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February 27, 2008   •  Category: "Penelope", Articles & Interviews0 Comments

Reese Witherspoon’s Walk The Line Oscar in 2006 was the best of times, professionally, during her worst of times, personally, as she separated from, then divorced, Ryan Phillippe.

Not surprisingly, Witherspoon has mixed emotions about the nostalgia associated with Sunday night’s Academy Awards. Still, she says she’s thrilled about the emerging talents of best-actress nominee Ellen Page (Juno) and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose).

The 31-year-old even manages to be polite, if a little caustic, when she’s asked where she keeps her own golden statue. “Well, I’ve considered making it into a door knocker or a necklace, but neither one of those options was very practical,” Witherspoon suggests. “So I just keep it in my living room.”

Nobody doubts the actress will one day have another one to keep her first trophy company. Indeed, she’s a rare commodity in the film industry: a likeable performer with artistic credibility and a sound box-office track record.

It’s been that way since 1998, when she was featured in Pleasantville. In 1999, she confirmed her potential with sterling performances in Election and Cruel Intentions, where she met Phillippe.

In 2001, her Legally Blonde breakout was followed by another hit, Sweet Home Alabama, and then the Legally Blonde sequel. That box-office triple threat gave her power to go with her glory, sealed by her Walk The Line Academy Award.

After of the hoopla and the subsequent tabloid sensationalism over her divorce, Witherspoon’s embarking on a new phase, balancing her ambitious career with her role as a single mother to Ava, 8, and Deacon, 4.

Indeed, she’s excited about her producer and co-starring parts in the fantasy comedy Penelope, which opens on Friday in several Canadian cities.

She also has high hopes for teaming up with Vince Vaughn in the adult comedy Four Christmases, set for a big release in late November and featuring the two stars as a couple visiting each of their divorced parents.

Both films are departures for Witherspoon. “You gravitate towards things that you are trying to work out in your own life,” she says.

Meanwhile, she admits more playfully that while she’s been resigned to her five-foot-two “height challenged” physique for a while, she was reminded of it while working opposite the six-foot-five Vaughn.

“The top of my head hit his armpit,” recalls Witherspoon. So she had a box to stand on during some scenes “and we sat down a lot.”

The height difference was the least of her concerns, however. “I was really scared to death the first day,” she says of the shoot, which wrapped late last year. “I was like ‘Oh no, Vince’s going to say a million things in his rapid fire way and I’m not going to know what to say back.’ ”

As it turned out, she held her own in the witty repartee department, and even became accustomed to Vaughn’s speed-talking delivery and his improvising.

Penelope, also starring Christina Ricci, came with a different set of problems to solve. Since her production company, Type A Films, was running the show, Witherspoon was the hands-on producer for the movie, which was shot in London. Plus she played an against-type tough chick who offers advice to the heroine.

That would be Penelope, a heiress stricken with a face-deforming curse that can only be removed when she legitimately falls in love. James McAvoy, Catherine O’Hara and Peter Dinklage are featured along with Witherspoon.

“[Type A Films] also produced Legally Blonde 2,” reports Witherspoon. “But Penelope was the first film in which we found the script, the director, the star and did all the heavy lifting.”

In fact, Witherspoon was part of negotiating the distribution deal, signed after the movie debuted at the 2006 Toronto International Film festival.

And after all was said and filmed, she says she enjoys the increased responsibility behind the camera while having the pressure taken off her in front of the camera as a mere co-star.

“And I got to wear funny hair and be ballsy,” she says of her street-wise character who offers Penelope advice.

“I also got to go around the streets of London on a Vespa,” she adds, though once again her height proved to be a drawback: “My feet wouldn’t touch the ground on the Vespa, so we had to put the Vespa on a rig and do it old-school movie style.”

Not a problem. And neither was working with Ricci, a contemporary of Witherspoon’s. Instead of rivals competing for the same parts, they became friends, sharing common experiences over the years. “Christina’s just ,” is Witherspoon’s measured assessment. “We grew up auditioning together … we had known each other for 15 years from sitting in the same audition rooms, waiting to get cast or not cast in movies.”

Typical of this Type-A filmmaker, Witherspoon was listening and absorbing more than posing and pontificating. And that’s thanks to her grandfather.

“He gave me the best career advice ever,” she recalls. “He said, “Never miss an opportunity to just shut up.’ ”

Source: The National Post



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