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August 2, 2005

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

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Witherspoon made Just Like Heaven, in which she plays a hardworking medical resident who falls for a grieving widower, because it reminded her of the movies she loved as a teen, such as Say Anything...and Singles. She made Walk the Line because she has always loved country-western singers like June Carter Cash and Dolly Parton (her childhood hero, whom she still adores), and she wanted to help tell the story of where country music comes from. "It's not like there's any grand plan," she insists. "I just look at whether the material appeals to me or not. I like to do my job, go home and play with my kids."

Come on, cross her heart and hope to die, she has no secret hopes of hearing, "and the Oscar goes to..."? "Oh, honestly, it just doesn't occur to me that much," she says, her honeyed southern drawl on full display. "Obviously it would be a great honor, but really, I never expect to be in that position."

What Witherspoon does expect is to keep a firm handle on her sense of self-worth in an industry that she sees as too often inhospitable to smart, talented, self-respecting women. "What gets me is how many women ‑- young women ‑- give up their power and their sense of self," she says heatedly. "Thinking they're going to get more out of life if they take off their clothes and objectify themselves, instead of functioning on the principle that they're smart and capable, that you can be an actress and not be on the covers of T&A magazines. I'm flabbergasted by how many legitimate actresses do that. It blows my mind."

Does she believe that perhaps the whole feminist movement never materialized in Hollywood?

"I feel there are certain people who are systematically ripping [feminism] down because of their lack of regard and their ignorance about what the women before us had to go through." Is she referring to Hollywood power brokers, or to starlets like Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton, whose fame plays on certain stereotypes? She doesn't even pause. "I don't think these women are stupid. I think they're selling a personality that's very marketable: 'Wouldn't it be fun if we were all gorgeous and didn't have a care?' But creating a cultural icon out of someone who goes, 'I'm stupid, isn't it cute?' makes me want to throw daggers at them! I want to say to them, 'My grandma did not fight for what she fought for, and my mother did not fight for what she fought for, so you can start telling women it's fun to be stupid.' Saying that to young women, little girls, my daughter? It's not okay."

That's the sort of thinking that fuels Witherspoon. It's why she has refused to take roles that don't jibe with her values, preferring to do movies like Legally Blonde, in which she can demonstrate that a woman "can be successful and accomplished and still be feminine." It's partly why she opened her own production company, Type A Films, joining a handful of actresses (like Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock) who have taken a more direct role in controlling their careers.

It's also why she decided to speak out against the paparazzi so publicly. Along with stars like Cameron Diaz and Halle Berry, Witherspoon is cooperating with Los Angeles police in their criminal investigation into the aggressive tactics of photographers. All of this comes in the wake of the well-publicized car accident involving Lindsay Lohan and a freelance photographer in May ‑- and the investigation of that incident, which has already led at least one magazine, US Weekly, to alter its policy on the use of freelance photographers.

"There's a new type of magazine out there, which has insatiable needs for photographs of about 20 people, most of whom happen to be women," says Witherspoon. "There's illegal behavior going on ‑- the way they procure the photographs, the way they drive, the verbal harassment, preventing you from getting away ‑- and I feel good about going on the record about it."

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