As one of the most impressively talented members of the emerging New Hollywood of the early 21st century, Reese Witherspoon has proven that she can do far more than just pose winsomely for the camera. Born March 22, 1976, in Nashville, TN, Witherspoon was a child model and acted in television commercials from the age of seven. She had a part in the 1991 Lifetime cable movie Wildflower before making her 1991 film debut in the coming-of-age story The Man in the Moon (1991). The 14-year-old Witherspoon made an immediate impact on critics and audiences alike, netting widespread praise for her portrayal of a tomboy experiencing love for the first time.
While still in high school, Witherspoon completed two more feature films, Jack the Bear (1993), starring Danny De Vito, and Disney's A Far Off Place (1993), which required the actress to spend several months living in the Kalahari Desert. Following a supporting role in the 1993 CBS miniseries Return to Lonesome Dove and a lead in the critically disembowelled S.F.W., Witherspoon temporarily set aside her career to study English literature at Stanford University. She then returned to film as the abused girlfriend of a psychotic Mark Wahlberg in the thriller Fear (1996). In the same year, she had to deal with yet another crazed male in Freeway, a satirical version of Little Red Riding Hood in which Witherspoon co-starred with Kiefer Sutherland, who took on the role of the aforementioned crazed male.
Her career began to take off in 1998, with her roles in two high-profile films. The first, Twilight, saw her sharing the screen with Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon, and Paul Newman. The film received mixed reviews and lackluster box office, but Pleasantville, her other project that year, proved to be both a critical and financial hit. The actress won wide recognition for her leading role as Tobey Maguire's oversexed sister, and this recognition -- along with critical respect -- increased the following year with another leading role, in Alexander Payne's acclaimed satire Election. Starring opposite Matthew Broderick, Witherspoon won raves for her hilarious, high-strung portrayal of student council presidential candidate Tracy Flick. The character stood in stark contrast to the one Witherspoon subsequently portrayed in Cruel Intentions, Roger Kumble's delightfully trashy all-teen update of Dangerous Liaisons. As the virginal Annette, Witherspoon was convincing as the object of Ryan Phillippe's reluctant affection, perhaps due in part to her real-life relationship with the actor, whom she married in June 1999.
After turning up in an amusing minor role as serial killer Patrick Bateman's burnt-out yuppie girlfriend in American Psycho (2000), Witherspoon again pleased critics and audiences alike with her decidedly Clueless-esque role in 2001's Legally Blonde. Her star turn as a seemingly dimwitted sorority blonde-turned-Harvard law-school prodigy unexpectedly shot the featherweight comedy to number one, despite such heavy summer contenders as Steven Spielberg's A.I. and the ominously cast heist thriller The Score. The 18-million-dollar film went on to gross nearly 100 million dollars, proving that Witherspoon had finally arrived as a box-office draw.
Though she would test out her chops in the Oscar Wilde adaptation The Importance of Being Earnest, Witherspoon's proper follow-up to Legally Blonde came in the form of 2002's Sweet Home Alabama, a culture-clash romantic comedy as embraced by audiences as it was rejected by critics. As with Drew Barrymore before her, Witherspoon used her newfound standing among the Hollywood elite to start her own production company, Type A Films, as well as to up her asking price to the rarefied 15-million-dollar range for the sequel to Legally Blonde. Though Blonde 2 didn't perform quite as well as the first film, the power player/doting mother of two wasted no time in prepping other projects for the screen, including an adaptation of Vanity Fair, a Johnny Cash biopic, and a proposed remake of Otto Preminger's 1965 psychological thriller, Bunny Lake Is Missing.~ Rebecca Flint, All Movie Guide
While growing up in Nashville, a hot spot especially known for its country-music talent, Reese was exposed to the entertainment industry at a very early age. Her career in the spotlight began at 7 years of age when she was introduced to the world of modeling. This exposure eventually enabled her to break onto the small screen by appearing in several television commercials.
fly us to the moon
After winning a ten-state talent search, Reese began to receive recognition for her acting and modeling abilities. At the age of fourteen, she landed her first lead acting role in Robert Mulligan's The Man in the Moon. This role in particular kick-started Reese's film career, and soon after, she found herself starring in two more made-for-TV movies: 1991's Wildflower and Desperate Choices: To Save My Child one year later.
Upon completion of high school, Reese began receiving offers to appear in higher caliber films, including Jack the Bear (alongside Hollywood heavyweights Danny DeVito and Gary Sinise) and Disney's A Far Off Place, both of which were released in 1993. The following year, Reese decided to put her acting career on hold for a little while, and enrolled in Stanford University to major in English Literature.
This decision to pursue her studies was curbed shortly thereafter, when she accepted to star in two more big-screen productions -- both of which were slated for 1996 release dates. First came Fear, in which she portrayed a frightened teenager terrorized by her psychotic boyfriend (Mark Wahlberg, in one of his earlier roles). In the second film, Freeway, she was cast alongside Kiefer Sutherland, in yet another dramatic role as a victimized teenager. Both roles pushed Reese well beyond her prior acting experiences and ultimately opened new doors for her as a rising starlet in Hollywood.
The following years found Reese starring in more prestigious film projects. In 1998, she appeared opposite legendary screen icons Paul Newman, Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon in Robert Benton's Twilight and later that year she starred in Pleasantville along with fellow up-and-comer Tobey Maguire.
1999 was a big year for Reese in more ways than one. Her career was elevated to an even higher level by starring in two more box-office hits, Cruel Intentions (with Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Election (Reese wowed critics with her dark comedic performance in the latter). While filming Cruel Intentions, Reese and co-star Ryan Phillippe became involved in a serious off-screen romance, which eventually led to their engagement in March of 1999. The pair married on June 5, 1999, in South Carolina and announced shortly thereafter that they were expecting their first child in the coming months.
After a brief break from the acting scene, Reese returned in February of 2000 with a guest spot on the hit NBC sitcom, Friends. She starred in a few episodes as the younger sister of Rachel (played by Jennifer Aniston). Later on that year, she reappeared on the big screen in two more films, American Psycho and Little Nicky. She had relatively small roles in both films, however, in 2001, she once again found herself starring as the leading lady in Legally Blonde.
Reese is currently keeping herself extremely busy by juggling marriage, motherhood and her career. Next up on her acting agenda will be the lead role in the big-screen reprisal of stylish 1960s small-screen detective, Honey West. In addition to this, she is slated to produce (a first in her career) and star in Slow Motion, a story about a college girl who finds herself in a heated affair with her roommate's father.