Reese Witherspoon celebrates the South in new book: ‘I’m very proud of where I’m from’
It’s not every Hollywood star who would blithely offer tips on how to “hot-roller” your hair – complete with hilarious photos of herself in huge hair curlers – in her first book.
But the eminently relatable Reese Witherspoon does just that in “Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love and Baking Biscuits” (Touchstone, on sale Sept. 18), a lavish lifestyle guide and cookbook that’s a paean to her native Dixie.
On this day, Witherspoon is well-coiffed and radiant in a yellow dress at the Times Square studio where she’s just appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” So we have to ask: Did she hot-roller her hair today?
“Not this morning, but other mornings, yes, for sure,” she says with a laugh. “My husband and my children have seen me like that a lot. In a panic, too. It’s the only way I actually know how to do my hair.”
Witherspoon, 42, now adds author to her multitasking resume as an Oscar-winning actor, producer, entrepreneur and champion of books through her own Instagram book club.
In “Whiskey in a Teacup,” she shares stories of growing up in Nashville (where she still has a home, along with Los Angeles) with strong women like her paternal grandmother, who passed on a love of reading and storytelling and taught her such crucial life lessons as how to be a lady and never to wear sweatpants on an airplane. (Jeans are OK, but not if they’re ripped!)
“There are some old-fashioned values that I think are timeless,” says Witherspoon, who hopes “Whiskey,” by celebrating holidays and family dinners and community gatherings, helps “bring people together” in our politically divided nation.
And she’s happy to give a big shout-out to the South. “I’m very proud of where I’m from,” says Witherspoon. “People don’t take themselves too seriously there, which I really appreciate in an overly serious world. We like to have a lot of fun.”
More from our interview:
Question: Do you cook a lot yourself?
Reese Witherspoon: I do. On weekends primarily. My littlest, my son, my 5-year-old (Tennessee, with husband Jim Toth) is obsessed with “Master Chef” and any kind of cooking or baking show. He loves “Cupcake Wars” and we watch it and try to replicate the recipes. Right now he’s fascinated by how to make meatballs. He wants me to make every birthday cake and now it’s (her kids’) birthday season – I have two birthdays in September and one in October – and I’m making all the birthday cakes with him, which is so fun. … I just love my kids (she also has Ava, 19, and Deacon, 14, with former husband Ryan Phillippe) so much. I’m so lucky to be their mom. They’re extraordinary people.
Q: Southerners tend to be stereotyped. According to Bob Woodward’s book “Fear,” President Trump called Attorney General Jeff Sessions a “dumb Southerner.” Your reaction?
Witherspoon: I haven’t read Bob’s book but I’m eager to read it. … (As for Trump’s reported comment), I mean, there’s really no reason to be disparaging people.
Q: You write in your book that when you were young, you told a teacher you wanted to be the first female president, and she said she would vote for you. That’s very Tracy Flick of you (the character she played in “Election”)!
Witherspoon: Yes! I think I was always ambitious. I was either going to be a surgeon or I was going to be an astronaut or the first female president of the United States of America. It never occurred to me that that wouldn’t be possible. I hope all little girls feel that all things are possible. Because we’re told things are possible and then we grow up and in the real world they seem impossible. I think we have to encourage girls to dream big and be even more ambitious.
Q: As someone who’s such an advocate for books, how does it feel to be a published author?
Witherspoon: It gave me tremendous respect for people who write every day for a living. It’s incredibly hard; you can’t even imagine. It’s like when you go to a museum (and say), “I could paint that!” Have you ever gone home and tried to paint? It’s impossible. And that’s how I felt about writing a book. I have a tendency to be a little bit of a perfectionist. So I would just write and throw it away. Write and throw it away. I must have done that 10 times. But I feel really good about sharing things that are important to me.
Q: You have a chapter on book clubs, and you belong to one yourself with friends. Red and white wine are a must?
Witherspoon: There’s always a little more drinking than there is talking about the book. (But book clubs are) a great way to connect.
Q: As a celebrity, how do you incorporate your values into your everyday life?
Witherspoon: I think my company (Hello Sunshine) is very mission-based. I wake up every day and think, “OK, how can I get a story told, a movie made, or a television or unscripted series made that is going to tell a story from a woman’s perspective that is unique and would not be told if I wasn’t championing it?” … I really want to leave my business (Hollywood) a more inclusive environment than the way I found it.
Q: Is TV offering more opportunities for women right now, especially in terms of your own career?
Witherspoon: Audiences have changed in what they want. And you have to listen. I think streaming is enormously popular because it makes watching and really getting deeply involved in a show so easy for viewers. … I still love movies; I’m still making movies. I just produced a movie with Natalie Portman for Fox Searchlight, but I’m really enjoying the idea of telling a story over multiple episodes.
Q: One of your current projects is turning one of your book club picks, “Little Fires Everywhere,” into a TV series for Hulu with Kerry Washington, and you both will star.
Witherspoon: Celeste Ng is such a facile writer and she writes beautifully specific characters. I like the idea that maybe your mother is not the mother you’re born to. … I love my mother, but I’ve been mentored and mothered by other women and I think that’s a critical part of growing up, finding mentors and people you learn from. … Kerry’s an incredible producer. It’s so fun to work with her and hear her ideas and bounce things off each other.
Q: “Big Little Lies” is coming back for a second season on HBO. Can you give us a hint of what we’re going to see? Last season your character, Madeline, had an affair.
Witherspoon: Meryl Streep is in it. By the way, that should be the headline: “Meryl Streep is in it!” She’s amazing and she plays the most fascinating character (the mother of villain Perry, killed off last season). We all interact with her in different ways, and how she feels about each specific character we’ve gotten to know through Season 1 is just so delicious.
Q: Can we glean from the infamous ice cream photo (of Witherspoon’s character hurling a cone at Streep) that –
Witherspoon: That maybe we don’t get along?
Q: That you’re at odds?
Witherspoon: We might be. At some point. In the show. A little adversarial.
Q: You write in “Whiskey in a Teacup” about the thrill of meeting Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, at a fundraiser in L.A. a few years ago.
Witherspoon: I was up and dressed at 5 o’clock in the morning. With hot rollers in my hair. My husband was like, “You are really excited.” But she was charming and very relatable and lovely. And I’d love to meet Meghan Markle, too.
Q: What are you reading right now?
Witherspoon: “Goodbye, Vitamin” by Rachel Khong. She’s very funny talking about her parents, who are aging. And I can relate (laughs). It’s a unique moment in your life where you realize, “OK, I think I’m in charge now!”