Born in Louisiana in 1976, Reese Witherspoon began seriously pursuing her acting career after first enrolling at Stanford University. Her early critical successes included roles in films such as Pleasantville and Election, but it was her portrayal of Elle Woods in the box-office hit Legally Blonde that marked a turning point in her career. Witherspoon went on to win an Academy Award in 2005 for her role in Walk the Line. Recent films include Water for Elephants, This Means War and Wild for which she received another Oscar nomination. In 2017, she produced and stars in David E. Kelley's HBO series, Big Little Lies.
Early Life and Career
Reese Witherspoon was born Laura Jean Reese Witherspoon on March 22, 1976, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The daughter of a physician and a nurse, Witherspoon grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, where she was a debutante and attended Harpeth Hall, a private all-girls high school.
On a bit of a whim in 1991, Witherspoon answered a call for extras in her hometown newspaper. She wound up with the lead in her first feature film, The Man in the Moon (1991), at just 14 years old. Her first year out of high school, Witherspoon considered abandoning acting altogether to follow her parents into the medical field. But in 1996, her performance in the film Freeway earned her the Catalonian International Film Festival award for best actress. She deferred college for a year to focus on acting, then briefly studied English literature at Stanford University before deciding to return to work.
Witherspoon quickly established herself as a talented actress in films such as Pleasantville (1998), Election (1999) and Cruel Intentions (1999). While filming Cruel Intentions, she began exploring an off-set romance with co-star Ryan Phillippe, whom she had met previously at her 21st birthday party. The couple married in 1999, and welcomed two children soon after: daughter Ava Elizabeth (born 1999) and son Deacon (born 2003).
Role in 'Legally Blonde'
In 2001, Witherspoon continued to soar when she starred in the surprise box-office hit Legally Blonde. Witherspoon played Elle Woods, a tow-headed sorority girl who follows her ex to Harvard Law School. The movie proved to be such a success that it spawned a sequel. Witherspoon starred in, and produced, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003), earning $15 million—15 times the amount that she was paid for the original. The franchise established Witherspoon as a must-have commodity, and propelled her to the realm of A-list actors. She also became one of the most highly paid actresses in Hollywood, according to the Hollywood Reporter, regularly commanding $15 million to $20 million per film.
Oscar Nod for 'Walk the Line'
Witherspoon furthered her success with commercial films like Sweet Home Alabama (2002), while also performing in indie fare and providing voiceover work for animation projects. She earned critical acclaim in 2005, when she appeared as country singer June Carter, opposite Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, in the biopic Walk the Line. The film proved to be both a critical and commercial success, with Witherspoon earning an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for her performance in the film.
While her career was at a high, Witherspoon was also experiencing serious challenges in her personal life. She and Ryan Phillippe announced their separation in October 2006 and divorced the following year. In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2014, Witherspoon opened up about the dissolution of their marriage. "I spent a few years just trying to feel better. You know, you can't really be very creative when you feel like your brain is scrambled eggs," she told Rose. "I was just kind of floundering career-wise 'cause I wasn't making things I was passionate about; I was just kinda working. It was really clear the audiences weren't responding to anything I was putting out there."
In 2007, Witherspoon began working on the film Rendition, also starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The stars began dating shortly afterward, but their romance didn't last long; the Hollywood "It" couple split in 2009. Witherspoon began dating Hollywood agent Jim Toth shortly after. During this time, she also co-starred in the fantastical comedy Penelope (2008) with Christina Ricci, in addition to serving as a producer on the project. Later that same year, Witherspoon starred with Vince Vaughn in the family holiday comedy Four Christmases. Other big-name film projects were to follow, including voicing the main character in the animated blockbuster Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) and starring in Water for Elephants (2011), with Robert Pattinson.
In 2011, Witherspoon also tied the knot with Jim Toth. The couple welcomed son Tennessee James Toth in the fall of 2012. New mom Witherspoon kept busy, promoting her romantic comedy This Means War (2012) with Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, and the drama Mud (2012) with Matthew McConaughey. She also began working on the true crime tale Devil's Knot (2013), co-starring Colin Firth and Stephen Moyer.
'Wild' and 'Big Little Lies'
In 2012, Witherspoon launched a production company called Pacific Standard, which was behind the 2014 films Gone Girl and Wild. The latter, based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, stars Witherspoon as a woman who takes to the road after the death of her mother. Witherspoon earned rave reviews for the role, receiving Oscar, Golden Globe and SAG award nominations.
In 2015 Witherspoon starred with Sofia Vergara in the comedy Hot Pursuit, but the film turned out to be a box-office dud. She also launched a Southern-inspired home and apparel line called Draper James that year. Witherspoon returned to voicing an animated character in the 2016 musical hit Sing, in which she played a pig with musical dreams.
In 2017, Witherspoon took on the roles of producer and star of David E. Kelley's HBO series, Big Little Lies, which features a star-studded cast including Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård and Laura Dern.
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