HOLLYWOOD’S LEADING LADY
Acclaimed actress Reese Witherspoon is turning the tide to help female actresses find their voices
Why Reese Witherspoon has gone from girl next door to becoming a visionary
To see the movie industry through these dark times, a guardian angel is needed. The 41-year-old superstar actress and successful producer, Reese Witherspoon is one of three guardian angels hoping to spread a little light and magic in Tinseltown where bitterness, deceit and scandals have been more prevalent than usual of late.
Think what The Wizard of Oz did for the world and you begin to understand why Reese is so excited by her new film, A Wrinkle in Time, playing Mrs Whatsit opposite her magical screen sisters Oprah Winfrey as Mrs Which and Mindy Kaling as Mrs Who.
Directed by Ava DuVernay and based on the classic 1962 novel by 0, the film brings to life the story of Meg Murry
(played by 14-year-old Storm Reid), an adolescent who travels across dimensions to rescue her scientist father.
In an adventure story about what it means to be a source of light in a world in which darkness seems only to proliferate, Meg is guided by Reese and her fellow guardian angels, collectively called “The Mrs”.
She is understandably proud to be a part of such a positively charged project. The film connects with matters close to her heart. Campaigning for strong and empowering roles for women of a certain age and colour has pushed the New Orleans-born star even further into the foreground of what is happening right now in Hollywood.
Here, Reese talks about the movie, why now is a time for change and positivity, and how she is proud to be one of Tinseltown’s guardian angels – both on-screen and off-screen.
What attracted you to this role?
I am such a Disney fan that anytime I get a call about anything Disney-related, I am all over it and just going, “What is it? I’ll do it!”
I was also a huge fan of this book growing up. It’s so magical – a story about a young woman going to other worlds, escaping her earthly bounds and realising that anything is possible when you think positively and seek the good out in life. I loved how Ava (director Ava DuVernay) chose to put her beautiful direction towards this material and think about it in that way. I was just so excited to be a part of this project.
How would you describe the characters that you, Oprah and Mindy play?
Our characters are celestial beings. They are kind of like superheroes who are motivated by goodness and light. They are pulled towards the light and they protect the light. They cannot stand darkness – it is actually like their Kryptonite (like it was to Superman). It is their weakness. They are seeking out the good and are there to save the world, like finding these kids.
Did anything surprise you working with Oprah?
A lot of people know that Oprah is talented and that she is the queen of all media – of all things – but they do not know that she mixes a mean margarita, for example. She can do anything!
What can you tell us about Meg, the protagonist in the film?
I love the little girl at the centre of it. She is just figuring out her own life and being a hero of her own story – it is so magical. I can just imagine little girls out there who have never seen a character like that are just going to be all lit up
inside because of it.
What can you tell us about the message behind this film?
It has many powerful messages and themes in it. It is a film about empowerment and about finding yourself. While the story is about a young girl travelling through the universe, trying to find her missing father, at the same time, it is also about self-discovery and learning about herself. She sees how important it is to cultivate positivity, happiness and find the good in life.
As a producer, how do you know when you are reading a book that it will translate into a great movie?
I try to find things that are universal and relatable. If it is two sisters during the French Revolution, it is just not going to be a movie – it is too expensive and too niche.
My main directive has been having a woman at the centre of it, doing something, telling another aspect of the female experience. Gone Girl was like, “I don’t know, is she psychotic? I don’t know.” But it is something that took an idea of the perfect girl and flipped it on its head.
With Wild, I loved the idea of a woman versus nature because you see men versus nature all the time. It is about finding stuff like that – things that feel fresh and new.
How is the industry evolving for women?
It is a better time than ever, but when I first started, it was a good time too. Women were the stars of their own movies. At the time I came up, I got in a window where I made Legally Blonde and Sweet
Home Alabama. I could be the lead of a movie. It is actually much harder now. You do not see women starring in movies very often. I have had people say to my face: “We have one movie that has a woman starring in it this year. We do not need another one.”
How can we address the issue?
The great news is, with all of these streaming services and new platforms, they need content more than ever. That creates an opportunity for women of all ages and people of all colour. It has broadened the spectrum in creating more roles.
How important is it to keep the momentum going?
After Legally Blonde, I got a lot of opportunities to play the girlfriend in superhero movies, but I was like, ‘ Why would I be the girlfriend when I could be the lead?’ I would rather take less money and be the lead of a movie and show a girl that she can be the centre of her own story than be a wealthy girlfriend because it does not move the needle for me.
I grew up with Holly Hunter, Debra Winger, Diane Keaton and Meg Ryan, when they had movies coming out on a Friday night. That is what I want to see – a woman who is figuring it out and she does not know the next step of her life.
That is why I have a mission to create those parts for myself, for other women and for female directors to have that opportunity to tell women’s perspectives. Women of different generations and perspectives need to be represented. If we do not see new perspectives, we cannot have different conversations and society cannot change.