“Just Like Heaven” Interviews: Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo

For us, it was Just Like Heaven to hang with Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, the stars of the otherworldly romantic comedy. In the film, Witherspoon is poised to fade away at any moment (literally), while Ruffalo is occasionally a man possessed (literally). But as you’ll see that both actors are quite the opposite-she’s a powerful, confident, centered presence; he’s as laid-back and loose as they come-when you check out Hollywood.com’s haunting chats with the stars.

Reese Witherspoon

What are your thoughts on the afterlife?
Witherspoon: “Well that’s sort of an interesting question, I hadn’t really thought about it until yesterday, when I started getting lots of questions about it [laughs]. But I do believe that there is a certain part of your spirit or your self that carries on. I mean, I had grandparents that I was really, really close to, and I’ve had moments where I was–like when I was having my children, I was in the hospital, I felt like my grandparents were with me. I saw them in the room, and it’s sort of a comforting thing, not a spooky thing. It’s an interesting theory too, because we are energy, and where does it all go? It must go somewhere.”

What drew you to this particular character?
Witherspoon: “I like to grow with my roles, and I like to think that I’m playing a little bit older, a little more mature women, and sort of time goes on, and I think this opportunity to play sort of the every woman character, is really a great thing, when you have a film with an idea or a message that really speaks to a lot of people. It makes more sense to not play sort of an out-there extreme character.”

Do you share some of her compulsions, like her obsession with preventing sweat rings on furniture?
Witherspoon: “Mm hmm. Okay, the sweat rings on the coffee table thing is very valid. Because I have a nice table or two in my house, and you know, it’s just something about a coaster that people just can’t grasp. I really feel that, legitimately! I’ll put my coaster under it, I just don’t want the sweat ring! And inevitably every time I come back in town after I’ve been out of town and Ryan stayed at home, there’s a ring on the table. I’m trying to learn to let it go. [laughs]

How did you enjoy working with Mark Ruffalo?
Witherspoon: “Any time that you’re doing a film that requires, well, comedy, it has to have somebody who understands character, and I was really excited to work with him, because it makes things so much funnier, when it’s not trying to be funny, but it’s just finding the heart of a character, and you’re getting into the emotion of your character, and I knew he was a very versatile actor. I was actually just really thrilled by how funny he was, to come on the set and be laughing every day, constantly. Yeah, he’s funny, he’s funny. He reminds me a lot of myself, it’s funny, because I said to him at the end of it: ‘More than any other actor I’ve ever worked with, you remind me of myself.’ I think we made a nice balance… They called me two weeks after I signed on to do the film and said Mark Ruffalo’s our top choice, and Mark Waters really liked him and wanted him, and was I okay with that? And I said, ‘Yes, please! That’s a great idea.’ And I was just thrilled–there were some moments in that movie that could just go the wrong way if someone didn’t have some genuine emotion and some real talent. And I think he did a great job.”

And you got to work with Napoleon Dynamite himself.
Witherspoon:Jon Heder is incredibly funny, and a great comic talent that has a role in this that I think is gonna widen out his audience a little bit. And it was exciting to work with him too, because he’s really the real deal. I thought he was gonna come in with the puffy curly hair and the glasses and the dorky suit and the whole thing, and he’s just a really nice regular guy, and he’s very funny and witty.”

Did the film’s message, about living your life well while you can, appeal to you?
Witherspoon: “Well it was a big part of me taking the project. I liked that this one had a really great sort of idea at its heart, of nurturing yourself, and how important that is–to nurture your spirit, not just work your whole life away, and take care of other people, but it’s important to spend some time taking care of yourself, and if you don’t, what happens, and does your spirit leave you, and I like that. She had a wonderful life opportunity, of being able to have a second chance. I like when a film has a reason to watch it over again. It’s either a surprise or twist, or something that’s a little deeper than just a sort of surface laugh. Yeah, I mean, I had this life too, where I have to jump on my hamster wheel and I can’t get off [laughs]. Or a speeding train–I have no idea where I’m going. So it’s nice sometimes to just hit the brakes and step back. But I think a lot of people have this experience. A lot of people can relate to just working and working and trying to accomplish things and not concentrating on the things that are important.”

What are the things that are important in your life?
Witherspoon: “The most important thing in my life are my children, and my marriage, so once I take care of those things in my life, then everything sort of radiates out of that. Everything becomes more easy to deal with, as long as they’re safe and happy and healthy and feeling good. And I feel like I’m free to sort of accomplish whatever I want to. But it really requires sometimes just taking some time off and slowing down and just sitting on the floor and hanging out with the kids.”

How do you and your husband Ryan Philippe chose to raise your children?
Witherspoon: “Ryan grew up in Delaware, and I grew up in Tennessee, so we don’t have a lot of tolerance for children that want their way and that sort of thing. I don’t know, we just kind of raise them with the values that our families raised us with. We won’t give them credit cards and fancy clothes. In fact we discuss how hard it’s gonna be for our children to see us living such a nice life, and still have to live in an apartment and drive a crappy car. [laughs] It’s gonna be a real bummer.”

Is there any kind of role you won’t do, something you wouldn’t want your kids to see you in?
Witherspoon: “I wouldn’t want my kids to see my in anything! Every time my face comes on TV, I turn it off because I don’t want them having that–I don’t know, I think that would be really strange, to see their mother in a movie. [laughs] I can’t imagine seeing Betty Witherspoon in a film. That’s my mother. I think I’d freak out! But I don’t know, I can’t say there was anything I wouldn’t do, because I don’t really know what I wouldn’t do. I just try to do stuff that I feel like is indicative of how I see people, and what I really experience.”

Next up for you is ‘Walk the Line,’ where you play Johnny Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash. What did you take away from that role, aside from some of that great 70s wardrobe?
Witherspoon: “Oh, I wasn’t allowed to have any of it, darn it! But yeah, June Carter was an interesting opportunity I didn’t really foresee. When [director] Jim Mangold was writing the script about Johnny Cash and he called me and he said would you like to play June Carter, I said, ‘With all due respects, honey, isn’t she like 70 or something? [laughs] I don’t really think I’m ready!’ And he said ‘No, no, no–I’m gonna do like a film about their life when they were young and on tour together,’ I’d grown up in Nashville, so I knew exactly who the Carter family was, but I didn’t have any sort of knowledge or recollection of them at that time period. But I did a lot of research, and five months of singing lessons, and autoharp lessons, and recording studios and meeting with musicians, and recording albums, and it was definitely a very long journey, it was like the longest rehearsal period I’ve ever had on a film, but it was definitely worth it. I think the film’s really beautiful and very moving.”

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Mark Ruffalo

Romantic comedy–is this a genre you feel comfortable working in?
Mark Ruffalo: “No, it’s not my favorite genre, but I wanted to do it. I was hearing around town that I couldn’t do it: ‘Mark Ruffalo can’t do comedy, Mark Ruffalo can’t do a romantic lead.’ And so I was like ‘Those are fighting words, my friend, and so I did a couple little things. This was it though. I’m ready to go back.”

Why did you choose to make this particular comedy?
Ruffalo: “I liked the story of it, the themes of it. And as we worked on it, I felt it was kind of like the anti-romantic comedy a little bit. Everything’s played really real; everything’s shot dark, you open up with a character who’s deeply depressed, and slightly marginalized. He’s not your classic leading man in a romantic comedy. Then we get into the love story which I feel is handled really honestly; I think it’s actually funny and romantic, unlike a lot of romantic comedies. It actually delivers on what it promises to do.”

Do you believe in the afterlife?
Ruffalo: “I do not believe. I don’t dwell too much on it or have a solid knowledge about it.”

How was it working with Reese? Did you guys go over the script before shooting?
Ruffalo: “It took a while. It’s a style. [My character] believes he is seeing this thing, it’s as real as you sitting in front of me. It’s pretty much the same as I would work with anyone. The problem is when you’re in a group of people and you’re doing that, how do you not make the rest of the group think that you’re not totally out of your mind? And so that was a big problem for me – how to make that stuff work.”

Was there a difference of your shooting style compared to Reese’s?
Ruffalo: “I never noticed anything; I probably have a more tortured way of working and so I appreciate the ease that Reese comes along with.”

Was it difficult to make that transition to when she was there and when she wasn’t?
Ruffalo: “Yeah, I shot the movie twice. At first, they had a ping pong ball or a tennis ball hanging for where my eye line would be, and then after a while I could do it just from hanging out with her; I can do it right now. And so naturally, I just fell into the rhythm.”

You got to try some pretty wild physical comedy when Reese’s character possesses yours–was it easy to cut loose like that?
Ruffalo: “I worked with a clown from Cirque Du Soleil, and we did a lot of clown exercises, body isolation, and to figure out how to use it correctly. I’d like to do more physical comedy.”

What are you working on next?
Ruffalo: “I’m doing Zodiac with David Fincher. There’s a movie I want to make and direct: it’s about a guy in a wheelchair who’s a son of a bitch, a paraplegic, a selfish guy, played by a real paraplegic. It’s hard to get a movie like that made; no one wants to see a son of a bitch in a wheelchair. And it’s hard to raise money for a movie like that, and there’s not a lot of actors like that. It’s a guy I grew up with–a guy in my school had a awful climbing accident and he lost the use of his legs. He wrote this beautiful script, so he’s going to play the title character. We’re plugging along; it’ll get made in the next couple of years, I expect that. If [Just Like Heaven] does well, I can get it made.”

If you could jump into anyone’s body and control them, who would it be?
Ruffalo: “George Bush.”

Just Like Heaven opens in theaters Sept. 16.

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