Reese Witherspoon serves up a fantastic romantic comedy with a twist, Just Like Heaven
Just when you think you're going to see another romantic comedy, here comes a film that will change your mind about the genre.
The morning of our interview, I rode on the elevator with Reese and talked about what a wonderful film she had made. So when it was time for her press conference, she was very receptive to answering my questions. A few journalists asked some really crazy questions, but Reece was a true professional and answered them with grace.
Even though she was there to promote Just Like Heaven, we did get her to talk about the Oscar buzz surrounding her next film Walk the Line, which just recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to rave reviews. She portrays the late June Carter Cash, in the story about her husband Johnny Cash.
Check out the whole interview:
Since you are a role model for so many young women, do you choose strong female roles? And also do you feel the pressure from Hollywood to come up with another hit?
Reese Witherspoon: Yes. I feel the pressure, my managers feel the pressure, my agent feels the pressure. Yeah, definitely, I think as soon as I became a mother I felt the responsibility of becoming a role model. I mean that's just the nature of becoming a mother. As soon as they come out you realize ‘oh no, this person is going to look up to me. I better clean up my act.' You know, I take it very seriously as a big responsibility and I think that definitely carries over to into the film choices.
How so particularly with this movie?
Reese Witherspoon: Well with this film obviously I read a lot of romantic comedy scripts, but for me this one had a really nice sort of spiritual message and how important it is to nurture yourself. And I think women are sort of natural caretakers and take care of everybody; they take care of their husbands, their kids, their dogs. They don't spend a whole lot of time just giving back and you know 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 is was and go back and have another opportunity.
Two themes of this movie are loss and second chances. Do you have a connection to either?
Reese Witherspoon: The second chance element was what really interested me about it. The idea of what happens when you don't nurture your spirit could it leave you? Could it move on to something else? I just thought that was a really interesting idea and I thought it was fun to do a comedy, hook people in then hoodwink them into watching a serious movie. I like the lead-in with the comedy and then hit them over the head with the drama.
Have you ever had an out of body experience or a psychic experience?
Reese Witherspoon: I definitely have had my share. I feel like I've read a lot books when I was about to start this movie about ghosts and people being haunted and that kind of thing. I was very close to my grandparents. One time when I was in New York doing a play reading with an empty audience; I was in the middle of the play and I looked up and there was my grandfather sitting in the audience. He just had passed and I looked back and he was gone. I really felt like from then on he was with me. I've sensed him and my grandmother. I think it's sort of a comforting thing to think that people are with you and don't really pass on. They just sort of guide you through life. That's my perspective anyway.
So you liked the direction of this movie? It wasn't your typical romantic comedy of boy meets girl.
Reese Witherspoon: Yeah, I loved the beginning you know where we get to fight like cats and dogs. That scene was great. We had so much fun doing it, well at least I did. I don't know if he had enjoyed it as much as I did. You know, I love having that sort of having that antagonistic relationship in the beginning and being equally strong with each other and bull headed. I don't know it kind of reminded of the Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn type movie. Yeah the dialogue was fun.
How well did you relate to your character's drive to succeed?
Reese Witherspoon: I definitely could relate to Elizabeth's sort of work ethic. She spends a lot of time at the hospital and I've certainly had moments in my life where I've felt I've been working of all of except one day and what on earth was I doing. That's why it's important to take breaks and get some perspective, sit on the rug with the dogs and the kids and just not do anything, which is what I've been doing for the past three months. Finally, I get use to it a little bit; it took me three months to calm down, but I did.
Do you believe certain things are meant to be as the relationship was in the movie?
Reese Witherspoon: Yeah, I like that element of it. I like that it was a sort of surprise that they were meant to be together. I certainly have that in my life. I mean I feel very lucky to be with my husband who's really my best friend and we just continue to get along. Sometimes I don't know how but we do, and I definitely think we were meant to be together.
How do you balance being a mother and having a big career?
Reese Witherspoon: 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 is good with their lives. And if the kids are happy then 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 is starting school this year, she's starting kindergarten. I took a little time off just to be there for her. Even though I'm sure she'll be fine and I won't. I'll be crying and she'll be like ‘get out of here.' But, yeah it's important.
The studios have made this comparison between you and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Do you see yourself pairing up again with Mark Ruffalo?
Reese Witherspoon: Oh I would love to; I think we had a really good time in the movie. We have very similar sensibilities, we're both very family orientated but 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 you know; he's not posturing or trying to look pretty or have great hair. You know he's just a real man and he's funny. A lot of actors don't think funny is cool so it's nice to see someone of his caliber doing comedy and I think he's going to really excel when people see this film.
There is already Oscar buzz around Walk the Line. Are you ready for award season madness?
Reese Witherspoon: You know, I just take it as it comes. I just want people to see the movie first. Some people have seen it. They showed it to some other people the other day. Yeah, it's just exciting. I just have to focus on what's right in front of me. So right now I'm just trying to get this movie opened. Then it will be on to the next. It's very flattering, it's nice people know who you are.
In Walk the Line you are doing your own singing right?
Reese Witherspoon: Yes.
How hard is it to sound like June Carter?
Reese Witherspoon: Nearly impossible so I just tried to be the best version of what I could be because it was just impossible to emulate her and I'm sure Joaquin's part was pretty difficult to emulate Johnny Cash. But, we trained for 5 months and learned to play instruments and record an album and work six or seven hours everyday for 5 months on it. So you can't say we didn't try.
Can you talk about keeping your character emotionally rich and realistic while dealing with the fantasy element.
Reese Witherspoon: Yeah, we worked a lot on that; I think she has a great moment in the film where she talks about the greatest moment of her life when she failed the most. And that was something that the director and I worked on in the middle of film making 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 and a moment she didn't appreciate. It was about her misstep not her accomplishments.
What did you learn about June Carter?
Reese Witherspoon: Coming from Nashville, I knew a lot about the Carter family which is sort of the foremost family of country music. They wrote down a lot of the country songs that were being sung in the back woods and they put them on paper. She had a long heritage of just sort of being the spokes person for country music and the face of country music. But, it was so fun; I got to watch all these videos and listen to so much music and tapes of her talking and telling stories. 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 I'm doing my best to honor your mother' And that really helped, because they were really helpful and supportive; it was a lot of work.
Since your daughter is going to kindergarten does this mean you won't be able to take movies that are away from home?
Reese Witherspoon: It means I have to really think about it and they have to be really good if I'm going to be leaving town. And that's why we like to live in LA. We have a lot of great professionals here. I hope to bring movies here that they would be possibly be shipping out to other countries because I believe we have a great entertainment community here. So I'm happy to be an LA film making girl.
Do you believe in destiny and love and what happens in the film could possibly happen in real life?
Reese Witherspoon: Yeah, I mean it's my perspective that a lot of things that are sort of meant to be in life happen. I would never expect being a little girl in Tennessee growing up being here today 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 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.
Have you ever had any near life death experiences like your character?
Reese Witherspoon: I almost drowned once when I was four. I was at camp and I went under the water, I was in a swimming pool and I couldn't swim in the deep end. I did swim down to the deep and I almost drowned and I remember going under thinking nobody is going to come get me are they? And therefore my children don't go to camp, or camps with swimming pools.
Somone got you out?
Reese Witherspoon: Someone got me out, but I mean literally, it was the last second they could have gotten me. I swallowed a lot of water, I threw up the whole thing. It was really scary. I don't even know if they told my mother how frightening it was. They were like ‘No it's fine, she loves swimming, she likes the shallow end a lot.'
Your character does some crazy things for love. What's the craziest thing for love you've done?
Reese Witherspoon: Well, I flew half way around I mean entirely across the country to see Ryan after only knowing him on the telephone for two months. I kept calling my mother and going ‘I think I'm insane. What if he's like a serial killer?' But, it all worked out. I think you really know in your heart you know who's right for you. That thing they say you just know. I just knew.
Were you familiar with Mark Waters' work before the film? And what it was like working with him because he seems to have such a good sense of comedy.
Reese Witherspoon: Yeah he really does. I'd seen his first film House of Yes; I knew him a little bit. We'd met at Sundance film festival in 1998 and he's a really nice guy. I like his films Freaky Friday and Mean Girls; I think that he obviously understood female characters really well. It was great working with him because he's very specific about comedy. He knows exactly what he thinks is funny. He really does have a good sense of it, what is going to cut funny; his eye on the big picture.
What was the best time you had on set?
Reese Witherspoon: Well there was one day that I was sitting getting ready to do the scene and they said rolling and we started. Mark said ‘I can't stand you and I want you to get out.' And he jumped out the window. And we were on a second story platform up in the air. He had had all the stuntmen put out mattresses and not tell us. Literally we all screamed ‘oh my G-d!' And he pops up out of the window and jumps back in the window and it was so funny. He was always just cracking up and doing something silly so. He was funny. Yeah he's really funny.
Would you ever go behind the camera and direct?
Reese Witherspoon: Yeah I would love to; I think it's just a matter of time. It's hard you know I have little kids to look after now so I don't have time to concentrate. It would be hard to focus but probably when they get older. I would really love to write more and probably direct. Maybe I go back and forth. It seems like a lot of work.
How do you think teens will react to this movie?
Reese Witherspoon: It's been interesting; I think a lot of young people have seen the film with their friends and I think people like to go to the movies and laugh and have a good time. I mean life is hard so it's nice to be able to go and just escape and have a good time and have some sort of experience that gives you hope about love and the future of your life. And it's important to just be good to yourself; I think everybody can kind of relate to that.
In most of the film you were invisible. How did that affect you in your real life?
Reese Witherspoon: We had a lot of rules in the movie. I wasn't allowed to touch anything, I couldn't even bump into people. It was funny all the actors would come in who were on set everyday and do their lines looking right at me. Mark Waters would come over and tap them on the shoulder and say ‘you can't see her.' ‘I know but she's so loud.' I know but you're just going to have to ignore me. We had all these different little things and rules I had to follow.
Because the film was actually shot in San Francisco, did it help you buy your character's romance?
Reese Witherspoon: It was definitely a beautiful location. I had gone to Stanford University which is just south of there Palo Alto and I use to go up when I didn't have any money and I had a completely different experience this time. I got to go to nice restaurants and it's sort of like seeing a completely different place. So I think and Mark Waters lived there for a long time so he knew all the greatest parts of the city he wanted to film and he was so excited to be there. And he really showed us around a lot so I feel like I got a really good education about just the wonderful parts of San Francisco and I think it looks really beautiful in the movie too.
What do you think of the young actresses coming up behind you? The younger generation is definitely showing more skin.
Reese Witherspoon: Well, I think there are certain people who take that path, and certain paths are right for other people. I think there are a lot of great young, up and coming actresses like Rachael McAdams; I really think she is great and very talented; obviously, on a very great path. Christina Ricci is another wonderful actress; Natalie Portman, I love her recent work; I think she keeps getting better and better. And I think there are a lot of great people who really have their head on their shoulders and there's some people who choose different kinds of stuff; I guess those are their choices in life, I guess everyone is different.
Is there anyone who you haven't worked with and would like to?
Reese Witherspoon: Yeah, I got a chance recently to hang out a little with Kate Winslet and her husband Sam Mendes; they were living close to me for a few months and we just really got along. We are from different countries, but the same person; we're the same age, have the same age children. I think Sam is enormously talented and I just love Kate. I just think she is so great; I think it would be great to work with her.
How does it feel that you're face sells movies?
Reese Witherspoon: Lucky, I feel very lucky. Every movie that you make is just a ‘role of the dice' and you hope people like it and that's why I concentrate on making the movies. I'm just trying so hard to make the ones that I do worth seeing.
Just Like Heaven opens in theaters September 9th and rated PG-13. Mark and Reese truly make a wonderful on-screen pair. You won't be disappointed!