Reese Witherspoon, 21, is probably best recommended as the nice little middle class girl who ends up on the receiving the Boyfriend from Hell in last year’s stalk, terrorise and slash thriller, Fear. But in Matthew bright’s weirdo take on the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale, Freeway, Witherspoon is no shrinking violet. As Vanessa, an abused welfare state runaway, she’s confronted by the boogymem, bad guys, lascivious men (and women prisoners), not to mention the Wolf himself in the guise of Kiefer Sutherland. He’s smooth-talking, smartly-dressed, sensitive, middle class – and in the wicked twisted world of this film just the kind of monster worth avoiding. Meanwhile, Vanessa responds by kicking the life out of anyone who gets too close. Witherspoon spoke to JUICE from Los Angeles where she was found working under the alias Holly Green.
In Freeway you had enough bottled up rage to light up LA for a year.
[Laughs] That’s probably true. I was going through such a hard time when I made that movie that I channeled all my anger and frustration from what was going on in my personal life. Which is part of the reason why it came off as angry as it did.
Can you tell us about these troubles?
Whew! It was everything, from romantic problems to being on my own for the first time in a really big city.
Sort of like Freeway’s violence and angst all rolled into one?
Yeah. Freeway is a very timely movie. I think it’s a very accurate depiction and a very satirical portrayal of the life of an American adolescent. I think it was satirical in the sense that it heightened the reality but it was a play on how ridiculous it is to be someone growing up in America. It’s violent, dangerous – and it’s not a fairytale.
What part of the South are you from?
I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. I grew up in the suburbs. My father was in the air force and I moved around a lot. I think that a lot of entertainers come from that background because you are constantly thrown into a situation where you have to entertain people to make friends, so you can acclimatise yourself to a new place.
What was it like working with Kiefer Sutherland in those really hard scenes of both psychological and physical violence?
He’s a really great actor and he’s very passionate about the things he does. It made a good combination – we were both devoted tot he movie. I had that scene where we were driving along and I had to hit him. And he kept saying, “Hit me harder with the gun.” And I kept hitting him harder and harder and harder and finally I gave him this big whack on the forehead. And I asked him once the take was over: “How do you think that was Kiefer?” and he said, “Well, I think that was really good – but I’m bleeding and I think I need some medical attention.”
What made you take this kind of role? It’s a big risk in a lot of ways
I’d been in a lot of homogenous movies on homogenous roles. Movies about middle class white people in white neighbourhoods. After Freeway, Asian people, black people, Hispanic people came up to me and told me how much they enjoyed it. I read the script for Freeway – and was scared to death of it. I thought everyone was going to be offended, and nobody was going to understand it. I met with the director and I met with [producer] Oliver Stone and I decided that this is what life is about – you’re an actor and you have to take risks and say things that people don’t have the courage to say. I went into the film with that attitude and I think that really helped. I was still scared. It was like a personal accomplishment to get through every day.
A lot of movie is about the individual’s capacity for violence
A lot of people were put off because of the violence. To me the violence was very tongue in cheek. i mean, I shoot someone seventeen times in the head and they live! This is a bizarre reality, but it does show the violence that children go through nowadays. But it’s in order to make you laugh, so you can then say: “Wow, that is fucked up!” Everyone took the character of Vanessa to heart. People identify with the underdog. She’s constantly trying to assert her innocence and being misunderstood. Nobody believes her.
Before we went into shooting I read a lot of Bruno Bettleheim, this writer who analyses fairytales. He said that Little Red Riding Hood was about sexual dominance and the things that young girls fear. The Wolf represents the sexually dominating male and the little girls like to hear the story because of her ingenuity, how she gets out of this problem. The movie really is a fairytale, and it retains the darkness of the Grimm original. I think especially in America there is a tendency to sugar-coat fairytales, to show them colorfully painted and presented, without the darkness.