Reese on Earth : Witherspoon Is a Fine, Grounded Actress. Good Thing. at 23, She's about to Juggle a Career, a Beau and a Baby

By Giles, Jeff; Gordon, Devin et al. | Newsweek, April 26, 1999 | Go to article overview

Reese on Earth : Witherspoon Is a Fine, Grounded Actress. Good Thing. at 23, She's about to Juggle a Career, a Beau and a Baby


Giles, Jeff, Gordon, Devin, Chang, Yahlin, Newsweek


She is visibly pregnant and her back hurts and she's hungry. Though her hair is up in a bun, a blond lock has sprung loose and keeps swinging in front of her eyes, like a broken windshield wiper. Reese Witherspoon, 23, is in the kitchen of her little green house in Beverly Hills, cooking a chicken pot pie. She's perfectly gracious--she was raised in the South, after all, amid white gloves and debutante balls. But she's also feisty and plain-spoken. You know when you've asked a stupid question, just as you know when you've asked one that's painful to answer. A month ago, while promoting the snarky and fun "Cruel Intentions," Witherspoon and her costar Ryan Phillippe, 24, announced that they were having a baby in the fall--and getting married sometime before then. It was a tricky situation to discuss with David Letterman, but it must have been even harder to explain to Witherspoon's conservative Southern grandmother. How did she break the news? "I said, 'Grandma, I have good news! I'm getting married!' And she's like, 'Great!' Then I said, 'Oh, I have more good news--I'm having a baby!' " Witherspoon pauses. "I love my grandma. It was a little hard for her at first, and that breaks my heart."

Witherspoon will be on hiatus for most of 1999, but her fans will not go hungry. This month, in the black comedy "Election," the actress delivers a great performance as high-schooler Tracy Flick. Flick is cute, perky-- and if she doesn't get elected president of the student body, somebody's really gonna pay (review). Witherspoon has never achieved, nor courted, Gwyneth-size celebrity. Still, she's done terrific character work like this for 10 years now, and built a loyal and proud little following. Witherspoon has been a ferocious white-trash bad girl ("Freeway"). A sex- hungry teen who ticks like a time bomb in '50s suburbia ("Pleasantville"). And a surprisingly self-possessed prep-school virgin ("Cruel Intentions"). Witherspoon's performances call Edward Norton to mind, of all people: lots of intellect and intuition, no discernible ego. In person, as on screen, the actress does not stand on ceremony. "Reese calls me on my bulls--t more than anybody I've ever met in my life," "Cruel Intentions" director Roger Kumble says fondly. "She's always like, 'You're lying, Kumble.' I get scared sometimes."

At home, Witherspoon and Phillippe seem quite different from each other, though obviously smitten. She beams when he walks into a room, and her smile fades the minute he walks out, like a light on a dimmer switch. Today Witherspoon stands in the kitchen discussing her favorite novel, Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair." Phillippe is sprawled on the couch in the living room, cracking up over a new CD called "Gravelands," on which an Elvis impersonator covers songs by various dead people. (When Nirvana's "Come as You Are" starts up, Phillippe laughs: "I love the way he goes mem-oreeees-ahhh. It's just the way Elvis would sing it.") While Witherspoon seems edgy and focused, Phillippe seems goofier, gentler. …

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