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Reese Witherspoon has long been America’s sweetheart. Since she stole hearts in her 1991 debut The Man in the Moon, she’s often been cast as the good girl. From Legally Blonde to Sweet Home Alabama, Witherspoon has been expected to be likable at every turn. Even in her Academy Award-winning peformance as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, she played the moral compass to the wild and erratic lead Johnny Cash. (Alexander Payne’s Election is likely the one exception, and the conniving character only works because her charm offensive is so totally convincing.)
So it’s no wonder that Witherspoon has chafed under the likability clause she entered into this business with. And it therefore makes complete sense that when she relaunched her production company Pacific Standard with the intent to make films about complicated, real women, that she would keep her debut Wild out of the studio’s hands.
“I knew I took it the traditional route, they’d be like, ‘She’s not very likable, and she does drugs. We don’t want to see Reese do drugs,'” Witherspoon said during the Entertainment Weekly Beyond Beautiful roundtable with Kerry Washington, Eva Longoria, and Elizabeth Banks. “I hear that all the time. As I was coming up in my career: ‘We don’t want to see Reese curse. She’s likable, so she would never have sex with a married man.’ In the course of storytelling, it always cuts your character down to nothing.”
Witherspoon’s efforts in Wild scored her a best actress nomination at last year’s Oscars, but the film — one of the best reviewed movies of 2014 — did not wind up on the list of best picture candidates.
“It was really interesting how well received it was and how well it did. It was one of the highest reviewed movies of the year last year not in Oscar consideration at all for best picture,” Witherspoon said. “At the time I was like, ‘Okay, it’s one of the best reviewed films of the year, but it’s not one of the top 10.’ It’s hard. I looked and was like, ‘Are any of the top-10 movies starring women?’ None. This year we have two, which is better but not great.” (Room and Brooklyn are best picture nominees starring women in lead roles, while Mad Max: Fury Road gives Charlize Theron’s Furiosa a co-lead spot next to Tom Hardy’s title character.)
Despite the challenges, Witherspoon said she’s “excited” about speaking out about these subjects. “It’s not about the amount of women we need in movies, it’s about the depth of character,” she said. “We have real lives that have nothing to do with our romantic entanglements or dilemmas.”
Take a look at Witherspoon opening up during our Beyond Beautiful roundtable about the constraints that have been put on her as she came up in Hollywood and her efforts to shake off the shakles to become a better actress fighting for better roles.
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