BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., June 30, 2001 — Reese Witherspoon‘s roles have ranged from a messed-up Red Riding Hood in Freeway to a virginal victim in Cruel Intentions to a sunny overachiever in Election. She continues the unpredictable trend by taking the lead in Legally Blonde, a comedy about a sorority girl who’s dumped by her Harvard Law School-bound boyfriend because her “blondeness” conflicts with his more serious political aspirations. Undaunted, she finds a way to get into Harvard Law herself, and overcomes the “dumb blonde” stereotype in the process.
Witherspoon‘s off-screen roles have been equally, if not more, fascinating. Raised in Tennessee by doctor parents, the 25-year-old Witherspoon dreamed of being an actress and made her film debut in 1991’s coming-of-age film The Man in the Moon. On her 21st birthday, she met the man who would forever alter her life in the fairy-tale sense: teen hunk Ryan Phillippe. Two years later, they were man and wife and the parents of Ava Elizabeth Phillippe.
Here’s a look inside the roles of Reese Witherspoon.
Reese the Coed
No dumb blonde herself, Witherspoon studied English Literature at Stanford University for a year before leaving to take a role in Pleasantville. “I was a pretty good student,” Witherspoon says. “[But] I was always busy on some sort of tangent and thinking about other things, not what was at hand, so I was kind of a last-minute kind of person. But I loved writing papers…researching and being in the library…I loved that stuff.” For her role in Legally Blonde, Witherspoon attended classes at the University of Southern California Law School and hung out with the sorority girls.
Reese the Debutante
A true Southern belle, Witherspoon was introduced to high society with a coming-out ball, white gown and all. “It’s a bizarre subculture,” she observes. “I can’t even really tell you what it’s about, but I do think it’s really similar to the sorority culture. In hindsight, it isn’t really indicative of who I really am and it isn’t really representative of me, but you do a lot of things in high school that you don’t really understand why you’re doing them. But I’m so fascinated by it. I think I might go back and make a documentary about it.”
Reese the Daughter
“I wanted to be an actor when I was 7 years old, and my parents thought it was a very strange choice for a little girl in Tennessee. But they were always really cool about it, and if it was something I wanted to do, they would drive me to the lessons,” Witherspoon says. “I always really appreciated that because you don’t ever feel like your dreams are stupid. I had a man on a plane once turn to me and he was talking about his kid and how he didn’t want to take her to ice skating lessons–he said they’re too expensive. He was sitting in first class and was like, ‘I can’t pay for my kid’s ice skating lessons.’ I said, ‘You know, I’m so glad I didn’t have a parent like you.’ My [parents] are, like, the most proud people…and they’ve always reveled in my success because they were very open-minded.”
Reese the Mother
“The biggest surprise about motherhood is that your children are nothing like you in particular. They might adopt certain aspects of your personality or say things similar to you, but they are individuals. They completely surprise you every day,” she says, reporting that little Ava has a combination of her parents’ looks but bears a striking resemblance to Witherspoon‘s mother. “Your whole life is put into perspective, and what’s real important to you. Certainly for me, it’s my child and her well-being and her development and growth. It’s such a joy every day to wake up and be with her. She’s an angel.”
Reese the Woman
Witherspoon got the Legally Blonde role soon after she gave birth, so MGM hired a personal trainer to help her lose the 42 pounds she gained. The rigorous workouts have now inspired the actress to make a film about athletes. As for motherhood fashion, she says: “You basically just wear the same old dirty jeans and T-shirt all the time…there’s peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich smeared down the front of you at any moment. Washable. That’s the best kind of clothes to have.” She did, however, manage to keep the 60 outfits her character wears in the film, if only to keep them from being sold on the Internet. “It really bothers me. Imagine some sicko in Wisconsin smelling the seams…it creeps me out,” she explains. “It’s all in the closet. One day my daughter can play with it.”
Legally Blonde opens July 13.