none of this is a sur­prise. Reese has al­ways been an in­cred­i­ble sup­porter of women and their work. And as Bruna, her com­pany’s co-founder, says: “The two fea­tures you want in a friend are in­ter­ested and in­ter­est­ing. Reese is both.”

Reese Wither­spoon I’d al­ways ask my grandma why she didn’t work, and she’d say her par­ents didn’t ap­prove of her work­ing af­ter she had chil­dren. She didn’t feel that she had choices. Grow­ing up in the South, it was very pa­tri­ar­chal. When I ap­plied to Stan­ford, I was told by a [male] univer­sity coun­sel­lor, “You’ll never get in, don’t bother. They don’t want you.” I replied, “I’m go­ing to try.” And I got in! But I wouldn’t be the woman I am if I hadn’t had that con­flict to over­come. It’s given me an un­der­dog feel­ing all my life. Who’s your big­gest ad­vo­cate? My mom, Betty. She’s al­ways been my best au­di­ence. She made me feel [like I was] funny even if I wasn’t that funny. She gave me a real sense of joy about life. Back to those stu­dio meet­ings: how did it feel that only one stu­dio had a project with a fe­male lead? I have this drive from my up­bring­ing to be a doer, not just a com­plainer. I have achieved a cer­tain suc­cess, and I felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity to my daugh­ter, Ava, and women in this world to cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for women. Women of dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties and so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds. Who taught you to be a doer? My mother, 100%. She’d al­ways say, “If you want some­thing done, do it your­self.” She must have said that 100 times to me – as a child, as a young woman, yes­ter­day on the phone. What a great role model! Tell us, how did you first get things started with Pa­cific Stan­dard? I kept com­plain­ing and com­plain­ing to my hus­band. He said, “You read more books than any­one I know. Why don’t you start turning them into movies?” So that’s what I did. What do your projects’ char­ac­ters have in com­mon? They can be flawed, haunted and dy­namic, re­flec­tive of the women I see ev­ery day in my life. Like Amy Dunne [of Gone Girl]. Ex­plor­ing fe­male rage on film doesn’t frighten me:

“I have this drive from my up­bring­ing to be a doer, not just a com­plainer.”

“I have achieved a cer­tain suc­cess, and I felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity to my daugh­ter, Ava, and women in this world to cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for women.”

I know a lot about it, from per­sonal and friends’ ex­pe­ri­ences. Women want to see the truth, not some per­fect girl. Did you start your com­pany to star in th­ese roles your­self, or to de­velop roles for fel­low ac­tresses? I can’t be in all of them! [Laughs.] We have 25 movies and seven TV shows in de­vel­op­ment. And I’m so happy to have other women take th­ese parts and make the most of them. Women wrote most of the books you’re bring­ing to screen. Do you hope that other film-mak­ers will el­e­vate the voices of fe­male writ­ers as you have? Def­i­nitely. More peo­ple telling sto­ries leads to more in­ter­est­ing per­spec­tives. I of­ten think that we wouldn’t get to th­ese po­lit­i­cal im­passes if we had bal­ance in sto­ry­telling. If more men would see a story of what it was like to be preg­nant, and how it felt to be in a place where you had to make a de­ci­sion about whether to keep a preg­nancy, maybe they’d feel dif­fer­ently about women’s health­care. So I’m en­cour­ag­ing th­ese women to take the jump to writ­ing for the screen. They’re in­fin­itely ca­pa­ble of tack­ling the for­mat. I re­ally like that you use the words ‘in­fin­itely ca­pa­ble’. More peo­ple need to use those words about women. Men rise through the ranks be­cause of po­ten­tial, but women have to prove them­selves, while try­ing to have chil­dren and hav­ing no fam­ily leave. No woman’s get­ting hired be­cause of her po­ten­tial. I hope we can in­vest more in fe­male po­ten­tial. You started act­ing with The Man in the Moon in 1991. I was only 14 and I au­di­tioned in an empty restau­rant in Nashville, Ten­nessee af­ter see­ing an ad­vert in a news­pa­per! What about Elec­tion in 1999? I’d fin­ished four movies in a row. I thought I was go­ing to go back to Stan­ford, and then I got Elec­tion. I loved act­ing. And Legally Blonde in 2001? I was de­bat­ing whether to do Legally Blonde, and I saw this in­ter­view with Glo­ria Steinem about how im­por­tant Goldie Hawn’s role in Pri­vate Ben­jamin was for women; by the end of the movie, the char­ac­ter punched her fi­ancé at the al­tar be­cause he didn’t un­der­stand who she’d be­come. I said, “I feel like Glo­ria told me to do Legally Blonde. That’s how Elle Woods is, too!” She starts out think­ing she’s gonna fol­low a man, but in the end she’s like, “I don’t need you.” It’s the 15th an­niver­sary of Legally Blonde. Where do you think Elle Woods would be now? She’d prob­a­bly be a Har­vard Law pro­fes­sor or a sen­a­tor. We should all dress in pink and storm into Congress on the an­niver­sary and say, “Why aren’t there enough of us here?” Next: your Os­car-win­ning role in Walk the Line. I see it as one of my great­est pro­fes­sional ac­com­plish­ments. Six months of learn­ing to play an in­stru­ment, voice lessons, prac­tic­ing with the band – it was a dif­fi­cult movie! What about Wild in 2014? It’s the film I’m the most proud of as an ac­tress. It was the first book I bought with my com­pany; it gave me a deeper un­der­stand­ing of who I was as a hu­man be­ing. I was more vul­ner­a­ble, raw and open in that than ever on film. Have you ever lost your­self in a char­ac­ter? Yes. Fre­quently. I al­ways let Jim read the script so that he knows what’s about to hap­pen to his wife. When I played Ch­eryl Strayed in Wild, I’d get re­ally mad about cer­tain things, I’d say re­ally pro­found things and I’d curse out of nowhere. He’d say, “Are you you, or are you Ch­eryl?” Ac­tresses are of­ten scru­ti­nised for their ven­tures, but ac­tors don’t face the same crit­i­cism. Why? I’m al­ways con­fused about that. Is it more un­be­liev­able that women are en­trepreneurs? A [news] mag­a­zine printed a [photo-il­lus­tra­tion] of me in a ball­gown hold­ing a vac­uum cleaner, say­ing that I started a com­pany. Now the last time I checked, I’m not sell­ing vac­u­ums. It was very sex­ist: “Stay in your lane. We like what you do – don’t try be some­thing else.” But I hope that we all have three or four chap­ters.

Pro­ducer, ac­tress, mother: how do you pri­ori­tise? My fam­ily comes first. I haven’t made a film in two years. I’m fo­cus­ing on my busi­ness, but I also want to spend time with Ava. It’s scary that my old­est child is about to leave. How do you raise kids work­ing in this in­dus­try, which re­duces so many women to beauty and sex ob­jects? You do the best you can, but it’s hard. When I find things egre­giously mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tive of women, I’ll say to my son, “Turn that off. I don’t want to see women be­have that way. And I don’t want to see men treat those women that way.” You hope you’re say­ing the right things – but also, as a kid be­comes a teenager, you feel like there’s a tick­ing clock for you to tell them ev­ery­thing that they need to know. My kids make me laugh ev­ery day. And they’re al­ways so sup­port­ive. We know that “it takes a vil­lage”. Who is your vil­lage? My mother, my fam­ily and my hus­band – he’s my big­gest sup­porter on Earth. Jim en­cour­ages me to put my­self out in the world in ways that feel scary, and he’s like, “I’m al­ways gonna catch you. I’m al­ways gonna be there for you.” You’ve been mar­ried to Jim for five years. How have each of you and your re­la­tion­ship evolved? I was al­most 34 when we met; he was 39. Nei­ther of us has wildly changed; I love him more and more. I just want him to be happy, and he wants me to be happy. That’s a big part of my day, think­ing, ‘Is he happy?’ And for him, ‘Is she happy?’ How did you learn what you de­serve in a re­la­tion­ship? The more re­spect I had for my­self and took care of my­self, the more I un­der­stood what I needed in a part­ner. What mat­ters most in life? Fam­ily. I’ve been through re­ally try­ing ex­pe­ri­ences per­son­ally, and your fam­ily is who you turn to. Be­hind ev­ery woman, there is… A safety net of love, com­pas­sion and en­cour­age­ment. To be brave, you have to have an army hold­ing you up.

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