Additional stills, plus posters, a promotional photoshoot, trailer screencaptures and behind the scenes photos from Reese’s 2002 movie The Importance Of Being Earnest have been added to our Gallery today. Reese starred as Cecily Cardew alongside Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Frances O’Connor and Judi Dench in this comedy based on Oscar Wilde’s novel. Reese described her character as “headstrong”, and “understands a lot about social grace but has a tendency to throw it all away in the spirit of having fun and having a good time”. The film is a lot of fun, and Reese brings her usual charm to it!
Cecily: “You must not laugh at me, darling, but it has always been a girlish dream of mine to love a man named Ernest.”
[…] He [director Oliver Parker] chose Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde), an American, to play Cecily Cardew, and Frances O’Connor (Mansfield Park, AI), an Australian, to play Gwendolen Fairfax, and Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench—the safest pair of hands in the business—to play the wonderfully fierce Lady Bracknell. Add Tom Wilkinson as the Rev Chasuble and Anna Massey as Miss Prism, and you have a formidable line-up.
“Personalities are a bit part of this,” says Parker, “because to me it feels more like a Forties screwball comedy; so you don’t want someone like Gary Oldman, great actor that he is, and all that intensity, you want a Cary Grant. It would be difficult to find two leading men with more charm than Colin or Rupert.
“And you have that with both Reese and Frances. I did see some good young actresses coming up in Britain, but I was quite keen to avoid the baggage we Brits often bring to Wilde. I wanted to open up the cultural influences on it. I’d tried it on An Ideal Husband with Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett, and I found it very useful. When Reese came in there was no issue about the background of the piece or the significance of delivering it. Of course, I was a bit worried about the accent, but she is a brilliant impressionist and she worked really hard to get it right, and she did.
“And of course she is good for box office in America. Legally Blonde hadn’t come out when I cast her, but definitely I liked the high profile. I’m very conscious that I want o get this to a lot of people, and part of the whole thrill for me is to show people how surprising and fresh Wilde’s wit is. I think it is rare to find a period piece that is downright funny. People don’t normally put those things together because comedy often does fade, or it tends to be rooted in its period, but there is something about the intensity of Wilde’s humour, and what is driving it, that makes it fizz today.”
Witherspoon, still only 26, admits that she knew little of Wilde’s work. “I was thrilled that they even considered me for this part because I had never done this kind of period drama before and it was a real challenge.”
Her most nerve-racking moment, she admits, came when it was time to step up to act with Dame Judi. “Delivering the lines had a lot to do with confidence, just spitting it out, you know, but it was really particularly hard when I had to do it in front of Judi. My voice just fell to a whisper.”
For Witherspoon, her time in England last summer was just about as good a filming experience as it gets. Her husband, the actor Ryan Phillippe, was making Robert Altman’s Gosford Park at the same time, and the couple and their three-year-old daughter Ava settled happily into life in England. “I got very attached to the tabloids because I didn’t know the people, so it was like a whole new culture. I was obsessed with Posh and Becks. I’m insane about them. Was Posh too skinny? Was Becks going to win? I needed to know and I still do. I got back to the States and I was starved of information about Posh and Becks. You know, like when he broke his foot before the World Cup, what was going to happen? They are the most famous people in England, they’re like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. I’m hooked…”
Reese Witherspoon, playing Cecily, is certain that the Cecily we knew before was quite wrong. ‘She knows how to questions authority,’ she says in the Tennessee drawl she has been working hard to eradicate for the film. This comes as a surprise if one remembers sweet 21-year-old Dorothy Tutin batting her eyelids as Cecily in the original film. ‘You can’t just take her as she is written on the page, you have to find the real person, so that the audience relates,’ says Reese, ‘so it doesn’t seem like one big joke. I was looking for a good placement in reality,’ she says, ‘to access a modern audience.’
In other words, for her the play is not a light social commentary, it is about the role of women in Victorian society. ‘Oliver wrote it to be modern,’ she says. ‘If bits come in from the past, for instance when Cecily says she can’t emulate a man’s physical strength, then it has to be ironic. She sees Algy as a white knight coming through the forest to rescue her when she is tied to a tree, but she is also his equal. Sometimes she dominates him. By bringing a modern attitude to the work,’ she says, ‘we are bringing longevity to Wilde’s career.’
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