Reese Witherspoon's Biography
Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon was born March 22, 1976. Reese, as she is known, is an American actress and film producer who has established herself as one of the highest-paid Hollywood actresses in recent years.
Reese landed her first feature role as the female lead in the movie The Man in the Moon in 1991; later that year she made her television acting debut, in the cable movie Wildflower.
In 1996, Reese's performance in Freeway established her as a rising star and led to roles in three major 1998 movies: Overnight Delivery, Pleasantville, and Twilight.
The following year, Reese appeared in the critically acclaimed Election, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
2001 marked her career's turning point with the breakout role as Elle Woods in the box office hit Legally Blonde, and in 2002 she starred in Sweet Home Alabama, which became her biggest commercial film success to date. 2003 saw her return as lead actress and executive producer of Legally Blonde 2.
In 2005, Reese received worldwide attention and praise for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, which earned her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress.
Reese married actor and Cruel Intentions co-star Ryan Phillippe in 1999; they have two children, Ava and Deacon.
The couple separated at the end of 2006 and divorced in October 2007.
Reese Witherspoon owns a production company named Type A Films that is widely speculated to be related to her Type A personality which she has acknowledged.
Reese is actively involved in children's and women's advocacy organizations. She serves on the board of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), and was named Global Ambassador of Avon Products in 2007, serving as honorary chairman of the charitable Avon Foundation.
Reese was born at the former Southern Baptist Hospital (now the Ochsner Baptist Medical Center) in New Orleans, Louisiana, into a middle-class family. Her father, John Witherspoon, is a Georgia-born otolaryngologist who previously served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army reserves. Her mother, Betty (née Reese), is from Harriman, Tennessee, has a Ph.D. in pediatric nursing and works as a professor of nursing at Vanderbilt University.
Reese Witherspoon is a descendant of Scottish-born John Witherspoon, the sixth president of Princeton University and a signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence. Because Reese's father worked for the U.S. military in Wiesbaden, Germany, she lived there for four years as a small child. After returning to the U.S., she settled and spent her childhood in Nashville, Tennessee, where she was raised in the Episcopalian religion.
Reese was selected as a model for a florist's television advertisements at age seven, which motivated her to take acting lessons. At age eleven she took first place in the Ten-State Talent Fair.
Reese Witherspoon received good grades in school; she loved reading and considered herself "a big dork who read loads of books." On mentioning her love for books, she said, "I get crazy in a bookstore. It makes my heart beat hard because I want to buy everything."
Reese Witherspoon graduated from the private all-girls' Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee, where she was a cheerleader. She attended Stanford University as an English literature major. After completing one year of studies, she left Stanford to pursue an acting career.
Reese Witherspoon is proud of the "definitive Southern upbringing" she received, which, as she said, gave her "a sense of family and tradition" and taught her about "being conscientious about people's feelings, being polite, being responsible and never taking for granted what you have in your life."
Reese Witherspoon is described as a "multi-achiever" and was given the nickname "Little Type A" by her parents. On discussing her early achievements, she told Interview magazine, "I just don't see any of it as that remarkable. Maybe that's the attitude I choose to have to keep me sane and keep my feet on the ground. I grew up in an environment where women accomplished a lot. And if they weren't able to, it was because they were limited by society."
In 1990, Witherspoon attended an open casting call for The Man in the Moon with some friends, intending to audition as a bit player. She was instead cast in the lead role of Dani Trant, a 14-year-old country girl who falls in love for the first time with her 17-year-old neighbor. Her performance was regarded as "memorably touching" by Variety magazine, and critic Roger Ebert commented, "Her first kiss is one of the most perfect little scenes I've ever seen in a movie."
Later that year, she made her TV acting debut in the cable movie Wildflower, directed by Diane Keaton and starring Patricia Arquette.
In 1992, Witherspoon appeared in the TV movie Desperate Choices: To Save My Child, portraying a critically ill young girl. In 1993, she played a young wife in the CBS mini series Return to Lonesome Dove, and got a starring role as the leading character Nonnie Parker, a South African girl who must cross 1250 miles (2000 kilometres) of the Kalahari, in the teen-aimed Disney film A Far Off Place.In the same year, Reese had a minor role in Jack the Bear, which garnered her the Young Artist Award for Best Youth Actress Co-star.
The following year, Reese acted in another leading role as Wendy Pfister in the 1994 film S.F.W., directed by Jefery Levy.
In 1996, Witherspoon was offered parts in two major movies. She appeared in the thriller Fear alongside Mark Wahlberg and Alyssa Milano, playing the role of Nicole Walker, a teenage girl with a handsome boyfriend who turns out to be a violent psychopath. She was also the leading actress in the thriller and black comedy Freeway, starring alongside Kiefer Sutherland and Brooke Shields. Her character, Vanessa Lutz, is a poor girl living in Los Angeles, who, on the way to her grandmother's home in Stockton, encounters a freeway serial killer. The film received positive reviews from the press. Among them was the San Francisco Chronicle, with Mick LaSalle commenting, "Witherspoon, who does a shrill Texas accent, is dazzling, utterly believable in one extreme situation after the other."
Reese's performance won her the Best Actress Award at the Cognac Police Film Festival, and firmly established her as a rising star. The making of the movie also gave Reese significant acting experience; as she said, "Once I overcame the hurdle of that movie – which scared me to death – I felt like I could try anything."
Following completion of Freeway in 1997, Reese took a break from acting in major movies for a year, and began dating actor Ryan Phillippe. She returned to the screen in 1998 with major roles in three movies, Overnight Delivery, Pleasantville and Twilight. In Pleasantville, Witherspoon starred alongside Tobey Maguire in a tale about a pair of 1990s teenage siblings who are magically transported into the setting of a 1950s television series. She portrayed the sister Jennifer, who is mainly concerned about appearances, relationships, and popularity. Witherspoon's performance received good reviews and garnered her the Young Hollywood Award for Best Female Breakthrough Performance. Director Gary Ross said he firmly believed Witherspoon was going to be an outstanding movie star.
In 1999, Reese starred alongside Alessandro Nivola in the drama thriller Best Laid Plans; she played Lissa, a woman who schemes with her lover Nick to escape a small, dead-end town. In this same year, she co-starred with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe in the drama film Cruel Intentions, a modern take on the 18th-century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
Her performance as Annette Hargrove was praised by the San Francisco Chronicle: "Witherspoon is especially good in the least flashy role, and even when called upon to make a series of cute devilish faces, she pulls it off." In the same year, Reese had the leading role in the critically acclaimed Election, a movie adaptation of the 1998 novel Election by Tom Perrotta.
She portrayed the high school over-achiever Tracy Flick, a competitive and ambitious young woman who runs for student body president. The film received good reviews and Witherspoon's performance earned her the Best Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics, a first Golden Globe nomination and an Independent Spirit Award nomination. Witherspoon also received a rank on the list of 100 Greatest Film Performances of All Time by Premiere.
Academy Award - winning director Alexander Payne praised her: "She's got that quality that men find attractive, while women would like to be her friend. But that's just the foundation. Nobody else is as funny or brings such charm to things. She can do anything." In spite of her successful performance, Reese noted in an interview that she struggled to find work after completing the film, due to typecasting. When analyzing the reasons behind her difficulty to find work, Reese commented "I think because the character I played was so extreme and sort of shrewish – people thought that was who I was, rather than me going in and creating a part. I would audition for things, and I'd always be the second choice – studios never wanted to hire me, and I wasn't losing the parts to big box office actresses but to ones who I guess people felt differently about."
In 2000, Reese received a supporting role in American Psycho and made a cameo appearance in Little Nicky. She also appeared as a guest star in season six of Friends, playing the role of Jill Green, Rachel Green's sister.
The next year, Reese provided the voice of Serena in the animated film The Trumpet of the Swan, produced by Crest Animation Productions.
2001 marked a significant turning point in Reese Witherspoon's career, when she starred in the feature film Legally Blonde. She portrayed Elle Woods, a fashion merchandising major who decides to become a law student in order to follow her ex-boyfriend to Harvard University.
Speaking about Woods' character, Reese said "When I read Legally Blonde, I was like, 'She's from Beverly Hills, she's rich, she's in a sorority. She has a great boyfriend. Oh yeah, she gets dumped. Who cares? I still hate her.' So we had to make sure she was the kind of person you just can't hate."
Legally Blonde was a box office hit, grossing US$96 million worldwide. Reese Witherspoon's performance earned her praise from critics, as the press began referring to her as "the new Meg Ryan". Roger Ebert commented, "Witherspoon effortlessly animated this material with sunshine and quick wit", and Salon.com noted that "she [Witherspoon] delineates Elle's character beautifully". Meanwhile, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer concluded, "Witherspoon is a talented comedian who can perk up a scene just by marching in full of pep and drive and she powers this modest little comedy almost single-handedly."
For her work, Reese Witherspoon garnered her second Golden Globe Best Actress nomination and an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance.
Following the success of Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon starred in several roles. In 2002, Witherspoon provided the voice of the animated character Greta Wolfcastle in The Simpsons episode The Bart Wants What It Wants.
In the same year, she portrayed Cecily in the comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, a movie adaptation of a play by Oscar Wilde; she received a Teen Choice Award nomination for her performance.
Her next feature film in 2002 was Sweet Home Alabama, a movie directed by Andy Tennant. Witherspoon played Melanie Carmichael, a young fashion designer who intends to marry a New York politician but must return to Alabama to divorce her childhood sweetheart, from whom she has been separated for seven years. Witherspoon regarded this as a "personal role" in that the role reminded her of experiences she had when she moved from her hometown Nashville to Los Angeles.
The movie became Witherspoon's biggest box office hit to date, earning over $35 million in the opening weekend and grossing over $127 million internationally. Despite the commercial success, Sweet Home Alabama was given negative reviews by critics. It was called "a romantic comedy so rote, dull and predictable" by The Miami Herald, and the press widely agreed that Witherspoon was the only factor that helped the movie attract a large audience.
When describing Witherspoon's role in the movie, The Christian Science Monitor concluded, "She is not the movie's main attraction, she is its only attraction."
In 2003, Reese Witherspoon followed up the success of Legally Blonde by starring in the sequel Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde. Her character, Elle Woods, has become a Harvard-educated lawyer who is determined to protect animals from cosmetics-industry science tests.
The sequel was not as financially successful as the first movie, and it generated mostly critical reviews. USA Today considered the movie "plodding, unfunny and almost cringe-worthy", it also noted, "Reese Witherspoon still does a fine job portraying the fair-haired lovable brainiac, but her top-notch comic timing is wasted on the humorless dialogue."
Meanwhile, Salon.com concluded that the sequel "calcifies everything that was enjoyable about the first movie". Despite being panned by critics, the sequel took over $39 million in its first five days in the U.S. box office charts and went on to gross $90 million internationally. Witherspoon received a $15 million paycheck for the role, making her one of Hollywood's highest paid actresses from 2002 onwards.
In 2004, Witherspoon starred in Vanity Fair, adapted from the 19th-century classic novel Vanity Fair and directed by Mira Nair. Witherspoon's character – Becky Sharp – is a woman whose impoverished childhood turns her into an ambitious person with a ruthless determination to find fortune and establish herself a position in society. Witherspoon was pregnant during the filmmaking and thus was carefully costumed to conceal her pregnancy.
This pregnancy was not a hindrance to her work, as Witherspoon believed the gestation had in fact helped her portrayal of Sharp's character: "I love the luminosity that pregnancy brings, I love the fleshiness, I love the ample bosom—it gave me much more to play with", she said. The film and Witherspoon's portrayal of Sharp received good reviews, as The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Nair's cast is splendid. Witherspoon does justice to the juicy role by giving the part more buoyancy than naughtiness." At the same time, The Charlotte Observer called her work "an excellent performance that's soft around the edges" and the Los Angeles Times concluded that Becky is "a part Reese Witherspoon was born to play".
In late 2004, Witherspoon began working alongside Mark Ruffalo on the romantic comedy Just Like Heaven. Her character, Elizabeth Masterson, is an ambitious young doctor left in a coma by a serious car accident; her spirit returns to her old apartment where she later finds true love.
Earlier that year Witherspoon was chosen to portray June Carter Cash, the second wife of country music singer and songwriter Johnny Cash, in Walk the Line. She never had the chance to meet Carter Cash, as Witherspoon was filming Vanity Fair at the time Carter Cash died.
Reese performed her own vocals in the movie, and her songs had to be performed in front of a live audience. When she learned that she had to perform live, Witherspoon was so worried that she asked her lawyer to terminate the film contract. "That was the most challenging part of the role," she later recalled in an interview, "I'd never sung professionally." Subsequently, she had to spend six months learning how to sing for the role. Witherspoon's portrayal of Carter Cash was well received by critics, and Roger Ebert wrote that her performance added "boundless energy" to the movie. She won several awards for her performance, including the Golden Globe Award, the Screen Actor's Guild, the BAFTA and the Academy Award for Best actress in a lead role. Witherspoon expressed her passion for the movie: "I really like in this film that it is realistic and portrays sort of a real marriage, a real relationship where there are forbidden thoughts and fallibility. And it is about compassion in the long haul, not just the short easy solutions to problems."
She also spoke about June Carter Cash, stating that she believed Carter Cash was a woman ahead of her time: "I think the really remarkable thing about her character is that she did all of these things that we sort of see as normal things in the 1950s when it wasn't really acceptable for a woman to be married and divorced twice and have two different children by two different husbands and travel around in a car full of very famous musicians all by herself. She didn't try to comply to social convention, so I think that makes her a very modern woman."
Witherspoon's first post-Oscar role came in the modern-day fairy tale Penelope, co-starring Christina Ricci. Witherspoon played the supporting role of Annie, the best friend of Penelope, a girl who has a curse in her family. The film was produced by Witherspoon's company Type A Films and premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. The final release date of Penelope was delayed twice, and the movie was then set for a February 2008 release.
Witherspoon was back in front of the camera again in November 2006, as shooting began for the political thriller Rendition. She starred alongside Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, Peter Sarsgaard, and Jake Gyllenhaal, playing Isabella El-Ibrahim, the pregnant wife of a bombing suspect. Rendition was released in October 2007 and marked Witherspoon's first appearance in theaters in two years, since the 2005 release of Walk the Line. The movie received mostly negative reviews, and was generally considered a disappointment at the Toronto Film Festival. Witherspoon's performance was also criticized: "Reese Witherspoon is surprisingly lifeless", USA Today wrote, "She customarily injects energy and spirit into her parts, but here, her performance feels tamped down."
In December 2007, Witherspoon began filming the holiday comedy Four Christmases, a story about a couple who have to spend their Christmas Day trying to visit all four of their divorced parents, and in which she stars alongside Vince Vaughn. The film is scheduled to be released in November, 2008.
Later in 2008, Witherspoon is set to star in a Universal Pictures remake of the 1939 comedy Midnight, scripted by Michael Arndt. In 2009, Witherspoon will take on the horror genre for the first time as a star of Our Family Troubles, which she will produce under the Type A banner, partnering with Jennifer Simpson, co-producer of Legally Blonde 2.
She will also provide the voice for Susan Murphy, the main character of the computer-animated 3-D feature film Monsters vs. Aliens, which is scheduled for a March 27, 2009 release from DreamWorks Animation. Her future projects also include voicing in The Bear and the Bow, a computer-animated 3-D film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures; the film is scheduled for a release in Christmas 2011.
Witherspoon owns a production company called Type A Films. The company was at first believed by the media to have been named after her childhood nickname "Little Miss Type A." However, when asked about the company by Interview magazine, she clarified the name's origin: "... people think I named it after myself ... It was actually an in-joke with my family because at [age] 7 I understood complicated medical terms, such as the difference between type A and type B personalities.
But I just wished I'd named the company Dogfood Films or Fork or something. You carry that baggage all your life."
Witherspoon is a long-time supporter of Save the Children, an organization that helps children around the world through education, health care, and emergency aid. She also serves on the board of the Children's Defense Fund, a child advocacy and research group.
In 2006, Witherspoon was among a group of actresses who went to New Orleans, Louisiana in a CDF project to bring to light the needs of Hurricane Katrina victims. In this trip, she helped open the city's first Freedom School, as she met and talked with the children. Witherspoon later called this an experience that she would never forget.
In 2007, Witherspoon made her first move into the world of endorsements, as she signed a multi-year agreement to serve as the first Global Ambassador of cosmetic company Avon Products.
She acts as a spokeswoman for Avon's cosmetic products, and serves as the honorary chair of the Avon Foundation, a charitable organization that supports women and focuses on breast cancer research and the prevention of domestic violence. Witherspoon is also committed to participating in cosmetics product development and appearing in commercial advertisements.
Explaining her motives for joining the foundation, she said, "As a woman and a mother I care deeply about the well being of other women and children throughout the world and through the years, I have always looked for opportunities to make a difference."
Following the successful release of Legally Blonde, Witherspoon hosted Saturday Night Live on September 29, 2001. In 2005, she was ranked No. 5 in Teen People magazine's list of most powerful young Hollywood actors.
In 2006, Witherspoon was listed among the Time 100, a compilation of the 100 most influential people in the world, as selected annually by Time magazine.
Her featured article was written by friend and fellow co-star in the two Legally Blonde films, Luke Wilson. In the same year, she was also selected as one of the "100 Sexiest Women In The World" by the readers of For Him Magazine.
Witherspoon has appeared on the annual Celebrity 100 list by Forbes magazine in 2006 and 2007, at No. 75 and No. 80, respectively. Forbes also put her on the top ten Trustworthy Celebrities list, according to the characters she had played on the screen.
In 2006, Star fabricated a story saying Witherspoon was pregnant with her third child, which led to Witherspoon suing the magazine's parent company American Media Inc in Los Angeles Superior Court for privacy violation.
She sought unspecified general and punitive damages in the lawsuit, asserting that the claim harmed her reputation because it suggested she was hiding the news from producers of her upcoming films.
Witherspoon has been featured four times in the annual "100 Most Beautiful" issues of People magazine.
In 2007, she was selected by People and the entertainment news program Access Hollywood as one of the best dressed female stars of the year. That same year, Witherspoon established herself as the highest-paid actress in the American film industry, earning $15 to $20 million per film, according to the survey by the film-trade paper The Hollywood Reporter.
In early 2008, a study conducted by E-Poll Market Research showed that Witherspoon was the most likable female celebrity of 2007. In April 2008, Witherspoon appeared as a guest star at the 2008 charitable campaign Idol Gives Back.
Witherspoon met American actor Ryan Phillippe at her 21st birthday party in March 1997, where she introduced herself to him saying "I think you're my birthday present."
The couple became engaged in December 1998,and got married in Charleston, South Carolina on June 5, 1999 at Wide Awake Plantation, following the release of the box office hit Cruel Intentions.
They have two children: a daughter named Ava Elizabeth, born September 9, 1999, and a son Deacon Reese, born October 23, 2003. To be able to look after the children, the couple alternated shooting schedules for their films.
By 2005, in response to news reports of Witherspoon and Phillippe receiving marriage counseling, Witherspoon stated, "We've done that in the past, and it's always struck me as odd that people grabbed onto that story and made it sound so negative."
In December 2005, she said on The Oprah Winfrey Show, "In what capacity is working on yourself or your marriage a bad thing? What marriage isn't a journey? ... Nobody's perfect ... We all have our own set of problems."That same month, Witherspoon also said in an interview, "I think if anybody rests on the idea that they are perfect or their life is perfect or their relationship is perfect and is so troubled about destroying the facade as opposed to getting to what's real, that is troublesome."
In October 2006, Witherspoon and Phillippe announced that they decided to formally separate after seven years of marriage. The following month, Witherspoon filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. In her petition she sought joint legal custody of their two children and sole physical custody, with full visitation rights for Phillippe.
The couple had no prenuptial agreement and the couple would be entitled to half of all assets gained during the marriage under California law, with Witherspoon's being the more significant.
Witherspoon requested that the court grant no spousal support for Phillippe, which he did not contest. On May 15, 2007, Phillippe filed for joint physical custody of the couple's children, and made no motion to block Witherspoon from seeking support from him. In September 2007, Witherspoon spoke openly about the separation for the first time when she told Elle magazine that it was "a difficult and frightening experience" for her.
Witherspoon and Phillippe's final divorce documents were granted by the Los Angeles Superior Court on October 5, 2007, ending their marriage.
Throughout 2007, there was persistent speculation in the mass media about a romantic relationship between Witherspoon and her Rendition co-star Jake Gyllenhaal. The pair denied the rumors while promoting Rendition in the fall of 2007.
After the finalization of Reese's divorce in October 2007, Gyllenhaal and Witherspoon became more open with their relationship, particularly due to the release of paparazzi pictures that showed the couple vacationing together in Rome.
The couple has since been regularly photographed together by paparazzi. Although Witherspoon has yet to confirm the relationship herself, Phillippe has confirmed that Witherspoon and Gyllenhaal are dating in several interviews.
Althouth Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese dated and came out in public as a couple, the relationship eventually ended. The couple was reported to have split in December 2009.
In early February 2010, it was reported that Witherspoon had begun dating Jim Toth. At the time, Toth was a talent agent working for the Creative Artists Agency, which represents Witherspoon; in September 2010, he was promoted to become one of the agency’s two heads of motion picture talent.
Witherspoon and Toth announced their engagement on December 28, 2010, and married on March 26, 2011, in Ojai, California at Libbey Ranch, Witherspoon's country estate.
Although Reese has been less active in her acting career in 2012 her new film, This Means War, was released. The film is a departure from her Romantic Comedy Roles from the past. She co-stars with Chris Pine, Tom Hardy and Chelsea Handler.
Reese is famous for her array of hair fringes which range from classic blunt to side-swept. She is also known for wearing her hair in an array of blonde hues from buttery blonde to white blonde.