Reese Witherspoon’s Second Act: Big-Time Producer From Oscar-winning actress to Emmy-winning producer: After taking charge of her career, she makes deals with HBO and Apple.
A few months ago, Reese Witherspoon realized everything had changed.
HBO’s glossy, seven-episode drama, “Big Little Lies” — which Ms. Witherspoon starred in and helped produce — won eight Emmy Awards, including the one for best limited series. From the Microsoft Theater stage in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, to swelling applause, Ms. Witherspoon spoke of how important it was to bring “women to the front of their own stories and make them the heroes of their own stories.”
Not long after that night, she found herself in demand.
“It opened a lot of doors for me,” Ms. Witherspoon said in an interview this past week. “People wanted to be in business with me as a producer in the TV space. My mission was to create television for other women, for other female storytellers that are actresses, other directors and other writers. I think it just clicked in people’s minds.”
Since then, Ms. Witherspoon has transformed herself from an actress increasingly frustrated with the roles she was being offered into a producer with a slate of projects that puts her in the company of series creators like Dick Wolf, Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy.
Last month, HBO ordered a second season of “Big Little Lies,” with Ms. Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, among the key companies behind the show. In addition, Apple has bought three Hello Sunshine projects as part of its push to compete with Netflix, Amazon and Hulu in streaming. That amounts to a third of Apple’s TV purchases to date.
One of the series — which is set to star Ms. Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston as hosts of a fictional morning news show — marks one of the most expensive deals in TV history: With a 20-episode commitment, Apple has pledged roughly $240 million to make it, according to two people familiar with the series. Ms. Witherspoon’s other two Apple projects will star Octavia Spencer and Kristen Wiig.
Apple’s top TV executives, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, said in a statement that Ms. Witherspoon had “an extraordinary knack for being a step ahead of the zeitgeist.”
The rise of Hello Sunshine — with projects centered on strong, complicated women — syncs up perfectly with the #timesup movement, which counts Ms. Witherspoon as a major player, and gives evidence that the risk-averse Hollywood establishment may have learned something from the blockbuster success of “Wonder Woman” last year.
“People are desperate for this kind of storytelling about the female heroes that have always been in the shadows and now are coming into the light,” Ms. Witherspoon said.
On CBS Sunday Morning earlier today, Oprah Winfrey hosted a discussion with some of those involved in starting the Times Up movement, in which they talked about gender inequality and speaking up about sexual harassment. Reese was one of those on the panel, alongside actresses Natalie Portman, America Ferrera and Tracee Ellis Ross, LucasFilm president Kathleen Kennedy, producer Shonda Rhimes and attorney Nina Shaw. Watch the video below:
Reese and her A Wrinkle In Time female co-stars grace the cover of the latest issue of US current affairs magazine Time! The magazine has a new photoshoot of Reese, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Storm Reid, with an accompanying article about the making of the film. It’s a great read and the start of what is likely to be a big promotional campaign for the film, which will be released in the US on March 9th. The scans, photoshoot, and new stills from the feature have been added to our Gallery.
Pick up a copy of the magazine on news-stands if you can!
How Reese Witherspoon Plans to Promote Female Directors and Writers Next Year
Reese Witherspoon is planning to take her mission to help women up a notch in 2018.
While at a holiday-themed event at the Tiffany & Co. Fifth Avenue flagship store — she’s a spokesperson for the jewelry company — the 41-year-old actress and mother of three said that women helping other woman is her top priority come the New Year.
“My production company Hello Sunshine is all based on telling stories about women by women,” she told PEOPLE. “So we want to create more opportunity and hire more female directors and more female writers.”
This year, the star famously produced and starred in the female-led HBO show Big Little Lies, which earned her several accolades already. Next up, in 2018, she’s starring alongside other powerful women such as Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling in A Wrinkle in Time, due out Mar. 9. “There’s a beautiful young woman at the center of the story, and it’s an epic story about good versus evil,” she explained.
She also announced plans to produce Luckiest Girl Alive, a movie version of Jessica Knoll’s book (and a favorite of book clubs across the nation).
In the meantime, she’s excited for a few moments to relax during the holidays, and is looking forward to “food, always food! I like gingerbread houses, cookies, chocolates … things like that.”
She’s also shopping for some special gifts, and considers herself quite the gift-giver. “I take a lot of time to think about what people really want and really like,” said Witherspoon. “For a go-to hostess gift, I like monogrammed napkins or a beautiful box of chocolates.”
For daughter Ava, she wants to get her something “really beautiful and simple, like a piece from Tiffany & Co. It’s like an heirloom. My mom gave me earrings from there when I was young, and I still have them.”
One thing she won’t be doing this holiday season? Making any New Year’s resolutions.
“I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions,” she said. “I think you sort of have to keep striving to be the best version of yourself at all moments. Sometimes you fail and sometimes you succeed. And I think it’s important to always try and do your best.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women In Hollywood feature was released this week, which included their Power 100 list – Reese was of course featured within it! Read their brief interview with her below and find a scan from the magazine in our Gallery. The special collectors issue is on sale now and has Jennifer Lawrence on the cover.
The Hollywood Reporter’s 2017 Women in Entertainment Power 100
Meet the dynamos who rocked Hollywood by creating groundbreaking TV and ‘Wonder’-ful films, scoring piles of awards and historic paydays and making room for more women to rise as the industry’s dark side was brought to light (thanks in part to three pioneers on this list) in a watershed that has already changed entertainment — and the world. Take that, Harvey!
HOW THR PICKS THE POWER 100 This year’s list spotlights 16 standout industry leaders who dominated the 2017 entertainment and media landscape and groups the rest by their role in the Hollywood ecosystem — from the film forces (working mostly on the big screen) to the reps (agents, et al). Honorees are listed alphabetically within each category.
Reese Witherspoon Actor, producer
CATEGORY Power Squad
Witherspoon scored big in 2017 with HBO’s acclaimed Big Little Lies (she starred and produced), for which she and fellow producer Nicole Kidman won an Emmy for outstanding limited series. “It showed me that audiences want to see a more accurate depiction of the female experience,” says Witherspoon, who launched her women-focused media brand Hello Sunshine in November 2016. She continues to buy book properties (including deals for A White Lie, with Zendaya attached, and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, in which Witherspoon would also star) and will hit the big screen in March in Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time. And in a deal that has Friends fans fawning, she recently sold a new series to Apple in which she’ll star opposite Jennifer Aniston.
Best thing to come out of the Weinstein scandal “Female solidarity.”
How I’ve helped women coming up in Hollywood “Call them, email them, work with them, and support them on social media.”
Hollywood woman I’d switch jobs with for a day Dana Walden
The three guests at my dream dinner party would be “Oprah, Mindy Kaling, Ava DuVernay and my mom.”
I wish men in Hollywood knew “What it feels like to be the only one in the room.”
Last show I binged Catastrophe, Westworld
TV or film character I most identify with “The squirrel in Ice Age constantly chasing an acorn.”
Reese kicked off famed jewellery brand Tiffany & Co’s holiday season with a breakfast in her honour at their New York City flagship store yesterday. Reese looked at potential Tiffany gift items, before joining guests for a seasonal breakfast at Tiffany’s first ever retail dining concept, The Blue Box Cafe. At the event Reese chatted about her mother’s influence on choosing gifts for people, what she’s getting her family for Christmas, and the role of Tiffany’s in Sweet Home Alabama! Reese wore a deep red lace dress by Lela Rose, with Tiffany & Co. jewellery. We have the first HQ photos for you in our Gallery:
Reese attended the IFP Gotham Awards in New York City last night, where she presented her friend and Big Little Lies co-star Nicole Kidman with the Actress Tribute Award. Reese spoke enthusiastically and lovingly about her friend’s career, from first seeing her in Dead Calm, to the work she did highlighting domestic abuse in their TV series. Reese told the audience that she now considers herself an expert on Nicole’s career, after quizzing her during their time in the make-up trailer on the show! In return, Nicole told Reese “To know you is to love you, baby, so thank you” when she took to the stage to accept her award. Watch Reese’s entire introduction speech and Nicole’s acceptance speech below. Reese went with a gold theme for the night, wearing a black and gold sequinned dress by Oscar de la Renta, with Christian Louboutin gold heels, a Michael Kors clutch and Tiffany & Co. jewellery.
Another Big Little Lies fan has emerged – Al Gore gave a shout out to “my Nashville peeps” of Reese and Nicole in his speech, adding that “Big Little Lies was awesome”.
The first 100+ HQ photos can be found in our Gallery for you, thanks to our good friend Sara.
Another accolade for Reese was announced today – she is the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Entertainment Innovator of the Year’! Reese features on the front cover of their November issue, with a gorgeous new photoshoot and a fantastic, inspiring new interview. The interview focuses on Reese’s recent foray into producing, and features quotes on Reese from her husband Jim, and Nicole Kidman. Find the interview below – it’s a great read – and see photos in our Gallery. The magazine hits news-stands on November 4th so be sure to pick up a copy. Congratulations on this new honour, Reese
How Reese Witherspoon is Changing Hollywood for Women
With projects ranging from her HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’ to her production franchise to her growing lifestyle brand, Witherspoon has become a force in female storytelling
THIS PAST MAY, Reese Witherspoon experienced the closest thing she’ll get to a college homecoming when she returned to Stanford University, where she studied English literature for a few semesters in the mid-1990s but never graduated. Students invited her to be the featured guest at the Stanford Graduate School of Business’s View From the Top speaker series and asked her about her multifaceted career as an Academy Award–winning actress, producer and entrepreneur. Afterward, she popped over to the dorms with her 18-year-old daughter, Ava, to surprise whomever lived in her old room. “I knocked on the door, and a girl was in there,” Witherspoon recalls. “She opens it and screams, ‘Oh, my God! My mom is going to freak out; she just loves you!’ ”
The trip down memory lane prompts Witherspoon, 41, to ponder what might have happened if she hadn’t left the university for Hollywood after freshman year. (She took a leave of absence in 1996 to star in Pleasantville and Election.) After a critically acclaimed debut at age 14 in 1991’s The Man in the Moon, why would an aspiring actress enroll at Stanford and move to Northern California in the first place? “I was never going to be an actor who lives in their car because their dream was so big. [If acting didn’t work] I would have gone from Stanford to medical school and become a surgeon. Right now, I’d probably be the premier surgeon and pediatric cardiologist at Vanderbilt University,” she says, pausing. “What? I’m just being honest. I’m ambitious, and I’m over hiding that.”
“Of all the nasty words I’ve heard that are used to describe women, the one that has the ugliest connotations is ambition,” says Laura Dern, Witherspoon’s friend and co-star in the 2014 film Wild and this year’s seven-part HBO series Big Little Lies. “I don’t know why that’s declared conniving for women, because I’m constantly inspired by Reese’s ambition. You have a dream? She makes it happen.”
In the past decade, Witherspoon, mother of three, top-earning actress, powerful producer and, most recently, fashion designer, has become a new face of feminist filmmaking. Last year, the New Orleans–born, Nashville-raised entrepreneur founded Hello Sunshine, dedicated to realizing stories about women. She had created her own production companies in the past, including Type A Films, founded in 2003 and later dissolved, and then Pacific Standard in 2012. But Hello Sunshine (which absorbed Pacific Standard) is poised to become a Hollywood juggernaut, spanning feature films, TV series and digital content. The Oscar-nominated movies Wild and Gone Girl , as well as Big Little Lies, which won eight Emmy Awards (including one for outstanding limited series), were all projects produced by Witherspoon from books she discovered and optioned. She’s the 21st-century version of silent film star Mary Pickford, known as the first America’s Sweetheart, who co-founded United Artists in 1919, at the age of 27, so she could distribute her own films, or Lucille Ball, the I Love Lucy star who became the first female head of a major studio when she bought out ex-husband Desi Arnaz from their Desilu Productions in 1962. However, whereas those pioneering women were looking for a seat at the table, Witherspoon is seeking a larger piece of the pie.
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