What's the Buzz?
Article from Oprah.com – part transcript of 2005 talk show appearance
With roles like the ditzy, yet brilliant, law student Elle Woods in Legally Blond and the vindictive and ultra-competitive Tracy Flick in Election, Reese Witherspoon quickly became one of Hollywood’s favorite leading ladies. In real life, this down-to-earth country girl is married to movie star Ryan Phillippe and is mom to two adorable children. In her newest film, Walk the Line, Reese plays country crooner June Carter Cash, a role for which she is earning big buzz. Critics are even hinting that this might be the role that brings Reese Oscar® gold!
Walk the Line brings the heart-wrenching story of music legend Johnny Cash to life. When Johnny and June meet, both are married to others—but there is an instant attraction. Johnny begins a dogged pursuit that June resists. After 12 years, June finally marries the singing superstar and their life-long love story is launched. It’s June Carter’s unconditional devotion that makes Johnny Cash “walk the line.”
As accolades start pouring in—critics have described her performance as “transformative” and “brilliant”—Reese admits it was no easy feat to transform herself into June…and she was scared!
“It was awful,” Reese says. “First of all, we had to learn how to sing. … The director came to us and he said, ‘I really want you guys to learn to sing, to learn to play instruments, and I want you to record an album. I absolutely was just gobsmacked!”
“Is it true that at one point you begged to get out?” Oprah asks.
“I did,” Reese says. “I called my attorney, my agent, my manager. I said, ‘I’ve got to get out of this. Can’t they call LeAnn Rimes? She’s good! There are plenty of people that do this for a living. I’m just an actress!'”
After voice and instrument lessons—Reese learned to play the autoharp—panic gave way to gradual acceptance. “It’s good to have that kind of challenge in your life,” Reese says, “It’s important to do things that scare you to death!”
Reese and husband Ryan Phillippe are the parents of Ava, 6, and Deacon, 2. Raising two children in the spotlight has enforced the need for a sense of normalcy at home, which was something that came easily for them. “We grew up like normal people,” Reese says. “Our parents both worked and there were kids in the house. We just cook dinner and hang out with the kids on the floor. … Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Do you have a chef?’ And I said, ‘Yes, her name is Reese.'”
Reese is the first to admit that her home life, including her marriage, is not all Hollywood romance and glamour. She and Ryan are open about using counseling to work on their relationship. “We’ve done that in the past,” Reese says, “and it’s always struck me as odd that people grabbed onto that story and made it sound so negative. In what capacity is working on yourself or your marriage a bad thing? What marriage isn’t a journey? … If you don’t have money to go to therapy, there’s always church. You can get together with groups and friends and talk about things with other couples.”
“It’s good you’re saying this,” Oprah tells Reese, “because I think everybody looks at the magazines and they think, ‘Oh, they’re perfect.'”
“Nobody’s perfect,” Reese says, “My dad always said to me when I was growing up, ‘Everybody’s got their own set of problems,’ and that’s so true. I keep it with me. There are people that you meet that have so much and people that you meet who have next to nothing. We all have our own set of problems.”
One of the problems Reese faces regularly is the harassment of the paparazzi. “[What they do] is illegal,” Reese says. “They shout obscenities at children in front of my nursery school. … The part that gets me is that my 6-year-old daughter feels [violated]. … She cries when she sees them.”
Paparazzi have run into Reese’s car, and recently, photographers chased Reese and her children around Disneyland. One woman leapt to Reese’s defense. “I don’t even know her,” Reese says, “She’s, like, ‘Get away from her! You should be ashamed of yourself, sir. This is Disneyland!’ She was so great!”
“But, I always say, these are awful things—but if this is the worst of my problems, I’m a very blessed person.”
Reese has gone on the record saying she’s sick of the trend among young women to act as if it’s cute to be stupid.
“It’s a new movement among young women that it’s cute to be dumb. I have a little girl, and when I see her looking at those [starlets] who … are pretending to be dumb, I think that’s [terrible].”
“Our mothers and our grandmothers and the women that came before us fought so hard to overcome the stereotype of women being not smart enough to vote, not smart enough to [receive] higher education, to have great jobs. And to single-handedly go out in a very public way and say, ‘You know what, I don’t really care about what they achieved. I’m just going be stupid and that’s cute.’ I don’t think it’s a good message for young women.”
The challenging role of the infamous “Man in Black,” Johnny Cash, is played by Joaquin Phoenix—who previously earned an Oscar® nod for his performance in Gladiator. Joaquin masterfully captures Cash’s signature sound and truly brings the legend to life, and, like Reese, his stellar performance is already causing Oscar® buzz.
The last time Joaquin appeared on the show, Oprah says he was so nervous he almost didn’t come out on stage! Joaquin denies it: “That was a setup,” he insists with a smile. “I saw you backstage,” Oprah teases, “That was not a setup.”
Before his role as Johnny Cash, Joaquin didn’t even sing in the shower. “Singing was completely foreign to me,” he says, “so was playing the guitar. But we had a lot of help. … Obviously it was something that I was really nervous about. I have a great deal of respect for singers. It’s really vulnerable going out in front of a crowd and singing—but then to sing like these characters who were so well known and had such distinct voices and were so loved—it was a great challenge. … The nice thing was we weren’t really result oriented. It was about working through the music. Getting to know the music, getting to know the lyrics. ‘What was John trying to say?’ as opposed to just, ‘Let’s try and sound like John.'”
“For me,” Joaquin says, “it’s not about acting. It’s not pretending. It’s about genuinely trying to go through emotions and feel things.” Joaquin and Reese spent six months prepping for their roles, and got to know each other well over the course of the film.
What most surprised Reese about working with Joaquin? “He’s funny!” Reese says. “I said, ‘Why don’t you do some comedies with me?’ He [joked], ‘Because they’re all bad.’ He’s really funny and he’s got a big heart. He’s a good guy and he’s a really good friend.”
“It was really inspiring to see an actor so dedicated to a role. He would go to work and work all day in Johnny’s voice and go home and study at night and watch videotapes or play with the band and practice. He never said, ‘Okay, I’m good; I’m done.’ He always was working on it.”
“So now you hear ‘Oscar® buzz,'” Oprah asks Joaquin and Reese. “Does it matter at all to you when you hear that?”
“It’s very flattering just to hear you say that,” Joaquin says. “It’s obviously a great honor. It’s strange. Before we even started making the movie I was talking to [Director James] Mangold and I said, ‘This movie has already repaid me. This process, the preparation has been so fulfilling to me as an actor that no matter what happens—whether it’s considered successful or critically acclaimed, I feel rewarded. And anything beyond that you start to feel greedy.”
Reese agrees. “When you make movies,” she says, “You just want people to see them. I’m always shocked when more than my mother shows up! … When people love them and take them to heart, that’s the biggest reward. And everything else is icing.” The buzz was right. Both Reese and Joaquin were nominated for Academy Awards!