The actress, who leaps from sweet to sexy in a new action flick, relishes marriage, motherhood – and getting older.
“I got the moves like Jagger!” cracks Reese Witherspoon. She is talking about a scene in her new movie, This Means War, in which she dances around her house, rocking out to the hip-hop hit, This Is How We Do It, barelegged in a thigh-length sweater.
“Who doesn’t dance around their living room singing?” the actress says with a girlish, machine-fun laugh. “Honestly, I do it all the time with my kids and they roll their eyes . I’m like, ‘C’mon, it’s a dance party!’ And they’re like, ‘No!’
It’s hard to imagine that Witherspoon’s 12-year-old daughter, Ava, and 8-year-old son, Deacon, could be so easily mortified by their movie-star mom. But that’s exactly the point. To them, she’s mom, not the universally loved sweetheart of Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama who won an Oscar in 2004 playing June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. “The other day,” she says, “I clapped too loudly at a school performance and my son looked at me. I said, ‘I was clapping for your sister. Is that embarrassing, too?’ Oh my god! I think they’d love to just put me in a cage!”
Witherspoon sweeps the shaggy blonde hair from her unvarnished face. If she looks and sounds like any other young mother in her black-and-white striped sweater and tortoise-shell Eyebobs glasses, that’s because in some surprising ways, she is. “I remember my mother being the same way — playful and fun, having a good time,” she says. “I really loved it. I thought, ‘She’s not boring like other moms.’ ”
The actress passes on a coffee refill. “No thank you, honey,” she tells the waitress with a cheerful Southern lilt — a reminder of her proper Nashville upbringing. Sitting in the corner booth of a neighborhood restaurant not far from her west-side Los Angeles home, she’s psyched about the day: Her kids are on their way back from a family visit to Delaware, home of their dad, actor Ryan Phillipe.
At 35, Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon (Reese is her mother’s family name) has turned a corner in her life. Divorced from Phillipe in 2007, she spent four years as a single mom before tying the knot again with talent agent Jim Toth, 41, nearly a year ago.
“It still feels new,” she says. “Getting married for the second time is a different experience. You know who you are. You know what marriage is. You realize it’s not some sort of fantasy. It’s a reality-based decision about wanting to share your life with somebody with similar ideas, goals, interests.”
Her onscreen work seems to reflect her new cool and confidence: This Means War is her first action movie, and in it, two best friends and spies (Chris Pine, Tom Hardy) deploy their kick-butt talents to compete for her affections. When he cast her role, director McG needed a woman so captivating that two international Romeos would be willing to give up an endless string of supermodels to settle down with her.
“My goal was to show the world the Reese Witherspoon they’ve never seen,” McG says. “We photographed her in a way that made her desirable — gave her hair volume like Raquel Welch or Bridget Bardot and show how sexy she is, even after two children. I wanted to see if she was game to go for it — and was she ever!”
Instead of Elle Woods-style sorority sweaters, Witherspoon dons tight bandage dresses and leather jackets. “It was fun,” she says. “McG wanted to make me look sexy. Which is cool for me — I’ve never done it before.”
She’d also never been suspended 50 feet above ground from an office building. Nor had she been around so many speeding cars and exploding gun shots. “She was fearless — very sexy but very empowered,” McG says. “Reese can handle anything.”
Looking back at her own personal struggles, some would call that an understatement.
“It’s no secret I had a lot of romantic problems,” she says. “I thought if I worked hard enough at my [first] marriage it would be what I wanted it to be. But you can’t make the wrong thing right just by hard work. And there was a lot of love there. It just wasn’t the right timing; we were young, not ready.”
Life today is another story. Toth, whom she met at a party, works for CAA, the same agency that represents Witherspoon. “We don’t work on anything together,” she says. “But it’s good that he has a respect for actors and understands what they do.”
As for the kids, she says, “Their lives are filled with people who love them,” adding, “Ryan and I have a really good relationship going.” (Phillipe had a third child, a daughter, in July by an ex-girlfriend.)
In the next year, Ava will turn 13, though Witherspoon says, “I don’t feel old enough to have a teenager.”
Still, the actress clearly is relishing life as a thirtysomething mom in her second marriage.
“Getting older as a woman is a wonderful thing,” she says.
“You know what you’re good at. You have a certain confidence. I feel like I’m coming into focus. I’m getting to a place where I know myself pretty well. But I’m still a work in progress.”
She may have a hard time choosing between two guys in This Means War, but Witherspoon has no trouble making real-life decisions. The actress ranks her personal must-haves:
In her purse: “My iPhone. It takes the best pictures. I love the Old Camera app.”
In her refrigerator: “Coconut creamer for my coffee and Justin’s Maple Almond Butter for snacks.”
In her makeup bag: “Glazewear lip gloss by Avon.” (She serves as Avon global ambassador, traveling the world to raise millions for breast cancer research and domestic-violence awareness.)
At her bedside: “A good book. Right now it’s State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.”
On her iPad: “I always have the Pinterest app open. I’m obsessed. I could spend hours just looking at all the boards people put together.”
On her iPod: “I love Sonia Leigh’s new album. It’s got a great Southern rock sound. Lana Del Rey has the most interesting new sound I have heard in a while.”
In her closet: “I’ve never met a striped sweater or J. Crew ballerina flat I didn’t love.”