It’s a beautiful sunny day in early February, and we are meeting at the Blue Plate Oysterette, a hip little seafood joint not far from the Santa Monica Pier. Witherspoon, still at the curb, stares at the outside tables for a moment and then looks back at the photographers in the street still snapping away. She glances at the hostess, then at me, and finally says, with an ironic exclamation point, “How about inside!”
One of the things about being a polite Southern girl saddled with a cumbersome fame is that you are in constant negotiation with your surroundings. You know, more often than not, that your presence will tilt the delicate balance of the workaday world in your direction. And one thing that every good Southern girl knows is: Don’t make a scene. But that is exactly what happens everywhere Witherspoon goes. Indeed, just moments ago, people on this oceanside block were going about their noonday business: lunch, errands, sightseeing. And then—bam!—chaos.
As we take our seats, she shakes her head in weary bemusement and says, “Every dog has her fleas.” (Witherspoon’s essential Southernness frequently comes through in her language.) She takes a deep breath. “I wasn’t planning on drinking,” she says, “but now I am.”
On the media frenzy: “Yeah. It usually heats up during, like, pregnancies or babies or marriage. It’s the drama of real life... It’s interesting to people. Readers want to know! I was talking to an actress the other day who is pregnant right now, and she was like, ‘What is it? What’s the deal?’ She said, ‘Oh, maybe once I have the baby no one will pay any attention,’ and I was like, ‘Bwah-ha-ha-ha! Oh, yeah. They will leave you alone after you have the baby. Suuure. That’s exactly how it works.’”
But then, perhaps not wanting to sound ungracious, she puts a different spin on it. “I get hugged a lot,” she says. “Which is fun. Mostly it’s all good, positive energy that comes to me. I like people. And at the end of the day, we’re all just people, you know? We’re all just going through it. Nobody’s life experience is all that much different than anyone else’s. We’ve all had our share of heartbreak. It’s the universal language of life.”
On her husband, Jim Toth: “He’s wonderful. He’s just a really great guy, and I feel really lucky. It’s so cute: Over the holidays I was at a department store in L.A. with my friends, and these three women from Oklahoma came up to me, and they said” —she lays on a thick Southern drawl— “‘Reese. We are so happy for yeeew. We liiike this guy for yeeew.’ And I said, ‘You do?!’ ‘Yes, ma’am. We think he is a niiice man. We think he is going to treat you well and be good to yeeew.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ So sweet! And I told them my mother likes him very much, too.”
On Water for Elephants: "About three months before the movie started, I went to circus school, doing trapeze and acrobatics with Cirque du Soleil performers. A lot of it is flexibility and learning to bend your body backward. I had been a gymnast when I was little, so getting that flexibility back was really fun. She [Tai, the elephant] could crush you with her jaw, but she knows the exact right amount of pressure with which to pick you up but not hurt you. It’s really incredible. I trust her more than any other animal I have ever been around. [...] I spent six months of my life last year with an elephant. Every day! Are you kidding me? And in leotards with sparkles all over them. I mean, come on! That’s like a little girl’s fantasy.”
Co-star Robert Pattinson, on Reese: He tells a story about shooting a scene in which one of the horses is lying down in a train car with Witherspoon curled up on the ground next to it when suddenly the horse jumped to its feet and stepped on her leg. “I could see in Reese’s face that it must have hurt more than anything, and she played it off like it was absolutely nothing. And then the next day she had this enormous bruise. It could have quite easily broken her leg, but she didn’t mention it to anybody. She is just incredibly brave that way.
In terms of public perception, she’s thought of as America’s Sweetheart. And she kind of is in a lot of ways. But I think that she’s a lot bawdier than that, a lot more raucous. It did actually shock me to see that. She’s tough. You wouldn’t want to get into an argument with her at all.” He laughs. “You can always tell that she will be incredibly nice to anyone who’s not an idiot, but it’s always very clear that there’s a line you really shouldn’t cross.” (When I tell Witherspoon that Pattinson said this, her response is classic Reese: “Oh, yeah. I’m a little junkyard dog.”)
On her life and career: "You know, it can be a crazy life. Sometimes you feel like you are on a speeding train and you just don’t know where it’s going. You can start to lose your identity and what it is that you are really working for. I don’t wake up to make movies. I wake up to have a wonderful family and to cultivate the best life for all of us, and it’s great to now have a partner in that. We have a lot of family meetings. ‘Mom’s going to be away and coming home on the weekends. How does everybody feel about that?’ It’s always military operations around here. Lots of different moving parts. I have my moments when I feel like I’m just going to collapse and I can’t do it anymore and I’m failing at everything. Like, you’re kind of good at a bunch of stuff but not really good at anything.”
On getting older: "I think 35 for a woman is a big thing. I remember when I was a little girl looking up at my mother at 35 doing her hair in the mirror, and I thought, my mother has never been more beautiful. She had years of wisdom you can’t erase. And now I feel the same way when I look in the mirror. You can’t pretend you are an ingenue. You can’t pretend you are wide-eyed and innocent. It’s on your face! It’s in your body. It’s in your voice. It’s in your reactions to things when people say, ‘I just did the most morally corrupt thing I’ve done in my life’ and you literally don’t blink.” She laughs. “You’ve either done it yourself or you know someone who has.”
On daughter, Ava, 11: “There’s a shift in your womanhood. That’s the little girl, and I am the woman. There’s a big difference. She’s on the precipice of having her love affairs and her life. Ava is curious and artistic and very smart. She really surprises me. I know it’s corny, but being a parent to me is such a great privilege; that I get to chaperon these beautiful little souls through life. They astound me with their knowledge and their humor. Parenthood is not at all what I expected it to be. I thought you make little people in your image. But they are just nothing like me or their father [her ex-husband, Ryan Phillippe]. They are their own individuals.”
The worst thing about being Reese Witherspoon: [after pausing for a very long time] “I mean, I feel like an ingrate for even thinking anything isn’t good. I’m very, very, very lucky. But . . . umm . . . probably that I parted with my privacy a long time ago. We went different ways. And sometimes I mourn it. Sometimes I will sit in the car and cry. Because I can’t get out. That’s the only thing: I mourn the loss of my privacy.”
On her circle of friends: “I have to say, I have been through a few life experiences that have just made me feel really good about my friends because the truth never came out about certain things. And that made me feel like I have confidantes in them. I mean, look: I don’t have that many friends. I have a few really amazing friends whom I consider family. But it means a lot to me that I have that, because so much of my life belongs to other people. Everyone always laughs about it and goes, ‘Boy, they got that wrong!’ It makes me feel like, Wow, maybe there’s something that’s still my own.” I just think you never think you are ever going to get to any level where it’s [fame] going to happen to you. I mean, that would be extreme hubris.”
On her upcoming Peggy Lee project: “When Nora and I began talking about Peggy Lee, it was really exciting because Nora has this unbridled enthusiasm for that era and that music. She knows every lyric to every song. So yeah, I am excited to revisit that.“ ... "I am not going to cut an album. I’m not going to suddenly have a pop record on the charts.” She laughs. “But if I was going to do it, it would be country, because I like country music a lot.”
Nora Ephron [of the Peggy Lee project] on Reese: “She’s a really smart, really charming, dear, dear person. Everyone loves her. And lovely on the set, and she basically kills herself. I mean, you know, she took softball lessons for a year!” She laughs. “And she went through that divorce in a kind of . . . you would call it a textbook way, if anyone had written a textbook about how to do it. I have never seen anybody handle a breakup as brilliantly as she did. She didn’t pretend to the people who knew her that it was anything but difficult and painful, but she was completely private. She made herself the winner of a situation that had been very difficult without suddenly appearing with a completely new look or dating someone wildly inappropriate in order to prove that she was fine. She lived her life in some dignified way, and it worked! I am just an enormous admirer of the way she handled that experience.
Just for fun, just to make myself feel really bad, I watched Walk the Line again, and it’s such an amazing movie. And she is so brilliant in it. She just disappeared inside that character without losing her Reese-iness, which we love. But she is June Carter Cash forevermore. It’s an astonishing performance. So that’s one of the things that I’m excited about; she is going to do the same thing with Peggy Lee. What I really believe about her is that her great gift is for character acting. She can really transform herself. That performance in Election is just spectacular.”
Reese on politics: “Well, I don’t really get into that stuff. Everybody has their own choice, their political opinions. I don’t think it’s my place when talking to Vogue about movies that I’m making to use that opportunity to promote my political ideas. Not my cup of tea. It’s sort of private. I was raised Southern, you know? It wasn’t like you were told to talk about religion and politics at a dinner party. And don’t get me wrong: I definitely have a lot of opinions. I am not opinion-free. But there’s a time and a place for everything. But maybe I will change my mind! Look, if I wanted to run for office, I would. If I want to espouse my political opinions, I will run for office.” She laughs. “And that’s a possibility!”
The interview is quite long, but a lot of the cuter quirks/tidbits can be found in the full interview at the source.