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August 2, 2005

Reese Witherspoon: What You Don't Know About Her "Imperfect" Life

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Okay, time out. let's catch our breath and remind ourselves that Witherspoon was once dubbed "Little Miss Type A" by her mother for, among other things, announcing when she was in third grade that she intended to become the first female president of the United States. That is, if her first career as a country singer and OB/GYN didn't pan out. "I didn't lack for confidence," Witherspoon says, rolling her eyes at the memory of that opinion.

No, she didn't. Nor does she now. A southern debutante who started modeling back home in Tennessee when she was barely 7, Witherspoon had made her first film (The Man in the Moon) by age 14. Four years ago, after starring in 17 films over 10 years, including critical darlings Election and Pleasantville, Witherspoon became an overnight sensation with Legally Blonde, transforming what should have been a low-budget, blink-and-you'll-miss-it comedy about a fashion-addled law student into a $100 million megahit.

When she brought home her two follow-up comedies, Sweet Home Alabama and Legally Blonde 2, Witherspoon found herself lofted into Tinseltown's stratosphere. Add to that box-office muscle her ability to avoid the meltdown antics, rumors and gossip that have bedeviled so many other actresses, and it's no wonder she has hyperventilating studio execs insisting that she's Julia Roberts's heir apparent.

"I'm not 'the next Julia' or 'the next Meg,'" she says, launching into one of her many "and you can quote me" opinions. "I'm just me, and they are who they are. I think there is room for everybody," she adds, dismissing the idea that "actresses have to go away at a certain age."

Witherspoon's defiance is unwavering. It's clear that despite a stumble in last year's film Vanity Fair, she is now back and stronger than ever. There's the upcoming Just Like Heaven, her first romantic comedy since Legally Blonde 2. Then, in November, she lays down an astonishing performance in Walk the Line, a gritty biopic about Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, in which Witherspoon jettisons her sweetly comedic persona (and natural blonde locks) to play the legendary singer. The film is al ready generating serious Oscar buzz. What is certain is that, several months shy of hitting 30, when she might normally be expected to reassess her place as Hollywood's reigning ingenue, Witherspoon has chosen to defy the industry's playbook ‑- and the pigeonholing it does so well ‑- to chart her career just as she has her entire life: as she sees fit.

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