Movie stars often talk about how they aren’t really like the characters they play on screen.
Reese Witherspoon proves the point with silence. Her character Lisa in How Do You Know, the new James L. Brooks comedy opening Friday, is as taciturn as Witherspoon is talkative.
“I’ve never really played a character that wasn’t very verbal,” she said in an interview. “I mean, all I do is talk in movies!
“So this is a nice departure for me, to learn to, as my mother always says, ‘Never miss an opportunity to shut up and listen!’”
Good thing Witherspoon didn’t heed that advice making Walk the Line, the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic, where she played June Carter Cash and both talked and sang her way to an Oscar.
In How Do You Know, Witherspoon’s plays a baseball star who would rather get in touch with her ball and glove than her emotions. She amusingly finds herself romantically involved with two men: stereotypical jock Matty (Owen Wilson) and sensitive businessman George (Paul Rudd). (A fourth character, played by Jack Nicholson, is there to complicate their lives in other ways.)
If this were a real-life romantic triangle and not a movie, Witherspoon would be talking the ear off a sympathetic friend or family member.
“Oh, yes. I talk endlessly about my romantic conflicts, my loves lost and gained — my life is a non-stop dialogue with my friends. So this very interior character, who knows she’s feeling things but she’s not sure what they are, really doesn’t know how to talk about them.
“And when people want to talk about it, Lisa wants them to stop talking. It’s a really interesting woman to see on film. Conversely, Paul’s character just can’t stop talking!”
So what would Witherspoon tell her intimate associates, if she were to find herself in the unlikely position of having two suitors at once? Which of the two guys, cocky Matty or chatty George, would she choose?
“It’s interesting, because they’re both incredibly attractive,” the Louisiana-born Witherspoon said, carefully considering the question.
“I think it’s just where you’re at in your life. And there are times in my life where I definitely would’ve been into the Owen character and times in my life where you definitely want to be with that person (Rudd’s character) who loves you more than anything.
“My girlfriend always says to me, ‘There’s a point in everyone’s life where you stop chasing the guy who’s running away from you and start looking at the guy who’s chasing after you. Start to appreciate that guy.’ I really think about that a lot. I think that just comes with age and experience.”
At 34, and as the proud mother of two children with her actor ex-husband Ryan Phillippe, Witherspoon seems to be finally listening to such counsel. Following her divorce from Phillipe in 2007, she rebounded with another celebrity match-up, dating her Rendition co-star Jake Gyllenhaal for two years.
Lately she’s been in the distinctly unglamorous company of new boyfriend Jim Toth, a Hollywood agent who seems to always dress like a skater dude or undercover bodyguard who happens to be pictured next to Witherspoon.
The two were photographed recently in Vancouver, walking with her two young children, during a break while she films This Means War. It’s another romantic comedy in which Witherspoon is in yet another love triangle, this time with characters played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy.
It’s fun to play these roles, she said, but her secret desire goes in another direction.
“I’d love to play a First Lady. That’s sort of fascinating: the role of being a woman in the White House would be really interesting.”
She obviously couldn’t play Michelle Obama, but could she handle playing Laura Bush, Obama’s immediate predecessor?
“No, no, no!” she laughed, perhaps indicating her personal politics.
“That isn’t one … but Dolley Madison, maybe.”
Could you picture Witherspoon as the wife of James Madison, fourth President of the United States? Madison was a buxom brunette, seemingly the opposite of blonde petite Witherspoon. But that’s nothing hair dye and wardrobe couldn’t fix.
And Witherspoon already has experience playing unusual women: she voiced Ginormica, the 50-foot-women in the sci-fi comedy animation Monsters vs. Aliens.
The movie did very well and a sequel seemed a natural, but Witherspoon shook her head sadly and said it’s not going to happen.
“We’re not doing a sequel. No! Call up (DreamWorks Animation boss) Jeffrey Katzenberg. It’s up to him.
“It would be great if they were doing a sequel. But I think it only made something like 800 million dollars instead of a billion! My kids love that movie and everywhere I go, I get kids going, “Oh yeah, you’re that 50-foot woman!’”
Which is probably better than someone shouting: “You’re that woman involved with two men!”