Reese Witherspoon is an Academy Award-winning American actress best known for her roles in the Legally Blonde movies as well as her role as June Carter Cash in the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line.
Witherspoon was born in New Orleans, Louisiana to John Witherspoon, a Georgia-born lieutenant colonel in the US Army reserves and later an ear-nose-throat specialist, and Betty Reese, a nurse and college professor from Harriman, Tennessee.
Witherspoon is a direct descendant of Scotland-born John Witherspoon, who was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence, a sixth president of Princeton University, and a Presbyterian minister.
Witherspoon was raised in the Episcopalian religion.
Because her father worked for the US military in Wiesbaden, Germany, she lived there for four years as a small child.
After returning to the United States, Witherspoon, an army brat, spent much of her childhood and adolescence in Nashville, Tennessee, where, she says in Interview magazine, "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. I grew up with a grandma - my father's mother - who was incredibly intelligent but was limited by the bounds of society and propriety... She was a voracious reader, and she encouraged me to read a lot as a child ..." a woman whose "depression" and "disconnect between her capabilities and her lack of fulfillment and achievement" continue to motivate Witherspoon in life.
After graduating from the prestigious private all-girls' Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, she attended Stanford University as a literature major. She lived in Cedro Hall and once treated her entire dorm to dinner at a Mexican restaurant.
After completing a year of her studies, she left Stanford to pursue her acting career.
Early career (1991-2000)
Witherspoon began her career in local bikini shoots. Her first role was in a 1991 made-for-TV movie called Girls on the Beach, directed by Diane Keaton and starring Beau Bridges, William McNamara, and Patricia Arquette.
That same year, at age 15, Witherspoon attended an open casting call for The Man in the Moon, intending to audition as a bit player. She was instead cast in the lead role, immediately capturing the attention of critics.
She has since built up an impressive filmography, playing both comedic and dramatic roles. Following the success of The Man in the Moon, Witherspoon acted in many both lead and supporting roles.
In 1993, Witherspoon had a minor role in Jack the Bear. That same year, she portrayed the leading character "Nonnie Parker" in the Disney/Amblin film A Far Off Place.
The following year, Witherspoon acted in another leading role as "Wendy Pfister" in the 1994 film S.F.W..
In 1996, Witherspoon starred alongside Kiefer Sutherland and Brooke Shields as Vanessa Lutz in the notable thriller Freeway. Consequently, Witherspoon won Best Actress at the Cognac Festival du Film Policier.
1998 was a successful year for Witherspoon as she made three films: Twilight, Overnight Delivery, and Pleasantville.
In the thriller Twilight, Witherspoon played "Mel Ames," simultaneously making her first and only nude appearance. Meanwhile, her role as "Jennifer" in Pleasantville garnered her the Young Hollywood Award for the "Best Female Breakthrough Performance."
In 1999, Witherspoon's career continued as she starred as "Lissa" in the drama thriller Best Laid Plans.
Meanwhile, she also portrayed "Annette Hargrove" in Cruel Intentions, where she acted alongside her future husband Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Also in 1999, Witherspoon portrayed Tracy Flick in Election. Although the film received good reviews, Witherspoon noted in an interview that she struggled to find work after completing the film.
When analyzing the reasons behind her difficulty to find work, Witherspoon 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, Witherspoon received a supporting role in American Psycho. In addition, she made a cameo appearance as "Angel Holly" in Little Nicky. Witherspoon also played Jill Greene, Rachel Greene's sister, in season six of Friends.
After struggling to find work for a period of time, in 2001 Witherspoon starred as "Elle Woods", a fashion design major who decided to become a law student to follow her ex-boyfriend to Harvard, in the film Legally Blonde, resulting in her breakthrough as a leading actress.
The box-office hit helped Witherspoon achieve fame.
Meanwhile, critical reviews were generally positive, with Roger Ebert commenting that "Witherspoon effortlessly animated this material with sunshine and quick wit".
As a result, Witherspoon garnered her first Golden Globe Best Actress nomination for her role.
Following the success of Legally Blonde, Witherspoon starred in a number of different roles. In 2002, she was the voice of the animated character Greta Wolfcastle in The Simpsons episode The Bart Wants What It Wants. Additionally, Witherspoon portrayed "Cecily" in the comedy The Importance of Being Earnest.
Witherspoon received a Teen Choice Award nomination as a result of her role. The same year, she starred as "Melanie Smooter/Carmichael" in Sweet Home Alabama.
In 2003, Witherspoon followed up the success of Legally Blonde by starring in its sequel Legally Blonde 2, in which her character became an environmental lawyer. Reportedly, Witherspoon received a $15-million paycheck for the sequel, making her one of Hollywood's top-paid actresses.
Witherspoon also starred as Becky Sharp in the 2004 film Vanity Fair, an adaptation of the classic novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. In early 2005, Witherspoon acted as "Elizabeth Masterson" in the romantic comedy Just Like Heaven.
Critical success (2005-present)
In 2005, Witherspoon garnered much critical praise and awards for her turn as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. Carter Cash, who died in 2003, had personally approved of Witherspoon to play her in the 2005 biopic.
However, Witherspoon never had the chance to meet Carter Cash, as Witherspoon was filming Vanity Fair when Carter Cash died.
For this role, Witherspoon won several critical awards across the globe, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, NYFCC, the FFCC, the SFFCC Award for Best Actress, the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) for best actress in a lead role, the British Academy's BAFTA for best actress in a lead role, the "Favorite Leading Lady" at the 32nd Annual People's Choice Awards, and the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Recently, Witherspoon has been featured as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. Her article was written by friend and fellow costar in the Legally Blonde movies, Luke Wilson.
Witherspoon also runs a production company, Type A Productions. Some believe the company is named after her childhood nickname "Little Miss Type A," but she clarified the misconception in Interview: "People think I named it after myself ... But it just isn't who I am at all. It was actually an in-joke with my family because at 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 has commented on her motivation to act. "Sometimes I think it's about acknowledgment. I always felt like people didn't understand me what I was capable of or what I could accomplish. I was driven to make people understand that I was capable of more ... But for me part of the experience of acting is that it is really moving - it's almost meditative, going into a different character. You lose all self-consciousness and self-awareness for that brief moment. It's really magical. Of course, it can also be drudgery if you can't connect with the material or director."
She is also the highest paid actress, getting paid $29,000,000 for a new horror film called Our Family Trouble. She beat Julia Roberts, former highest paid actress at $25,000,000.
Witherspoon met actor Ryan Phillippe at her 21st birthday party in March 1997, where, as she says, "I don't know what came over me - maybe the seven Midori sours - but I told him, 'I think you're my birthday present.' He thought it was so flattering, and now that I think about it...how embarrassing!"
The pair got engaged in December 1998. Soon after, the couple starred together in the box office hit Cruel Intentions. They were married on a plantation in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 5, 1999.
They have two children: daughter Ava Elizabeth, born September 9, 1999, and son Deacon Reese, born October 23, 2003. Witherspoon is known as a very hands-on mother, and she and Phillippe claim to have never employed a full-time nanny.
In September 2005, Witherspoon and her children were celebrating daughter Ava's sixth birthday at Disney's California Adventure theme park when they were approached by paparazzi photographer Todd Wallace.
After Witherspoon declined to pose for photos at close range, police say Wallace became enraged and pushed a child out of the way, while hitting another with his camera, in his efforts to photograph the actress.
Wallace also allegedly shoved two theme park employees when they attempted to restrain him, and cursed at Witherspoon, causing several children to cry. As a result of the altercation, Wallace was arrested and faced misdemeanor charges.
However, before the case went to trial, Wallace was found dead on 5 February 2006 in his apartment in Brentwood. Police are investigating the cause of death, including the possibility he committed suicide so he would not face charges.
On June 21, 2006 Witherspoon sued the tabloid Star for running a "fictional" story on a third pregnancy that claims she is hiding the news from producers of her upcoming films.
On October 30, 2006, Witherspoon and Phillippe announced that they had decided to formally separate after seven years of marriage.
On November 8, 2006, Witherspoon filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. In her petition she sought joint legal custody of their two children and sole physical custody, with visitation for Phillippe.
In March 2007, Witherspoon was linked to Rendition co-star Jake Gyllenhaal.