Reese Witherspoon: “My full-time job is being a mother”
Being pregnant was no obstacle for Reese Witherspoon as far as Cannes is concerned. Though she’s five months along in her pregnancy, Reese was her typically bright and energetic self when she appeared at the fabled French film festival to promote her new film, MUD, starring Matthew McConaughey as a fugitive on the run looking to meet up with his long lost love (Witherspoon). Along the way, he meets up with two young boys anxious to learn about the world. Witherspoon posed playfully with McConaughey along the Croisette, signed autographs for fans, and generally looked radiant while her husband/agent/prospective father of her child Jim Toth was at her side. “This is such a beautiful and happy time in my life and I was very pleased to be able to come to Cannes and support the film,” Witherspoon said. “I play a kind of messed-up country girl in the film but I loved the fact that the story was set in the place where I grew up and was about these two boys learning about the world. I remember what it was like riding dirt bikes and getting into mischief with my brother, and I thought it was a beautiful story that took me back home in a way.”
The 36-year-old Witherspoon was sporting a serious baby bump in her black Versace dress and pink stilettos as she was seen making the rounds of various receptions at the prestigious film festival.
Witherspoon grew up as a part of an affluent family in Tennessee. Her father was distinguished surgeon and her mother was a top surgical nurse and later teaching nurse. She was famously married to actor Ryan Philippe for nine years until their 2008. She admits to having suffered for a time until meeting Hollywood agent Jim Toth two years ago. They were married in March of last year. She has two children from her former marriage to Ryan Philippe, Ava, 12, and Deacon, 9.
Q: Reese, you’ve dialed down your acting career in recent years. Are you happy with that decision?
WITHERSPOON: Yes. As my children are getting a bit older, I feel it’s so important to be there with them as much as possible and be a good mother like my own mother was to me. I have very little enthusiasm to spend three or four months on film set and not be part of their lives or disrupt their education. It’s not fair to them and I also feel much happier being a mother and enjoying my life with my family.
Q: Was working on your new film “Mud” with Matthew McConaughey an interesting change of pace for you?
WITHERSPOON: I loved the script and it was a story that I felt so much of a connection with having grown up in the south where life has a different pace and melody to it. I was worried at first about being a distraction in the film because I was in a supporting role but Jeff Nichols (the director of MUD) told me that it was an ensemble film and that he really thought I would add something to the story. I also thought the character I was playing had some interesting layers to her and the fact that he only needed me on set for less than a month was also a factor.
Q: So has acting taken a back seat in your life these days?
WITHERSPOON: Working in Hollywood is more of a diversion for me now. I still love acting, but my full-time job is being a mother. I like being home when they wake up, make their breakfast, take them to school, help them with their homework, and enjoying dinner, and putting them to bed. That’s my real job!
Q: How would you compare your own approach to parenting compared to that of your own mom?
WITHERSPOON: It’s strange but sometimes I find myself repeating some of the phrases my mother used or little rules she imposed on me while I was growing up. I laugh to myself when I catch myself saying things like “Because I said so,” or “We all have to follow some rules in life,” and then you think to yourself, “Oh, God, I’m starting to sound like my mother.” (Laughs)
Q: Do you ever practice scenes or otherwise show off your performing side when you’re at home with your children?
WITHERSPOON: Not really, except when I’m in a mood where I’m listening to country music much to the chagrin of my children! (Laughs) But they were happier when the other day I discovered this song my the singer Pitbull, which I love, and I was kind of singing along to that and dancing while I was preparing a meal in the kitchen. I think Ava and Deacon were almost shocked when they came into the kitchen and saw me really rocking out to the song. When they looked at me, their expression was almost like they were embarrassed for me, but that didn’t stop me from dancing! (Laughs)
Q: It didn’t help that you’re a famous movie star…?
WITHERSPOON: No. Kids are always embarrassed by their parents. They don’t cut me any slack at all!
Q: Your singing voice helped earned you an Oscar playing June Carter. Do your friends ever ask you to sing?
WITHERSPOON: (Covers her face in embarrassment) Not so much now. But there was a time after the film (Walk the Line) came out that I would get requests from school groups to sing but I would never do that. Sometimes friends would ask me to sing a June Carter song if we had had a few drinks together. I prefer to restrict my singing appearances to my kitchen and as small an audience as possible. (Laughs)
Q: Do you also feel that you’ve accomplished enough as an actress and there is less urgency to the work now?
WITHERSPOON: I never feel I’ve accomplished enough, that’s my nature. Oh, there are lots of films I would still like to do like a great thriller or a powerful drama. I did my first action film recently (This Means War) which I wanted to do because I was thinking to myself that in ten years it’s be too late to do a lot of heavy running and jumping! (Laughs) But I was proud of trying to be a tough girl and picking up little injuries like cutting my hand when I was hanging off the side of a jeep or when I broke a finger when I jumped on a horse. I’m a champion at stupid accidents like that.
Q: You even allowed yourself to indulge in some nudity in This Means War?
WITHERSPOON: It was McG (the director) who convinced me to do that. He knows how to show off a woman’s curves to maximum advantage and without doing it in an exploitative or vulgar way. When I finally saw the finished sequence in the film I could hardly recognise myself and I actually thought I looked pretty attractive on screen. So at least my kids when they’re grown up can see that their mother was kind of sexy when she was younger!
Q: Would you then be up to doing a very wild love story or film where there was a lot of nudity involved?
WITHERSPOON: It’s not looking for roles where I can run around naked but I wouldn’t mind a sexy role as opposed to the usual kind of romantic comedies I’ve done in the past.
Q: A lot of women stop thinking of themselves as sexy after they’ve had kids. Did you ever go through that phase and do you feel sexy these days?
WITHERSPOON: I don’t know why, but I was never called upon to play roles where I was being very sensual or sexy. I feel sexier today and more womanly than I did when my career was starting to take off. Being a mother has actually made me feel more comfortable with who I am and finding tremendous pride in that responsibility. I feel much more secure today than I ever did in my twenties and I’m more open to doing new things and taking more risks in my work as an actress.
Q: Is it a case of not worrying about questions of identity?
WITHERSPOON: There’s a lot of that involved. In my case it was learning to deal with anxieties over trying to do too much and not being satisfied for any length of time. I needed to take stock of myself and learn to be calmer and appreciate my life and everything that I’ve been able to do rather than always worrying about what was going wrong in my life. I figured out that I had a pretty good life overall and even though some things don’t turn out as you planned you’re still strong enough to move on and look forward to the next day.
Q: You attended Stanford briefly before your film career took you away from your studies in literature. Did you ever want to go back and finish your degree?
WITHERSPOON: There were a few moments in my life where I might have been interested in finishing my studies but between my career and my kids there really hasn’t been any chance to do that. I still read a lot, though. I try to read two books a week –- I finished the Hunger Games trilogy earlier this year and I’m always looking to find interesting stories and new writers.
Q: Are you enjoying marriage the second time around?
WITHERSPOON: I feel very lucky to get this second chance. I’ve never had anyone like Jim in my life, someone who told me how committed he was to making me happy and secure in life and always being there for me. Before we got married, he told me that he was going to take care of me and show me what a good man he would be … He’s a really good person.
Q: What do you think you’ve learnt about marriage or relationships over the years?
WITHERSPOON: Every marriage or relationship requires an effort from both parties. I’ve understood that there’s no point staying married if you’re with the wrong person. Marriage requires two partners who are ready to make concessions so that their union can last and develop over time.
Q: You’ve often described yourself as an analytical person. Have you spent a lot of time analysing relationships and love and so on …?
WITHERSPOON: Oh, I’m intensely analytical when it comes to couples and relationships. I’m constantly on the phone with my girlfriends and we’re always talking about what’s going on in our marriages and discussing love and everything that comes with living with your man. It’s a discussion that never stops and I think love is a subject that is endlessly fascinating and confusing and that’s why so much of literature and film is devoted to the subject.
Q: What are the things that you consider important when it comes to a man?
WITHERSPOON: In my own case, I’m at a stage in my life where I want a man who interests me both
intellectually and physically. I like a man who can hold a conversation on different subjects, whether it’s about love, politics, or daily life. And having a good sense of humour is fundamental. You can figure it out that my husband obviously has all these qualities. (Winks)