Reese Witherspoon gets all kinds of action in ‘War’
This is one heck of a visual Valentine.
That’s what most moviegoers will likely think mere minutes into This Means War, as Bond-like CIA hunks Tom Hardy, 34, and Chris Pine, 31, spend an hour and a half battling (not quite to the death) for a sassy, svelte Reese Witherspoon, 35.
But back on the chilly Vancouver set, the cast says it was more of a battle of the wits. Especially with Chelsea Handler on hand playing Trish, Witherspoon’s best friend.
The bawdy Handler “never even stayed on the script, I didn’t even know what she was saying,” grins Witherspoon, who plays Lauren Scott, a consumer products watchdog.
Today at the Four Seasons hotel, Witherspoon is sandwiched between Hardy and Pine in a little black dress, kicking up her red-soled Louboutins as she talks. As Handler ad-libbed, “I would try not to laugh, but they’d usually put me off-screen so they couldn’t see my face. I was crying I was laughing so hard.”
The guys, whose characters spend most of War wooing Witherspoon, engaging in hand-to-hand-combat over her and pranking each other in her name, were always late to the best jokes.
“It was inevitable that Tom and I would come to set, and Reese and (Chelsea) would have shot a scene the day before and everybody was talking about what they’d shot yesterday,” says Pine, who plays emotionally detached lady killer FDR. “We’d watch playback and from poltergeist (jokes) … to urethra (jokes) … it was just incredible.”
To score a PG-13 rating, War’s dirtiest lines were cut at the request of the MPAA, but they “did make it into the U.K. one,” says Hardy, whose cheeky bromance with FDR crumbles after his character, Tuck, stumbles upon Lauren’s picture on an online dating website. In time, both are desperate to win her over.
Eye candy is abundant in the action-meets-rom-com, and audiences are treated to a sexier look from Witherspoon, one that director McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator: Salvation) terms “a little more Brigitte Bardot and Raquel Welch.”
“That’s really her on the countertop in her Agent Provocateur underwear, making out with a shirtless Chris Pine and then doing it again with Tom Hardy,” he says.
And owning it.
“She’s super-foxy, and she always plays that down,” says the director. But this time around, “she wanted to go for it. You see her dancing around in a sweatshirt and her butt’s peeking out, and it’s adorable. Those are the moments that you say, ‘Wow, she’s really sexy, and I would fight for that.’ ”
“It’s all McG’s fault,” Witherspoon says of those femme fatale shots and her new wardrobe of body-conscious dresses. But that’s not to say she couldn’t relate to her character’s predicament: Witherspoon shot the movie three months after completing Water for Elephants, long before she married agent Jim Toth of the Creative Artists Agency in March. “I was a single girl when I made the movie. It wasn’t much of a stretch. This wasn’t a hard job.”
But it was a physical one. War is Witherspoon’s first action movie, and she makes the most of it, swinging on a trapeze with Hardy, gamely climbing up a dangling car, and even, McG says, ripping her finger wide open on a broken headlight during an adrenaline-racing stunt.
For this trio, getting into action shape took on different forms.
Before filming, “I was getting really into yoga,” says Pine, who’s busy these days reprising his role of Captain Kirk with the new Star Trek movie back in production. Playing FDR, “a complete hedonist and lover of life,” Pine “stopped lifting weights and I lost a bunch of weight and I was feeling really healthy.”
Hardy, sporting a longish beard in preparation for his upcoming 7-month-long Mad Max shoot, had a different tactic. “Cake, sugar, cigarettes,” says the English actor, whose tattooed torso, ripped underneath a tight black T-shirt, is decidedly void of pastry evidence.
Hardy says there was a method to the caloric madness — he was in the process of losing some of his cage-fighting Warrior bulk when he signed onto War. (He has since quit smoking out of necessity, to train as the villain Bane for The Dark Knight, due this summer.)
Witherspoon says that as an actor, “you never know what your next thing is going to be. Somebody could ask (Hardy) to gain 40 pounds or be completely emaciated. You have to figure it out pretty fast. For me, I just try to stay healthy all the time. It’s important. I run a lot.”
Assembling the right dynamic for this Mr. and Mrs. Smith-style spy movie meant that after Witherspoon signed on, McG went on a veritable alpha manhunt.
McG first showed up at Chateau Marmont to meet Pine with a paper bag under his arm. As Pine and screenwriter Simon Kinberg spit-balled ideas, “McG was silently picking up out of the bag different pictures that were the archetypes of the film,” recalls Pine, including shots of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours, and Maverick and Goose from Top Gun. “He really wanted to make a great buddy picture.”
McG then flew to London to persuade Hardy to try on his “decidedly Americana, pop film,” and showed Hardy initial scenes of the movie on his iPad at the Soho House. “The guy’s a monster. We know what he can do with his acting,” he says. Plus, “he looks like the love child of Marlon Brando and Paul Newman.”
Hardy liked what he saw. “I really liked to play against the fact that we’re doing a spy movie in a rom-com,” says Hardy, who’s known for a far more serious on-screen persona, thanks to his work in films such as Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Warrior.
Casting Lauren’s brash best friend was Witherspoon’s job. She says there was no one better for the mouthy role than Handler, whom she befriended two years ago at a party. Witherspoon asked Handler to take the role over breakfast.
Lauren is “a very decisive person within her work, but then romantically, she’s sort of a disaster and she can’t decide anything,” says Witherspoon, “so she goes to Chelsea Handler for advice.”
Some very salty advice.
“Sex tie-breaker!” hoots Handler in the film, when Lauren admits she’s torn between the chiseled undercover agents.
Handler admits that some of her jokes would stop Witherspoon in her tracks. “Reese is very professional, and I’m completely unprofessional, so the two of us working together was perfect,” Handler says. “Sometimes she’d just look at me and go, ‘You’re so weird.’ She still does that. Because I always grab her boobs and butt and she goes, ‘Get off of me! What’s wrong with you?’ ”
Off-set, Witherspoon spends far more time playing her favorite role: mom. But it’s not always easy being a movie star, a mom and a wife. “I think it’s always sort of a hustle. But any woman that works who has kids knows what that hustle is and you sort of weigh the guilt meter and how you feel about working on location.”
She plans to go on location this summer to shoot new film Big Eyes, which means “a lot of airplanes traveling back and forth,” to maintain mom’s presence at home. Her children don’t watch her movies, and she’s extra-protective about social media.
“When you have kids, too, you get very protective. I think about what the Internet is and the repercussions of that expanse of people having your personal information,” Witherspoon says. “I get very protective of my own kids in that capacity. They’re not on any of it.”
And Witherspoon is beginning to experience a new chapter of motherhood: Daughter Ava, 12, is almost a teenager. “I actually have a great relationship with my daughter, and it’s exciting to see her grow up. She’s a wonderful young lady.” Son Deacon is 8. Their dad is Witherspoon’s ex, Ryan Phillippe.
The newlywed says romance in her new marriage is in bloom. “Hopefully you always have romance in your life,” Witherspoon says. “I think that’s part of keeping life interesting.”
Pine and Hardy have their own fail-proof advice for the romance-challenged on key holidays and birthdays.
“I think simple is better,” says Pine. “I don’t think you can go wrong with flowers. That’s bottom line.”
“I think 101 is not to forget,” adds Hardy.
Witherspoon seconds that. Guys: “Don’t go to Siberia,” she warns.