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September 2005
Just Like Heaven: An Interview with Reese Witherspoon

Just Like Heaven : An Interview with Reese Witherspoon

By Wilson Morales

Reese Witherspoon is currently America's darling. She's taken over Meg Ryan's place as the actress who can deliver in romantic and comedy films having done well with films such as Legally Blonde and its sequel, Legally Blonde 2, as well as Sweet Home Alabama with Josh Lucas. In her latest film, Just Like Heaven, Witherspoon plays Elizabeth Masterson, a doctor whose ghostly spirit strike a friendship with the guy (Mark Ruffalo) who rents her apartment while she lies in a coma after a car accident, not knowing if her relatives want her to live or die. At a recent press conference to promote the film, Witherspoon talks about her role in the film, having an out-of-body experience, and playing June Carter Cash in her next film, "Walk The Line".

Because you're a role model, do you choose strong female roles specifically? Do you feel pressure to come up with another hit like Legally Blonde?

Reese Witherspoon: Yes. I feel the pressure, my managers feel the pressure, my agent, they feel the pressure. Yeah, I definitely think as soon as I became a mother, I felt the responsibility of being a role model. That's just the nature of becoming a mother. As soon as they come out, you realize "Oh no, this person's going to look up to me. Better clean up my act." So I take it very seriously, it's a big responsibility and I think that definitely carries over into the film choices.

How specifically with this movie?

RW: Well, with this film, obviously I read a lot of romantic comedy scripts. But for me, this one just had a really nice spiritual message about how important it is to nurture yourself. I think women are natural caretakers. They take care of everybody. They take care of their husbands and their kids and their dogs, and don't spend a lot of time just getting back and taking time out. So I like that quality and I like that sort of Wonderful Life quality where she gets to see her life for what it was and go back and have another opportunity.

Are lost and second chances things you can relate to?

RW: Yeah, definitely. I think the second chance element was what really interested me about it and the idea of what happens when you don't nurture your spirit. Could it leave you? Could it move on to something else? I thought that was a really interesting idea. It's fun to do a comedy and hook people in and then hoodwink them into watching a serious movie. I like to lead in with the comedy and then hit them over the head with a drama.

Ever had an out of body experience?

RW: I've definitely had my share. I feel like I read a lot of books at the start of this movie about ghosts and people being haunted. I was really close to my grandparents and one time I was in New York doing a play reading and it was an empty audience. It was in the middle of the play and I looked up and there was my grandfather sitting in the audience and he'd just passed. I looked back and he was gone, but I really felt like from then on he was with me. I've sensed him and I've sensed my grandmother, so I think it's a sort of comforting thing to think that people are with you, they don't really pass on, they just guide you through life. That's my perspective anyway.

Did you like that it wasn't a typical romantic comedy?

RW: Yeah, I loved the beginning where we got to fight like cats and dogs. That to me was great. We had so much fun doing that. At least I did. I don't know if he enjoyed it as much as I did. I love having that antagonistic relationship in the beginning and being equally as strong as each other and bull headed. That kind of reminded me of a Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn type movie. The dialogue was fun.

How well could you relate to the character's drive to succeed?

RW: I definitely could relate to Elizabeth's work ethic. I think she spends a lot of time at the hospital and I certainly had moments in my life where it felt like I was working all the live long day and what on earth was I doing? But that's why it's important to take breaks and get some perspective, sit on the rug with the dog and the kids and just not do anything, which is what I've been doing for the past three months and finally getting used to it a little bit. It took me three months to calm down.

Do you believe things are meant to be?

RW: Yeah, I like that element of it. I like that it's sort of a surprise that they were meant to be together. I certainly have that in my life. I feel very lucky to be with my husband. He's really my best friend and we just continue to get along. Sometimes I don't know how but we do. And I definitely believe we were meant to be together.

Talk about your approach to nuance in this film?

RW: That's a really interesting perspective too because romantic comedy and comedy has really evolved since that time where there used to be a lot of social convention, all sorts of reasons people couldn't be together. Now there's nothing but a few cosmos between two people being together. It's hard to create a comedy that creates that tension where they really want to be together but they can't, so I really thought it was an interesting sort of fresh idea and a very modern take on romance. And I think it really helps that I had somebody like Mark Ruffalo to play opposite because he's such an amazing, versatile actor. He really brings the reality of the character and in that way, it's just that much more believable.

How do you balance motherhood and movie career?

RW: Very carefully. I just try to take care of the kids first. I try to sort out their lives and their school and make sure everything's good with their lives. If the kids are happy, the parents are happy. So once I have all that kind of sorted, it's much easier to get on with my life and that kind of thing. My daughter's starting school this year, she starts Kindergarten, so I took a little time off just to be there for her. I'm sure she'll be fine and I won't. I'll be crying and she'll be like, 'Get out of here.' So yeah, it's important to take breaks.

Is she going to school in the fall?

RW: Yeah, she starts in September.

Would you want to pair with Ruffalo again?

RW: Oh, I would love to. I think we had a really good time in the movie. We have a very similar sensibility. We're both very family oriented. We take our work very seriously. I really like the idea that Mark appeals to so many people because he just is who he is. He's not posturing or trying to look pretty or have great hair. He's just a real man and he's funny. There's a lot of actors nowadays, American actors that don't think funny is cool, so it's nice to see someone of his caliber doing comedy. I think he's going to really excel when people see this film.

What are the most common flaws in romantic comedy scripts?

RW: You know, through my experience of working with Type A films, my production company, I find over and over again just the writing. It's so much about having talent in writing dialogue, sounding like things are really coming out of people's mouths. I mean, really, it's so much about the quality of the writing and that's sort of this elusive thing. You can't really say what it is. I grew up reading books constantly and I was a literature major in college, so it's sort of this really indescribable thing but it's very important that things are written well. So I'm really pursuing finding one of those writers and forcing them to work with me.

Any input into the character's apartment?

RW: I went in there and I said, "Are you sure I'm not a plastic surgeon?" It looks like a fabulous apartment. No, they sort of designed it. You have to have those things big enough so that you can get the cameras around them but it was pretty gorgeous. I had good taste in the movie. I liked that.

There's currently Oscar buzz for "Walk the Line", so are you ready for craziness?

RW: You know, I just take it as it comes. I just want people to see the movie first of all. It hasn't even come out. Have y'all seen the movie yet? Some people have seen it. They showed it to some other people the other day. I guess you guys weren't called .Yeah, it's just exciting. I just have to focus on what's right in front of me, so for me right now, I'm just trying to get this movie opened. Then it will be onto the next. It's very flattering. It's nice people know who you are.

Will you not take movies that take you away during the school year now?

RW: It means I've got to really think about it. They've got to be really good if I'm going to be leaving town probably. That's why I like to live in LA because we have a lot of great professionals here and I hope to bring movies here that they would possibly be shipping out to other countries and things, because I believe we have a great entertainment community here, people that know what they're doing and have been doing it for years and years, families that rely on that kind of stuff. So I'm happy to be LA filmmaking good.

Any plans to work with Ryan (Phillippe) again?

RW: Well, nothing imminent. We talk about it and stuff but right now I think we're just- - he's having a lot of fun doing what he's doing. I don't think he's interested in the kind of films that I do and stuff like that sometimes. I don't know. I never say never.

You're doing your own singing in "Walk The Line". How hard is it to sound like June Carter Cash?

RW: Well, nearly impossible so I just tried to be the best version of what I could be, because it was impossible to emulate her and I'm sure on Joaquin's part it was pretty difficult to emulate Johnny Cash. But we trained for five and a half months and learned to play instruments, record an album and worked six or seven hours every day for five months on it. So you can't say we didn't try.

Keeping character realistic while dealing with fantasy?

RW: Yeah, we worked a lot on what was that moment. She has I think a really great moment in the film where she talks about the greatest moment of her life was when she failed the most. That was something that the director and I worked on in the middle of the filmmaking because it just didn't ring true to me. It was always about these wonderful moments and she was so wistful about her life. I like the idea of a moment lost is a moment that she didn't appreciate and it was about her missteps, not her accomplishments.

What would you say has been your greatest moment in life?

RW: I'd have to say probably having my kids was the best moment. It's a life changing thing. You don't know it's great and now you look back at it, it's pretty amazing.

Can you live up to the Meg Ryan comparison?

RW: Oh gosh, that's a big question. It's just flattering that people are interested in the films you make. I try to just- - some of the greatest experiences I have are with fans. It's never about me in those moments. It's always about them and about the amazing experience they had or the wonderful story they want to tell me about the dinner they had last night or how their cousin knows my sister's brother, I don't know. I see it more as a- - I'm really still contemplating what does it mean to be in this position. It's got to be for a reason that I haven't fully grasped yet. I'm still thinking about it a lot.

If you haunted your own house, what would you complain about?

RW: You mean if I was there? You mean and they couldn't see me? Well, I do have to admit, I have a bit of the table ring thing as well. It really bothers me. I just admit it. It really bothers me when people don't use coasters. Particularly on my table. And every time I come home from a trip and Ryan stays home, there's somehow a mysterious stain in the oddest shape, like squares on the table. What did you just like cook a chicken and put the whole pan on the kitchen table? Yeah, that kind of bugs me a little bit.

I wanted to ask you, in the movie it gives you the impression that the characters are destined to sort of meet and their lives were intertwined, and I wanted to ask what your opinion is or if you believe in destiny, love - if what happened in the film could possibly happen in real life.

RW: Yeah. I mean it's been my perspective that, you know, a lot of things that were just sort of meant to be in life happen. I would never expect being a little girl in Tennessee growing up and being here today, you know, and talking about me being in a film. so I think a lot of stuff is sort of out of our hands - it's a result of the actions and choices that you make, um... the action you take and the choices you make in your life, but I do think a certain amount of it is fate, and I certainly think I was fated to meet my husband. Yeah.

Have you ever had any near-death experiences like your character in the movie?

Reese: I almost drowned once when I was four - it was at camp - and I went under the water, I was in a swimming pool and I couldn't swim in the deep end, and I swam down to the deep end and I almost drowned, and I remember going under thinking no one's going to come get me are they. And, ah, therefore my children don't go to camp with swimming pools.

Well someone got you obviously.

RW: Someone got me but... I mean it was literally the last second they could have gotten me. I swallowed a lot of water, I threw up, the whole thing, you know. It was really scary. I don't even know if they told my mother how frightening it was. They were like, 'no, she was fine, she loves swimming'.

Your character - actually Mark's character as well - does some crazy things for love. What's the craziest thing you've ever done for love?

RW: Ha, ha... probably flew halfway - well, entirely across the country to see Ryan after only knowing him on the telephone for two months. The whole time I was going, 'what am I doing', 'why am I doing this, I'm really crazy'. I kept calling my mother going 'I think I'm insane, what if he's like a serial killer'. it all worked out. I think, you know, you really know in your heart, you know, who's right for you I think. That thing they say that you just know - I just knew.

Are you a romantic?

RW: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.

I was wondering if, ah, you were familiar before with Mark Waters' work and, what it was like working with him, because he seems to have such a good sense of comedy.

RW: He really does. I had seen his first film House of Yes, and I knew him a little bit - we had met at Sundance Film Festival like in 1998 - and, he was a really nice guy and I liked his films Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. I think he obviously understood female characters really well and, it was great working with him, because he's very specific about comedy. He knows exactly what he thinks is funny, and down to the preposition in the line. I mean he's like... cut - can you say 'in' the house'; and I'd say, what did I say, and he'd say, you said 'at' the house. I was like, okay, any way you want it, sir. But he, he... he really knows, and it really is funnier. I mean he really has a good sense of it, what is going to cut funny. He has this eye about the, the, you know - eye on the big picture rather than the moment, small moment.

Well obviously you guys had a fantastic time on set - what was the best time for you that you had, your favourite moment on set?

RW: Oh, well there was one day that I was sitting getting ready to do the scene and they said, you know, rolling - and we started and Mark said, 'I can't stand you and I want you to get out', and he jumps out the window, and we were on a second-story platform up in the air and, he had had all the stuntmen put out mattresses and not tell us, so literally we all screamed like, 'ahhh, oh, my God', and he pops up out of the window and jumps back in the window - and it was so funny. He was just always like cracking up and doing something silly so...

So he's a practical joker?

RW: He was funny - yeah, he's really funny.

Tell us a little bit about June Carter Cash - what you learned about her, what surprised you about her and how nervous you were to do it.

RW: Well, yeah - coming from Nashville I knew a lot about the Carter family, which is sort of the foremost family of country music. They brought... they wrote down a lot of the, the country songs that were being sung in the backwoods and they put 'em on paper. So she had a long heritage of, just being sort of the spokesperson for country music and the face of country music. But it was so fun, I got to watch all these different videos and, and, ah, listen to so much music and tapes of her talking and telling stories and, um... it was very daunting. I was very nervous but I sat down with a couple of her children and just said I want you to know that I'm just trying my best to honour your mother and, um... that really helps because they... they were really helpful and supportive. Yeah, it was a lot of work. It was a lot of work.

And they have a great love story, don't they?

RW: They do, yeah. I mean they were just people who were deeply in love with each other but couldn't be together because he was married or she was married and they didn't think it was appropriate and, um... and so, you know, it took a long time but they were finally able to be together.


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