Reese covers the December issue of US Glamour magazine, as one of their Women Of The Year. The cover, photoshoot and interview are now available for us all – read the interview below, and see the photos in our Gallery. We’ll have scans for you asap.
Reese and the other honorees (Caitlyn Jenner, Victoria Beckham, Misty Copeland, Elizabeth Holmes, Cecile Richards, the women of Charleston, and the U.S. women’s national soccer team (TheWrap.com)) will be honoured at an awards ceremony in New York City on November 9th.
Reese Witherspoon on How She’s Shaking Up Hollywood, and Why She Feels Like Gloria Steinem Told Her to Do Legally Blonde
Reese Witherspoon is a Woman of the Year because… “She’s making movies, telling stories, giving women opportunities—all because she wants her daughter to have an example of what it’s like to be a responsible human.”
—comedian and 2011 Woman of the Year Chelsea Handler
Just a few years ago, Reese Witherspoon was pitching a new movie to seven studio heads and requested an extra 30 minutes with each executive to ask one question: What do you have in the works for women? “Only one studio was developing something for a woman in the lead,” Witherspoon, 39, recalls. “They said, ‘We’re happy if you bring us something, but it’s not a part of our development.’ ” Stunned, Witherspoon started obsessing over the deficit—bringing it up at dinner parties and business meetings, to a chorus of women saying, “We know!” Yeah, I’ll bring you something, she decided.
So in 2012, Witherspoon cofounded a production company, Pacific Standard, with producer Bruna Papandrea; the duo began buying up books and scripts with female protagonists to turn into films and TV series. And by 2015, Witherspoon found out just how winning her company’s by-and-about-women formula could be. Wild and Gone Girl, its first two films, featured women not as sidekicks or arm candy but as leading ladies who go through unique personal journeys. Stars Rosamund Pike, Laura Dern, and, yes, Witherspoon herself were all nominated for Oscars—and the films banked more than $400 million worldwide at the box office. With her producing and acting credits, Witherspoon landed on Forbes’ list of highest-paid actresses and on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list. Now she’s breaking into a full-on sprint toward equality: Pacific Standard has 32 projects in the works that put women front and center. “Reese gave me the opportunity with Hot Pursuit where I was producing, where I was a main character, where I got to play a strong, Latina woman,” says Sofía Vergara. “It’s amazing, Reese is such a tiny little thing, but she’s such a strong woman—she knows what she wants, and she gets what she wants.”
With her producing business booming, Witherspoon felt she could take on another new challenge this year: a fashion brand. She launched Draper James, a Southern-inspired clothing and home line, with a flagship store in Nashville. Lest you think she’s superhuman, though, she hasn’t taken an acting gig in over a year, so she could spend time with her husband, Jim Toth, and three kids, Ava, 16, Deacon, 12, and Tennessee, 3. (And yes, they are the cutest.)
Of course, none of this surprises me. I’ve known Reese for several years. She’s always been an incredible supporter of women and their work, mine included. After we were introduced by a mutual friend, she hosted a screening of my documentary Miss Representation back in 2012. Then, this year, she helped spread the word about my organization, The Representation Project, and our #AskHerMore initiative: Together with women on social media, we succeeded in encouraging reporters to go beyond the traditional “Who are you wearing?” questions and to ask actresses about their accomplishments on the Oscars’ red carpet. As Papandrea says: “Someone once said to me, ‘The two features you want in a friend are interested and interesting.’ She’s both.” Witherspoon is indeed a Woman of the Year.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom: I’m so proud of you. Congratulations on being named one of Glamour’s Women of the Year.
Reese Witherspoon: Thank you.
JSN: Well, let’s get into this. You were raised in the South, where things can be traditional, but you’ve grown into this forward-thinking voice for women. You’ve said that was the result of having a powerhouse mom (a nurse) and grandmother.
RW: Uh-huh. I’d always ask my grandma, who was so, so smart, why she didn’t work, and she would explain that her parents didn’t approve of her working after she had children. She didn’t feel like she had choices. And I witnessed it all firsthand. Growing up in the South, it was very patriarchal. When I applied to Stanford, I was told by a [male] college counselor, “You’re never gonna get in, don’t bother. They don’t want you.” I said, “I’m going to try.” And I got in! But I wouldn’t be the woman I am if I hadn’t had that conflict to overcome. It has given me an underdog feeling all my life.
JSN: Your mom, Betty—was she just your biggest advocate?
RW: She’s my best audience. She made me feel [like I was] funny even if I wasn’t that funny. She gave me a real sense of joy about life.
JSN: Back to those studio meetings: How did it feel when you found out only one studio was developing a project with a female lead?
RW: I have this drive from my upbringing to be a doer, not just a complainer. I have achieved a certain amount of success, and I felt a responsibility to my daughter and to women in this world to create more opportunities for women. Women of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. We’re 50 percent of the population.
JSN: And we give birth to 100 percent of the population.
RW: [Laughs.] Shouldn’t we be in 50 percent of the stories?
JSN: Yes. We should! Who taught you to be a doer?
RW: One hundred percent my mother, who would always say, “If you want something done, do it yourself.” She must have said that 100 times to me—as a child, as a young woman, yesterday on the phone.
JSN: What a great role model. Did you just start reading like crazy, or how did you get things started with Pacific Standard?
RW: I just kept complaining and complaining to my husband. He goes, “You read more books than anyone I know. Why don’t you start turning them into movies?” So that’s what I did.
JSN: What do the characters in your projects have in common?
RW: They can be flawed, haunted, and dynamic women, reflective of the women I see every day in my life.… Like Amy Dunne [of Gone Girl]. Exploring female rage on film doesn’t frighten me—it might frighten a lot of people in my business, but, gosh, I know a lot about that, from personal experience and friends’ experiences. Women want to see the truth. They don’t want to see some perfect girl.
JSN: Right. [Laughs.] Did you start the company in hopes of starring in these roles, or to develop these roles for fellow actresses?
RW: I can’t be in all of them! [Laughs.] We have 25 movies and seven television shows in development. I’m so happy to have other women take these parts and make the most of them. I was so proud that Rosamund Pike and Laura Dern got nominated [for Oscars].
JSN: Speaking of the Oscars, you championed #AskHerMore. Did it feel different to do interviews on that red carpet vs. others?
RW: Yes, 100 percent. I don’t want to discount the beautiful work that the fashion houses do, but somehow, just focusing on what you’re wearing feels reductive. These actresses are there because they made us laugh and made us cry and touched our hearts.
JSN: Only 16 percent of writers in film are women, but women wrote most of the source material you’re bringing to screen. Your work proves there’s a huge talent pool of women to write these stories. Do you hope other filmmakers elevate their voices?
RW: Definitely. More people telling stories leads to more interesting perspectives in this world. I often think we wouldn’t get to these political impasses if we had balance in storytelling. If more men would see a story of what it was like to be pregnant, and how it felt to be in a place where you had to make a decision about whether to keep a pregnancy, maybe they would feel differently about women’s health care.… I’m encouraging these women, like Cheryl Strayed, to take the jump to writing for the screen. She is adapting her book Tiny Beautiful Things for us. They’re infinitely capable of tackling the format.
JSN: I love that you use the words infinitely capable. I think we just need to have more people using those words about women.
RW: Men rise through the ranks because of potential, but women have to prove themselves—while trying to have children and having no family leave. No woman’s getting hired because of her potential. I hope that we can invest more in female potential.…
JSN: You’ve been acting for about 25 years. I want to ask about your milestones in film. Your first movie was The Man in the Moon in 1991.
RW: I was 14. I auditioned at an empty honky-tonk in Nashville after seeing a newspaper ad!
JSN: What about Election in 1999?
RW: Well, I’d finished, like, four movies in a row. I thought I was going to go back to Stanford, and then I got Election. I loved being an actor.
JSN: What about Legally Blonde, 2001?
RW: I was debating whether to do Legally Blonde, and I saw this interview with Gloria Steinem about how important Goldie Hawn’s role in Private Benjamin was for women; by the end of the movie, the character socked her fiancé in the face at the altar because he didn’t understand who she’d become through her journey. I was like, “I feel like Gloria Steinem told me to do Legally Blonde. That’s how Elle Woods is too!” She starts out thinking she’s gonna follow a man, but in the end she’s like, “I don’t need you.”
JSN: It’s the 15th anniversary of Legally Blonde next year. Where would Elle Woods be now?
RW: She’d probably be a Harvard Law professor or a senator. We should all dress in pink and storm into Congress on the anniversary and say, “Why aren’t there enough of us here? Where are the Elle Woodses of the world?”
JSN: That’s a great campaign! Do you want to run it, or should I? Next, your Oscar-winning performance in Walk the Line, 2005.
RW: I consider it one of my greatest professional accomplishments. Six months of learning to play an instrument, voice lessons, practicing with the band—it was a hard movie!
JSN: What about Wild, 2014?
RW: It’s the film I’m the most proud of as an actor. It was the first book I bought with my company, and it gave me a deeper understanding of who I was as a human being. I was more vulnerable and more raw and open in that movie than I’ve ever been on film.
JSN: Looking back, have you ever lost yourself in a character?
RW: Yes. Frequently. I always let my husband read the script so he knows what’s about to happen to his wife. When I played Cheryl Strayed in Wild, I’d get really mad about certain things, I’d say really profound things, and I’d curse out of nowhere. He’d say, “Are you you, or are you Cheryl?”
JSN: That’s hysterical. This year you launched Draper James. What does it mean to you to have your grandparents’ names on the label?
RW: I put my family name on it because I believe in it. I traveled all over the South looking for factories—to keep production in the South. I wanted to give back to the place and people that raised me.
JSN: Actresses are often scrutinized for their entrepreneurial ventures, like Gwyneth Paltrow with Goop. But actors, like George Clooney with his Casamigos tequila, or Robert De Niro, with Nobu restaurants, don’t face the same criticism. Why is that?
RW: I’m always confused about that. Is it more fascinating, perplexing, unbelievable that women are entrepreneurs? A [news] magazine printed a [photo-illustration] of me in a ball gown holding a vacuum cleaner, saying I started a company. Last time I checked, I’m not selling vacuums. It was very sexist.
JSN: A very subtle kind of dig. Right?
RW: Just “Stay in your lane. We like what you do—don’t try be something else.” But guess what: I hope we all have three or four chapters.
JSN: As an entrepreneur, producer, actress, and mother, how do you prioritize your time?
RW: My family comes first. I haven’t made a movie probably in a year and a half. I’m focusing on my business, but also I want to spend time with my teenage daughter. It’s terrifying that my oldest child is about to leave. I can’t imagine not sitting at the foot of her bed, saying, “So what happened at school today?”
JSN: And how does one raise a healthy child in L.A., working in this industry, which reduces so many women to beauty and sex objects?
RW: Look, you do the best you can. But it’s hard. When I find things egregiously misrepresentative of women, I’ll make a point to say to my son, “Turn that off. I don’t want to see women behave that way. And I don’t want to see men treat those women that way.” You hope you’re saying the right things—but also, as a kid becomes a teenager, you feel like there’s a ticking clock for you to tell them everything they need to know. My kids make me laugh every day. And they’re so supportive. As I get older, they understand those things I worried about—the guilt of being gone—in a way that’s so healing for me, when they say, “Mom, we know you love what you do. We love to watch you do what you do.”
JSN: We all know the saying “It takes a village.” Who is your village?
RW: My husband is my biggest supporter on earth. He encourages me to put myself out in the world in ways that feel scary, and he’s like, “I’m always gonna catch you. I’m always gonna be there for you.” My supportive mother and family. Honey, it’s such a village.
JSN: You’ve been married to Jim for almost five years. How have you evolved as individuals, and how has your relationship evolved?
RW: I was talking to my friend who’s a psychologist, who says a woman’s frontal cortex isn’t fully developed till 25 and a man’s till 28. I was almost 34 when we met; he was 39. So I wouldn’t say either of us has wildly changed; I just love him more and more. I want so much for him to be happy, and he wants me to be happy. That’s a big part of my day, thinking, “Is he happy?” And for him, “Is she happy?”
JSN: You’re turning 40 in March. Let’s talk about some aha moments. How did you learn what you deserve in a relationship?
RW: The more respect I had for myself, and the more I took care of myself, the more I understood what I needed out of a partner.
JSN: What matters most in life?
RW: Family. I’ve been through really trying experiences personally, and your family is who you turn to.
JSN: Final question: Behind every Woman of the Year, there is…
RW: A safety net of love, compassion, and encouragement. To be courageous , you have to have an army of people holding you.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom is a filmmaker and the founder and CEO of The Representation Project. Follow her @JenSiebelNewsom and at therepresentationproject.org.