Reese Is The Word
At 14, she was most definitely a girl. The daughter of a doctor father and a nurse mother, Reese went from private-school in Nashville to public heartbreaker with her first film The Man in the Moon, playing Dani, a kid in love with the same boy next-door as her sister-and on the way getting her first on-screen kiss. Diane Keaton took interest and cast her in the telefilm Wildflower. Cruising through girl mode, she took the lead in the Disney adventure A Far Off Place, and appeared mart hostage who lets loose a bitchy side, and in Fear her sexuality lets oozed a pre-Bogie Nights Mark Wahlberg.
But it is in Freeway – befittingly filmed in her 18th year, that her pinkification into womanhood becomes complete. When her gun-totting, illiterate, 14-year-old trash-mouthed character turns to serial-killer Kiefer Sutherland and bluntly asks, “Are we going to do sex now?” it was Reese’s bye-bye kiss to every “nice girl role” notions you might have had of her before. The real woman was playing a girl, but the girl was all woman. That’s and Tobey Maguire entitled Pleasantville.
She’s running a bit late today-she’s in the process of boxing up her life and shipping it in the morning to the Nebraska location of her next film, Elections, from Citizen Ruth’s Alexander Payne.
Nestled in an empty Polo Lounge booth, I feel inadequate-a Hollywood power joint like this with a phone on every table, and me with no one to call. I’ve made friends with the maître d’, a charming Southern gentleman in every sense of the word, and the bartender who used to tend at the Kentucky Derby. Could a mint julep be far behind? Enter Reese, in an outfit of boxing-up-my-life chic. The maître d’ greets her with a “Ms. Witherspoon, you’ve just lit up this place.” By the way, she isn’t waring anything pink. Well, none that I can see.
I have your tounge on the back of my business card.
You do not.
You do, you have my tounge on your business card. That’s so cool.
Your mouth is very popular when I give my card to someone.
Perfect, I’ll send it home to mom tomorrow. I thought we’d have mint juleps, but they’ve got to be sweet. Most people forget the simple syrup-when you make them right, that’s what makes it sweet.
The tape is rolling. You do all the talking from here on out.
I’m bad like that. It’s such a classic interviewer tactic, but they wait and in the silence you gets what’s really the true, inner core of the person. It comes out in the silence. Now look, you aren’t going to say a word. Ask me a question.
Why did you pick this place?
You’re 21 years old and buying a house in this neighborhood.
I’m not buying anything. My life isn’t a constant stare of flow and flux. Isn’t this crazy? We are the only people here. I love that. This place will be back in style, they just have to stick it out-like the ’80s.
You’re becoming a woman now, Reese.
I am. I cut off my pigtails.
You know what I mean. Physically, you have … blossomed.
Ssshhh. I know. That’s another issue I don’t want to talk about.
You’re at an age and position now where you are no longer seen, in the most simplistic terms, as the girlfriend or the daughter.
For me, I broke out of that three years ago.
Maybe because of your physicality?
I’m not sure that’s fair to put on me.
You’re right, it isn’t. Even I don’t buy it, but I want you to tell me why I’m wrong.
I don’t think that’s fair to pin on me still.
I’m not saying they were conventional daughter-type roles.
That’s because you haven’t seen my new movies, honey.
That’s why I’m brining it up.
Sorry, go ahead. OK, wait. Did you see Freeway? I’m not the daughter in that. Young children are usually defined by who their parents are, or their struggle with their parents. I think it would be a worse thing to have to play my mother or my father-then you’re just a mom or dad to a teenager. I’ve never really played just a nice girl or just a girl who’s in trouble.
Directors have cast me as somebody who has a definite sexuality, or is willing to be brave in things, or has a vocabulary. Then it came around that I started to get more auditions for character parts, and I’d go in and play them as characters. Somebody told me the other day, “Reese I’ve known you since you were 14. Now you’re 21, and you’ve never been this year’s IT girl, ever.” Not for lack of projects or whatever. I know that-and it wasn’t always a conscious effort for it to be like that. I’m confident now that I’ve figured out what works best for me.
What do you think you are best known for?
Freeway, or The Man in the Moon maybe.
I would have thought Fear.
Put it in a situation, then ask me. If I’m in a mall, then, yeah, Fear. You haven’t commented at all on my Shirley Temple outfit.
Girl/woman? Not to take away anything from the people you’ve worked with in the past, but this movie, Twilight, is certainly a jump in caliber when it comes to the cast. Susan Saradon, Paul Newman and Gene Hackman are all Oscar winners.
I read the script for Twilight and really loved it. I ran into Robert Benton, the director, and I said, “I really want to do your movie. It’s the best script I’ve read and the one movie I want to make this year. I’ll either make this movie or go back to Stanford, it’s up to you.” I read for him serval times, and it just sort of fell into place. I’m sure most people thought it was because of the work I had previously done-but he never saw Freeway, he never saw The Man in the Moon, he never saw anything I had done. He still hasn’t as far as I know.
Do you feel like an actor peer?
No, and I don’t think I should. I don’t think I’ve spent the time, energy and passion that these people have.
Did they treat you like a peer?
They were so kind. They treated me like … well, like what I am: a young actress starting out who is working with them.
Who did you do most of your scenes with?
You’re on a first name basis with Mr. Newman?
I usually call him Fishstick.
I don’t know why, I just like to call him that.
Good girl or bad girl?
Sad girl, lonely, eclectic girl. Really reaching out for attention, doing anything I can do to get noticed. My character has a lot of moxie.
I noticed over here that your monumental Gap ad has been painted over.
I forgot about that.
How do you forget being plastered up on Sunset on the side of a building 20 stories high?
The ultimate irony to that is that it overlooked the Sky Bar.
People would look up and see you looming over them?
That guys that I used to date would go there to meet girls and I couldn’t help but think what was running through their heads, “Stop looking at me. I know I’m doing something wrong-but just stop looking at me.”
Where are you actually going in the morning?
Omaha, Nebraska. I can’t stop eating this stuff.
Try this one. It’s salmon and dill.
Can’t eat salmon-allergic.
This hotel might be the only place in the world where you could swell up, turn pink and still be entirely unnoticeable.
Right? So, I’m off to Omaha to do this movie that Alexander Payne is directing, with Matthew Broderick.
You just got into your new pad and now you are leaving.
But it will be perfect when I get back.
Have you been on Howard Stern?
You’re a perfect match.
Not my vibe. I’m not interested in a lot of these sort of pop icons. Why? So he could berate me about my personal life.
But the good-girl persona could be wiped away…
Gone. Don’t kid yourself anymore. I can tell you a fun story, though. I went in to audition for this movie studio movie the other day, they had hair and make up there for a screen test sort of thing, and they said to me, “We’re concerned-you may be a little too punk rock.”
What were you doing?
No idea-is this my populace perception now?
An unshakeable image popped in my head reading your early press when articles would say, “She began modeling at age 7.”
I don’t know what those articles were talking about. I wasn’t modeling at all.
I conjured up with this weird vision of you as a seven-year-old walking down the catwalk in head-to-toe Calvin Klein.
Thierry Mugler. I went directly for the JonBenet sort of look. I can see your questions from here, and I’m interested why you haven’t asked me this one, “Do you think Playboy will approach me?” I wonder, Will they? I’m not into being whatever-a token-especially to young boys.
I’m sure throughout your movie career more than one young boy has had a crush on you.
What are you asking me?
Countless boys-and full grown men-you have never met have masturbated over you.
Oh, do you think you?
Reese … teenage boys? They’re just looking for an excuse.
People, especially teenage boys, masturbate over really beautiful, gorgeous, fantasy kind of people, not me. The whole idea scares me.
Sure, because you probably know that it has–and will–happen. It’s not like I used the word “whack” to make it scary.
I know, I did somewhat of an explict scene in Twilight and I wonder if people are going to be rewinding the tape and hitting freeze frame. You made me have to think about it.
Well, what did you show in Twilight? Boobs?
I don’t know.
You don’t know what you had exposed?
We shot something were my breasts–not boobs–are exposed, but I don’t know if that’s the one they’ll use. It was really nerve-racking. All I could think of the whole time was that I was naked. I’m naked, I’m naked, I’m naked, I’m naked, I’m naked. Oh my god, it’s Paul Newman and I’m naked. It’s time for me to flub my line.
You were naked in front of Fishstick?
Yeah, in one scene. He tells me to put on my clothes and I say, “Fuck you, it’s a free country.” It’s a great scene. It’s not like this gratuitous things were there’s just tits haning out. Can I tell you the three biggest fallacies about me?
First of all, on the Internet is says that I’m married. Some Psycho Santa has decided to tell the whole world I’m married to him. I’ve never been married in my whole life. Second of all, Cindy Crawford interviewed me on national television for Later. She said that Reese Witherspoon wasn’t my reel name, that it was a stage name. I have two other first names, but I’ve never, ever gone by them at any point in my life. Third, everyone thinks that I’m really tall. Don’t they say that about everybody?
I never thought you were tall.
You know me.
I mean before I knew you.
Right. OK, stop laughing about that. You’re laughing just a little too much at that to make me feel comfortable.
It’s the juleps talking.