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Reese Witherspoon Bio
Reese Witherspoon (born March 22, 1976 as Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon) is an American actress and producer. She began her career as a child actress, starring in The Man in the Moon in 1991. In 1996, she appeared in Freeway and starred in Pleasantville in 1998. In 2000, she earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Comedy or Musical nomination for Election.
Witherspoon’s breakthrough role came in 2001 in Legally Blonde and in 2002 she starred in the romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama, which emerged as her biggest live-action commercial success. In 2005, Witherspoon received worldwide attention for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, which earned her the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, BAFTA Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and the Critics Choice Award for Best Actress. Her other films include Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003), Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) and Water for Elephants (2011). In 2014, Witherspoon produced the thriller Gone Girl and received critical acclaim for portraying Cheryl Strayed in Wild, for which she earned her second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
She married actor Ryan Phillippe in 1999. The couple would separate in 2006 and divorce in 2007. She married talent agent Jim Toth in 2011. Witherspoon owns a production company, Pacific Standard, and she is actively involved in children’s and women’s advocacy organizations. She serves on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and was named Global Ambassador of Avon Products in 2007, serving as honorary chair of the charitable Avon Foundation. Witherspoon received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 1, 2010.
1991–98: Early work
In 1991, Witherspoon attended an open casting call for The Man in the Moon, intending to audition as a bit player; she was instead cast for the lead role of Dani Trant, a 14-year-old country girl who falls in love for the first time with her 17-year-old neighbor. Her performance was regarded as “memorably touching” by Variety magazine, and critic Roger Ebert commented, “Her first kiss is one of the most perfect little scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie.” For this role, Witherspoon was nominated for the Young Artist Award Best Young Actress. Later that year, she made her TV acting debut in the cable movie Wildflower, directed by Diane Keaton and starring Patricia Arquette. In 1992, Witherspoon appeared in the TV movie Desperate Choices: To Save My Child, portraying a critically ill young girl.
In 1993, she played a young wife in the CBS miniseries Return to Lonesome Dove, Nonnie Parker in the Disney film A Far Off Place and had a minor role in Jack the Bear, which garnered her the Young Artist Award for Best Youth Actress Co-star. The next year, Witherspoon had another leading role as Wendy Pfister in the 1994 film S.F.W., directed by Jefery Levy. In 1996, Witherspoon starred in two major films, the thriller Fear alongside Mark Wahlberg (whom she dated) as Nicole Walker, a teenage girl with a handsome boyfriend who becomes a violent psychopath, and had the lead role in black-comedy thriller Freeway, alongside Kiefer Sutherland and Brooke Shields. Her character, Vanessa Lutz, is a poor girl living in Los Angeles, who encounters a serial killer on the way to her grandmother’s home in Stockton. The film received positive reviews from the press. Among them was the San Francisco Chronicle, with Mick LaSalle commenting, “Witherspoon, who does a shrill Texas accent, is dazzling, utterly believable in one extreme situation after the other.” Witherspoon’s performance won her the Best Actress Award at the Cognac Police Film Festival and firmly established her as a rising star. The making of the film also gave Witherspoon significant acting experience; as she said, “Once I overcame the hurdle of that movie – which scared me to death – I felt like I could try anything.”
Witherspoon took a break from acting in 1997 to focus on dating with Ryan Phillippe. She returned to the screen in 1998 with major roles in three movies: Overnight Delivery, Pleasantville and Twilight. In Pleasantville she starred alongside Tobey Maguire in a tale about 1990s teenage siblings who are magically transported into the setting of a 1950s television series. She portrayed the sister, Jennifer, who is mainly concerned about appearances, relationships and popularity. Her performance received good reviews and garnered her the Young Hollywood Award for Best Female Breakthrough Performance. Director Gary Ross said he firmly believed Witherspoon would be an outstanding movie star.
1999–2000: Early critical success
In 1999, Witherspoon starred alongside Alessandro Nivola in the drama thriller Best Laid Plans; she played Lissa, a woman who schemes with her lover Nick to escape a small dead-end town. Also that year co-starred with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe in the drama film Cruel Intentions, a modern take on the 18th-century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The San Francisco Chronicle praised her performance as Annette Hargrove: “Witherspoon is especially good in the least flashy role, and even when called upon to make a series of cute devilish faces, she pulls it off.” She also appeared in a music video by Marcy Playground for the film’s soundtrack. Then she starred with Matthew Broderick in the film adaptation of Tom Perrotta‘s 1998 novel Election. For her portrayal of ambitious overachiever Tracy Flick, she received vast critical acclaim and won the Best Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics and the Online Film Critics Society, a first Golden Globe nomination and an Independent Spirit Award nomination. Witherspoon also received a rank on the list of 100 Greatest Film Performances of All Time by Premiere. Director Alexander Payne said of her, “She’s got that quality that men find attractive, while women would like to be her friend. But that’s just the foundation. Nobody else is as funny or brings such charm to things. She can do anything.”
In spite of her success with Election, Witherspoon noted in an interview that she struggled to find work after completing the film, due to typecasting. Analyzing the reasons behind her difficulty to find work, Witherspoon commented, “I think because the character I played was so extreme and sort of shrewish—people thought that was who I was, rather than me going in and creating a part. I would audition for things and I’d always be the second choice—studios never wanted to hire me and I wasn’t losing the parts to big box office actresses but to ones who I guess people felt differently about.” In 2000, Witherspoon played a supporting role in American Psycho and made a cameo appearance in Little Nicky. She also guest starred in season six of Friends as Rachel Green‘s sister Jill. The next year, Witherspoon voiced Serena in the animated film The Trumpet of the Swan, produced by Crest Animation Productions.
2001–04: Worldwide recognition
The 2001 film Legally Blonde marked a turning point in Witherspoon’s career; she starred as Elle Woods, a fashion-merchandising major who decides to become a law student in order to follow her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School. Witherspoon said about the role, “When I read Legally Blonde, I was like, ‘She’s from Beverly Hills, she’s rich, she’s in a sorority. She has a great boyfriend. Oh yeah, she gets dumped. Who cares? I still hate her.’ So we had to make sure she was the kind of person you just can’t hate.” Legally Blonde was a box-office hit, grossing US$96 million domestically. Witherspoon’s performance earned her praise from critics, as the press began referring to her as “the new Meg Ryan“. Roger Ebert commented, “Witherspoon effortlessly animated this material with sunshine and quick wit”, and Salon.com noted that “she [Witherspoon] delineates Elle’s character beautifully”. Meanwhile, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer concluded, “Witherspoon is a talented comedian who can perk up a scene just by marching in full of pep and drive and she powers this modest little comedy almost single-handedly.” For her work, Witherspoon garnered her second Golden Globe Best Actress nomination and an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance.
In 2002, after the success of Legally Blonde, Witherspoon starred in several roles, such as Greta Wolfcastle in The Simpsons episode “The Bart Wants What It Wants“, and as Cecily in the comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, a film adaptation of Oscar Wilde‘s play in which she received a Teen Choice Award nomination. Later that year, she starred with Josh Lucas and Patrick Dempsey in Andy Tennant‘s film Sweet Home Alabama, where she played Melanie Carmichael, a young fashion designer who intends to marry a New York politician but must return to Alabama to divorce her childhood sweetheart, from whom she has been separated for seven years. Witherspoon regarded this as a “personal role”, in that it reminded her of experiences she had when she moved from her hometown Nashville to Los Angeles. The movie became Witherspoon’s biggest box office hit to date, earning over $35 million in the opening weekend and grossing over $127 million in the U.S. Despite the commercial success, critics gave Sweet Home Alabama negative reviews. It was called “a romantic comedy so rote, dull and predictable” by The Miami Herald, and the press widely agreed that Witherspoon was the only reason the movie attracted such a large audience. When describing Witherspoon’s role in the movie, The Christian Science Monitor concluded, “She is not the movie’s main attraction, she is its only attraction.”
In 2003, Witherspoon followed up the success of Legally Blonde by starring in the sequel Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde. Elle Woods has become a Harvard-educated lawyer who is determined to protect animals from cosmetics-industry science tests. The sequel was not as financially successful as the first film and it generated mostly negative reviews. USA Today considered the movie “plodding, unfunny and almost cringe-worthy”, but also noted that “Reese Witherspoon still does a fine job portraying the fair-haired lovable brainiac, but her top-notch comic timing is wasted on the humorless dialogue.” Meanwhile, Salon.com concluded that the sequel “calcifies everything that was enjoyable about the first movie”. Despite being panned by critics, the sequel took in over $39 million in its first five days in the U.S. box office charts and eventually grossed $90 million in the US. Witherspoon received a $15 million paycheck for the role—a starting point to make her consistently one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses from 2002 until 2010. In 2004, Witherspoon starred in Vanity Fair, adapted from the 19th-century classic novel Vanity Fair and directed by Mira Nair. Her character, Becky Sharp, is a poor woman with a ruthless determination to find fortune and establish herself a position in society. Witherspoon was carefully costumed to conceal that during the filming she was pregnant with her second child. This pregnancy was not a hindrance to her work as Witherspoon believed the gestation had in fact helped her portrayal of Sharp’s character: “I love the luminosity that pregnancy brings, I love the fleshiness, I love the ample bosom—it gave me much more to play with”, she said. The film and Witherspoon’s portrayal of Sharp received positive reviews, as The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Nair’s cast is splendid. Witherspoon does justice to the juicy role by giving the part more buoyancy than naughtiness.” At the same time, The Charlotte Observer called her work “an excellent performance that’s soft around the edges” and the Los Angeles Times concluded that Becky is “a part Reese Witherspoon was born to play”.
2005–06: Walk the Line and critical achievements
In late 2004, Witherspoon began working alongside Mark Ruffalo on the romantic comedy Just Like Heaven. Her character, Elizabeth Masterson, is an ambitious young doctor who gets into a car accident on her way to a blind date and is left in a coma; her spirit returns to her old apartment where she later finds true love.
Earlier that year Witherspoon was chosen to portray June Carter Cash, the second wife of country-music singer and songwriter Johnny Cash, in Walk the Line. She never had the chance to meet Carter Cash, as Witherspoon was filming Vanity Fair at the time Carter Cash died. Witherspoon performed her own vocals in the film and her songs had to be performed in front of a live audience, she was so worried about needing to perform live that she asked her lawyer to terminate the film contract. “That was the most challenging part of the role,” she later recalled in an interview, “I’d never sung professionally.” Subsequently, she had to spend six months learning how to sing for the role. Witherspoon’s portrayal of Carter Cash was well received by critics, and Roger Ebert wrote that her performance added “boundless energy” to the movie. She won several awards for her performance, including the Golden Globe Award, the Screen Actors Guild, the BAFTA and the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Lead Role. Besides critical success in the movie industry, Witherspoon and her Walk the Line co-star Joaquin Phoenix received a nomination for “collaborative video of the year” from the CMT Music Awards. Witherspoon expressed her passion for the movie: “I really like in this film that it is realistic and portrays sort of a real marriage, a real relationship where there are forbidden thoughts and fallibility. And it is about compassion in the long haul, not just the short easy solutions to problems.” She also stated that she believed Carter Cash was a woman ahead of her time: “I think the really remarkable thing about her character is that she did all of these things that we sort of see as normal things in the 1950s when it wasn’t really acceptable for a woman to be married and divorced twice and have two different children by two different husbands and travel around in a car full of very famous musicians all by herself. She didn’t try to comply to social convention, so I think that makes her a very modern woman.”
Witherspoon’s first post-Oscar role came in the modern-day fairy tale Penelope, as Annie, the best friend of Penelope (Christina Ricci), a girl who has a curse in her family. The film was produced by her company Type A Films, with filming commencing in March 2006, immediately following Witherspoon’s Oscar win for Walk the Line. Although the movie premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, the final release date of Penelope was delayed twice before an eventual February 2008 release.
2007–12: Creative struggles and “love triangle period”
Following her critical success with Walk the Line, Witherspoon admits to spending several years “kind of floundering career-wise”. Reflecting on this period of time in a December 2014 interview, Witherspoon attributed it to her separation from her first husband in October 2006 and their subsequent divorce, stating that she spent “a few years just trying to feel better. You know, you can’t really be very creative when you feel like your brain is scrambled eggs.” She claims that she “wasn’t making things I was passionate about. I was just kind of working, you know. And it was really clear that audiences weren’t responding to anything I was putting out there.”
This period of Witherspoon’s career began with the filming of the abduction thriller Rendition in November 2006. In the film, she plays Isabella El-Ibrahim, the pregnant wife of a bombing suspect. The film was released in October 2007 and marked Witherspoon’s first appearance in theaters since the 2005 release of Walk the Line. The movie received mostly negative reviews and was generally considered a disappointment at the Toronto International Film Festival. Witherspoon’s performance was also criticized: “Reese Witherspoon is surprisingly lifeless”, USA Today wrote, “She customarily injects energy and spirit into her parts, but here, her performance feels tamped down.”
In December 2007, Witherspoon began working with Vince Vaughn, filming the holiday comedy Four Christmases, a story about a couple who must spend their Christmas Day trying to visit all four of their divorced parents. The film was released in November 2008. Despite receiving only average reviews by critics, the movie became a box-office success, earning more than 120 million US dollars domestically and 157 million US dollars worldwide. In 2009, Witherspoon voiced Susan Murphy, the main character in DreamWorks‘ computer-animated 3-D feature film Monsters vs. Aliens, released in March 2009, and she also co-produced the Legally Blonde spin-off Legally Blondes, starring Milly and Becky Rosso.
However, Witherspoon did not appear in a live-action film for two years after the 2008 release of Four Christmases. She told Entertainment Weekly that the “break” was unplanned, stating that, “I just didn’t read anything I liked… There are a lot of really, really, really big movies about robots and things—and there’s not a part for a 34-year-old woman in a robot movie.” Witherspoon returned with three films released in 2010, 2011, and 2012, all centered around Witherspoon as a woman caught in a love triangle between two men. In a 2012 interview with MTV, Witherspoon jokingly referred to this trio of films as her “love triangle period”.
The first film was James L. Brooks‘s romantic comedy How Do You Know, which starred Witherspoon as a thirty-something former national softball player who struggles to choose between a philandering baseball star boyfriend (Owen Wilson) and a business executive being investigated for white-collar crime (Paul Rudd). The movie was filmed in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. during the summer and fall of 2009 and released on December 17, 2010. The movie was both a critical and box office failure. Despite an over-$100 million budget, the film earned only $7.6 million in its opening weekend, leading the Los Angeles Times to call it “one of the year’s biggest flops”. The movie earned mainly negative reviews from critics, scoring 35% on Rotten Tomatoes with 111 reviews as of late December 2010.
Witherspoon’s second consecutive love-triangle movie was the film adaptation of the 1930s circus drama Water for Elephants. She began circus training in March 2010 for her role as Marlena, a glamorous performer stuck in a marriage to a volatile husband (Christoph Waltz) but intrigued by the circus’s new veterinarian (Robert Pattinson). The movie was filmed between late May and early August 2010 in various locations in Tennessee, Georgia, and California. It was released on April 22, 2011 and received mixed critical reviews, but was a modest box office success.
In September 2010, Witherspoon began principal photography in Vancouver for the third love-triangle film, This Means War, a 20th Century Fox spy comedy directed by McG in which Witherspoon’s character is at the center of a battle between best friends (played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) who are both in love with her. The film had a “sneak-peek” release on Valentine’s Day, before fully opening on February 17, 2012. The film was panned by critics (with a 25% Rotten Tomatoes rating), and fared poorly at the box office, taking fifth place on its opening weekend with sales of $17.6 million. The New York Times remarked that this “extended the box office cold streak for the Oscar-winning Ms. Witherspoon.”
2013–present: Renewed critical success – Wild and beyond
Witherspoon’s subsequent films signaled a departure from the love-triangle theme. In September 2011, a year after beginning work on This Means War, she filmed a small role in Jeff Nichols‘s coming-of-age drama Mud in Arkansas, playing Juniper, the former girlfriend of a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey), who enlists two local boys to help him evade capture and rekindle his romance with her. Mud premiered in May 2012 in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but did not win. Following its American debut at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2013, the film had a limited release in select North American theaters on April 26, 2013.
Witherspoon’s next film to be released was Atom Egoyan‘s Devil’s Knot, an adaptation of the true crime book of the same name, which examines the controversial case of the West Memphis Three. Like Mud, the story is set in Arkansas. Witherspoon played Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of three young murder victims. In an interview subsequent to her casting in the film, Egoyan noted that although the role requires “an emotionally loaded journey”, he “met with Reese, and… talked at length about the project, and she’s eager to take on the challenge”. The movie was shot in Georgia in June and July 2012. Witherspoon was pregnant with her third child during filming. The film’s world premiere was held on September 8, 2013 at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was then released in selected American theaters on May 9, 2014.
In April 2013, Witherspoon began production in Atlanta on Canadian director Philippe Falardeau‘s film The Good Lie. It is based on real-life events, about a brash American woman assigned to help four young Sudanese refugees (known as Lost Boys of Sudan) who win a lottery for relocation to the U.S. It was released on October 3, 2014.
Witherspoon shot a small role in Inherent Vice (2014), an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel, in Pasadena, California in summer 2013. Through her company Pacific Standard, Witherspoon served as a producer on the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn‘s novel Gone Girl, though she did not appear in the film. Indeed, Witherspoon and her producing partner “had little to do with the production of Gone Girl“, leaving it to director David Fincher while focusing their efforts on another adaptation produced via Pacific Standard, that of Cheryl Strayed‘s memoir Wild, which began production in fall 2013 on the same day as Gone Girl. Witherspoon starred in the project, portraying Strayed herself on her 1,000-mile (1,600 km) hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Wild was released in December 2014 to critical acclaim; Michael Phillips of Chicago Tribune wrote in his review, “Witherspoon does the least acting of her career, and it works. Calmly yet restlessly, she brings to life Strayed’s longings, her states of grief and desire and her wary optimism.” Wild was promoted as Witherspoon’s primary “comeback” vehicle following her previous career slump, and she earned her second Academy Award nomination for the role.
In May 2014, Witherspoon began production in Louisiana on Hot Pursuit, a comedy in which she plays a police officer trying to protect a drug lord’s widow (Sofia Vergara). The movie was released on May 8, 2015 and was critically panned and a box office flop.
Numerous upcoming projects for Witherspoon have been announced to be in the works, including the Disney film Wish List, to be written by Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel and directed by Bridesmaids helmer Paul Feig, and an adaptation of the self-help book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Witherspoon is set to jointly star in and produce a number of additional movies under her Pacific Standard banner, including the comedy-drama Rule #1, a film version of upcoming children’s book series Pennyroyal’s Princess Boot Camp, and the comedy The Beard. She is also set to star in the Disney comedy Wish List.
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