WOMAN OF ACTION: Reese Witherspoon talks about how all is fair and balanced in life, love and ‘This Means War’
Living in the glare of the media can be a blinding reality for some, but not for Reese Witherspoon. As she enters her second decade as a major film star, the Southern-born American beauty has evolved into the quintessential modern woman on her own terms and with her identity intact. Now the Oscar winner’s incredibly diverse life is inspiring some bold choices on screen: she’s tackling her first ever action film. Done in the classic Reese-style, Witherspoon portrays her character Lauren, also a thoroughly modern gal, who finds herself at the center of a romantic battle spawned by two incredibly handsome CIA agents – Chris Pine & Tom Hardy – in This Means War.
As one of the most bankable stars in the film industry today, it’s a bit of a surprise that the fearless Witherspoon has never taken on the challenge of a huge action film. Then again, her career was built on solid choices from quirky comedies (Election), to award-winning romantic dramas (Walk the Line) and popcorn crowd pleasers (Legally Blonde). When she made the decision to take on the action genre, it made sense that the project would harness all those qualities into one film.
“It’s so fun,” Witherspoon said with a beaming smile. “I got to hang off the side of a building with just a cable and stunt driving and I got to shoot a flamethrower!”
Sitting down for a chat the actress, was impeccably dressed in a simple black frock, blonde bangs framing her delicate features, Witherspoon’s enthusiasm was quite contagious. Much of her genuinely ebullient nature is on display in This Means War, but with a twist. Romantic comedies are second nature to her, but the highlight of this film is watching her in delightfully awkward moments trying to choose between Pine and Hardy. Given the hunkiness of her co-stars, Witherspoon was equally hard pressed to choose her preference off-screen, too
“They’re both infinitely appealing in different ways,” Witherspoon said with great sincerity. “Tom’s English, covered in tattoos and is very strong, shrewd and very aware of the room. Chris carries himself beautifully and is always witty and smart. They really are each other’s foil. I think it’s a great fantasy for women to have two men fighting over you.”
As for the timing of the project, perhaps she waited to until she was properly buffed up. Credit the demands of her off-screen life to help her build some muscle tone. She is one of the few media moms who are repeatedly praised for being a role model of balance and authenticity.
“Name a woman who isn’t juggling a million things at one time?” Witherspoon said. “I’m just like everybody else, just a working mom. I’m lucky that I get periods of time where I have breaks and then I have periods of time where I’m very busy.”
Busy, indeed. Just look at the events of her last year. Despite starring and promoting two blockbuster films worldwide, she also sandwiched in marrying agent Jim Toth (literally picking up interview rounds on Water for Elephants less than a week after the wedding). If that wasn’t enough, she has continued her duties as the face of the Avon beauty line. And, since timing is everything in a busy life, Witherspoon recently announced she was expecting her third child. Maybe having to deal with the dual affections of battling hunks could only be a piece of cake.
QUESTION: We should have seen this coming. Reese Witherspoon, action star! It was cool to see you in this kind of film. Is that really you behind the wheel during that final car chase?
REESE WITHERSPOON: [LAUGHS] I have a tendency lately to be doing a lot of stunt work. I did all my stunt work on Water for Elephants, too. It was a big stunt year. Now I’m taking a break because I’m a little bit accident-prone. [SMILES] But it was great. I had so much fun on this movie working with (director) McG who is always fun and funny. He’s very open to actors’ suggestions and ad-libbing, so we had a lot of fun in that direction. Also, I was really interested in the storyline between Chelsea Handler’s character and myself. We’re very good friends. I just loved the idea that we explore the men’s relationship with each other, but these two women take care of each other and support each other and give each other advice. We save ourselves. I think that’s sort of a unique part of this movie.
QUESTION: A lot of the fun in This Means Way is seeing you as that object of affection at the centre of a battle between two men.
WITHERSPOON: It’s a great fantasy for women to have two men fighting over you. I don’t know a better way to say it. I just think the idea that women are in control and able to choose over so many different aspects of their lives is a relatively new concept in femininity. We are the babies of the equal rights movement, so we are feeling the benefits of having the freedom of choice in many different areas. With everything that women experience, from having babies by themselves, having big careers, running companies and studios, I think women’s options are different now and in regards to who they choose to be their partners.
QUESTION: Yet, we have yet to conquer the mysteries of successful dating and relationships. Why does that continue to engage us an audience to watch on screen?
WITHERSPOON: People have infinite hope for love and I think that’s great. It’s part of the human spirit. It’s what wakes you up in the morning. It’s what keeps you going. There’s always that possibility that something great is going to come into your life. I always believe that you never love in vain. Any kind of relationship or friendship you have in your life is meant to be there for a reason and just contributes to who you are as a soul. I think that’s part of it. We feel hopeful. I think there’s a real hopefulness in the movie, too.
QUESTION: The film does have a challenging moral issue in this age of confused conservatism, though. Is a “sexual tiebreaker” ever really a good idea in choosing between two men?
WITHERSPOON: [LAUGHS] The genesis of her online dating is about having her heart broken. She’s terribly betrayed by her last boyfriend and feels completely shattered which I think pretty much everybody on God’s green earth can relate to, I’ve come to understand. She’s very tentative about any kind of relationship. She’s terrified to leave the house for fear of having her heart broken again; I think it does take a certain amount of courage on her part. When we were trying to figure out what we were going to do about whether she was going sleep with these guys or not sleep with these guys, it was very difficult. Out there, it’s a totally new world. I got married when I was 22 the first time and I’m married again. I don’t have an extensive knowledge of dating or relationships, so I was asking my single fiends. I was talking to other people who were working on the movie and I think we came up with a nice sort of balance of what is too much in a new relationship. You get to see her sort of tortured by it, too, which is great. She’s crazy about both these guys, she doesn’t know if she should sleep with them, all that kind of stuff.
QUESTION: Are you like Lauren, a woman who can make a commanding decision?
WITHERSPOON: One of the really interesting things we built into this character was that she was this woman who always makes the right decision. She works at a consumer reports type job and she is always evaluating products and things. I thought it’d be really funny for the comedy to have the most decisive women in the world feel completely crippled by this decision, so it was really just a great opportunity. I’m a very decisive person when it comes down to it. If I’m given the opportunity to really ruminate about things, I will go round and round and round, but if somebody says to me make a choice, I can do it really fast.
QUESTION: We should only have the kind of dates you enjoy with Chris Pine and Tom Hardy on screen. Have you ever had a really memorable date?
WITHERSPOON: I’ve had great dates in my life. I’ve been really lucky. I had one incredible birthday where somebody did a treasure hunt for me. I had to go all over the city. It was really special.
QUESTION: After reaching such a career high with winning an Oscar for Walk the Line, are you more concerned about the perception of your career choices? Is there another genre you still want to see on screen?
WITHERSPOON: I think it comes less from creating some sort of legacy, really. It’s just things I connect to. I think more in my life now; I’ve been connecting to where I’m from, my culture and my heritage. I’m almost having that moment of wanting to go home a little bit and tell more stories from a Southern perspective. There’s so much heartbreak and so much joy in that environment. I loved The Help. I thought that was such an inspiring film and that gets to my heart because it’s really where I’m from, that area. I look forward to doing more films like that.
QUESTION: Perception is everything in Hollywood, particularly when a star reaches a particular level of success. Do you worry about whether certain career risks will pay off at the box office?
WITHERSPOON: It’s difficult because I think the media focuses a lot on box office. I think what really matters is whether or not the film is good. If people want to see great films, it doesn’t matter in what capacity they see it. Whether they see it on DVD or in the theaters, movies have long, long lives. I have noticed that just from years of being in movies and traveling throughout the world, movies really touch peoples’ hearts. It’s so important for me to have dignity in storytelling. I love what I do. I have the greatest time. I get to create characters, I get to play real life people and honor their memory. It’s just a real honor and a joy.
QUESTION: The beauty of playing against expectations is how such roles can reveal something surprising about the actor. What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?
WITHERSPOON: Sometimes people assume they know who I am or what I’m capable of. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve been able to make comedies. I’ve been able to make dramas. I’m in a really great place. Every opportunity, every movie that you make is another opportunity to make new friends and have new experiences. I’ve never been really put in any kind of box, which is nice.
QUESTION: Now that you have action heroine in your repertoire, do you find nurturing a successful career or home life as being the bigger challenge?
WITHERSPOON: My children are sort of acclimated to it now, but yeah, do I wish there was another me? Yes! Do I wish just to take care of all the day-to-day stuff? All the things that slip through the cracks, all those teacher gifts you wish you had bought, all those personal letters you wish you had written, that is like sitting in your mind? Yeah. But, I’m on the good side of the struggle, so I’m happy. It’s nice to have a full life and to watch my kids growing up and thriving. It’s a wonderful thing.
“This Means War” is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.