- Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon
March 22, 1976 (age 44)
- Actor, Film Producer, Television Producer, Businessperson
- Jim Toth
- Betty Reese, John Witherspoon
Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon (born March 22, 1976), known professionally as Reese Witherspoon, is an American actress, producer, singer and former child model. She landed her first feature role as the female lead in the film The Man in the Moon in 1991. In 1996, she appeared in Freeway and starred in Pleasantville in 1998. For her role in 1999's Election, she earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Comedy or Musical nomination.
Witherspoon's breakthrough role came in 2001 with the box-office hit Legally Blonde, and in 2002 she starred in the romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama, which emerged as her biggest live-action commercial success. In 2005, Witherspoon received worldwide attention and praise for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, which earned her the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, BAFTA Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and the Critics Choice Award for Best Actress. Her other films include Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003), Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) and Water for Elephants (2011). In 2014, Witherspoon produced the thriller Gone Girl and garnered praise for portraying Cheryl Strayed in Wild, earning her second Oscar nomination for the latter.
She married actor Ryan Phillippe in 1999; the couple separated in 2006 and divorced in 2007. She married talent agent Jim Toth in 2011. Witherspoon owns a production company, Pacific Standard, and she is actively involved in children's and women's advocacy organizations. She serves on the board of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) and was named Global Ambassador of Avon Products in 2007, serving as honorary chair of the charitable Avon Foundation. In December 2010, Witherspoon received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Witherspoon was born at Southern Baptist Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana, while her father, John Draper Witherspoon, Sr., was a student at Tulane University medical school. Her father was born in Georgiaand served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Reserve. He was in private practice as an otolaryngologist until 2012. Her mother, Mary Elizabeth "Betty" (née Reese), is from Harriman, Tennessee and has earned her BS and Master's degrees in Nursing, and her doctor of education; she worked as a professor of nursing (child care and mental health) at Vanderbilt University. In 1988, she began nursing babies back to health in the neonatal intensive care unit of Vanderbilt University Hospital until she retired. Witherspoon has claimed descent from Scottish-born John Witherspoon, who signed the United States Declaration of Independence; this claim has not been verified by the Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence genealogists.
Because Witherspoon's father worked for the U.S. military in Wiesbaden, Germany, she lived there for four years as a child. After returning to the U.S., she spent her childhood in Nashville, Tennessee. She was raised as an Episcopalian. Her older brother, John Jr. is a real estate agent, and has two daughters, Abby James and Draper. She received good grades in school; she loved reading and considered herself "a big dork who read loads of books." On mentioning her love for books, she said, "I get crazy in a bookstore. It makes my heart beat hard because I want to buy everything." Witherspoon attended middle school at Harding Academy and graduated from the all-girls' Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, during which time she was a cheerleader. She attended Stanford University as an English literature major. After completing one year of studies, she left Stanford to pursue an acting career. Witherspoon is proud of the "definitive Southern upbringing" which she received. She has said that it gave her "a sense of family and tradition" and taught her about "being conscientious about people's feelings, being polite, being responsible and never taking for granted what you have in your life." Witherspoon is described as a "multi-achiever" and was given the nickname "Little Type A" by her parents. On discussing her early achievements, she told Interview magazine, "I just don't see any of it as that remarkable. Maybe that's the attitude I choose to have to keep me sane and keep my feet on the ground. I grew up in an environment where women accomplished a lot. And if they weren't able to, it was because they were limited by society."
At the age of seven Witherspoon was selected as a model for a florist's television advertisements, which motivated her to take acting lessons. At age eleven, she took first place in the Ten-State Talent Fair.
In 1990, Witherspoon attended an open casting call for The Man in the Moon, intending to audition as a bit player; she was instead cast for the lead role of Dani Trant, a 14-year-old country girl who falls in love for the first time with her 17-year-old neighbor. Her performance was regarded as "memorably touching" by Variety magazine, and critic Roger Ebert commented, "Her first kiss is one of the most perfect little scenes I've ever seen in a movie." For this role, Witherspoon was nominated for the Young Artist Award Best Young Actress. Later that year, she made her TV acting debut in the cable movie Wildflower, directed by Diane Keaton and starring Patricia Arquette. In 1992, Witherspoon appeared in the TV movie Desperate Choices: To Save My Child, portraying a critically ill young girl. In 1993, she played a young wife in the CBS miniseries Return to Lonesome Dove and got a starring role as the leading character Nonnie Parker, a South African girl who must cross 1,250 miles (2,000 km) of the Kalahari, in the teen-aimed Disney film A Far Off Place. In the same year, Witherspoon had a minor role in Jack the Bear, which garnered her the Young Artist Award for Best Youth Actress Co-star. The next year, Witherspoon had another leading role as Wendy Pfister in the 1994 film S.F.W., directed by Jefery Levy. In 1996, Witherspoon starred in two major films, the thriller Fear alongside Mark Wahlberg (whom she dated) as Nicole Walker, a teenage girl with a handsome boyfriend who turns out to be a violent psychopath, and had the lead role in black-comedy thriller Freeway, alongside Kiefer Sutherland and Brooke Shields. Her character, Vanessa Lutz, is a poor girl living in Los Angeles, who encounters a serial killer on the way to her grandmother's home in Stockton. The film received positive reviews from the press. Among them was the San Francisco Chronicle, with Mick LaSalle commenting, "Witherspoon, who does a shrill Texas accent, is dazzling, utterly believable in one extreme situation after the other." Witherspoon's performance won her the Best Actress Award at the Cognac Police Film Festival and firmly established her as a rising star. The making of the movie also gave Witherspoon significant acting experience; as she said, "Once I overcame the hurdle of that movie – which scared me to death – I felt like I could try anything."
Early critical success
In 1999, Witherspoon starred alongside Alessandro Nivola in the drama thriller Best Laid Plans; she played Lissa, a woman who schemes with her lover Nick to escape a small dead-end town. Also that year co-starred with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe in the drama film Cruel Intentions, a modern take on the 18th-century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The San Francisco Chronicle praised her performance as Annette Hargrove: "Witherspoon is especially good in the least flashy role, and even when called upon to make a series of cute devilish faces, she pulls it off." She also appeared in a music video by Marcy Playground for the film's soundtrack. Then she starred with Matthew Broderick in the film adaptation of Tom Perrotta's 1998 novel Election. For her portrayal of ambitious overachiever Tracy Flick, she received vast critical acclaim and won the Best Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics and the Online Film Critics Society, a first Golden Globe nomination and an Independent Spirit Award nomination. Witherspoon also received a rank on the list of 100 Greatest Film Performances of All Time by Premiere. Director Alexander Payne said of her, "She's got that quality that men find attractive, while women would like to be her friend. But that's just the foundation. Nobody else is as funny or brings such charm to things. She can do anything." In spite of her successful performance, Witherspoon noted in an interview that she struggled to find work after completing the film, due to typecasting. Analyzing the reasons behind her difficulty to find work, Witherspoon commented, "I think because the character I played was so extreme and sort of shrewish—people thought that was who I was, rather than me going in and creating a part. I would audition for things and I'd always be the second choice—studios never wanted to hire me and I wasn't losing the parts to big box office actresses but to ones who I guess people felt differently about."
The 2001 film Legally Blonde marked a turning point in Witherspoon's career; she starred as Elle Woods, a fashion-merchandising major who decides to become a law student in order to follow her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School. Witherspoon said about the role, "When I read Legally Blonde, I was like, 'She's from Beverly Hills, she's rich, she's in a sorority. She has a great boyfriend. Oh yeah, she gets dumped. Who cares? I still hate her.' So we had to make sure she was the kind of person you just can't hate." Legally Blonde was a box-office hit, grossing US$96 million domestically. Witherspoon's performance earned her praise from critics, as the press began referring to her as "the new Meg Ryan". Roger Ebert commented, "Witherspoon effortlessly animated this material with sunshine and quick wit", and Salon.com noted that "she [Witherspoon] delineates Elle's character beautifully". Meanwhile, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer concluded, "Witherspoon is a talented comedian who can perk up a scene just by marching in full of pep and drive and she powers this modest little comedy almost single-handedly." For her work, Witherspoon garnered her second Golden Globe Best Actress nomination and an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance.
In the media
Witherspoon hosted Saturday Night Live on September 29, 2001, the first episode to air after New York City was devastated by the September 11 terrorist attacks. In 2005, she was ranked No. 5 in Teen People magazine's list of most powerful young Hollywood actors. In 2006, Witherspoon was listed among the Time 100. Her featured article was written by Luke Wilson. In the same year, she was selected as one of the "100 Sexiest Women In The World" by the readers of FHM. Witherspoon has appeared on the annual Celebrity 100 list by Forbes magazine in 2006 and 2007, at No. 75 and No. 80, respectively. Forbes also put her on the top ten Trustworthy Celebrities list. She was listed among CEOWORLD magazine's Top Accomplished Women Entertainers.
Witherspoon met actor Ryan Phillippe at her 21st birthday party in March 1997. They became engaged in December 1998 and married near Charleston, South Carolina, on June 5, 1999, at Old Wide Awake Plantation. They have two children: a daughter, Ava (born 1999), and a son, Deacon (born 2003). In October 2006, Witherspoon and Phillippe announced that they were separating. The following month Witherspoon filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. In her petition, she sought joint legal and sole physical custody of their children, with full visitation rights for Phillippe. With no prenuptial agreement, they would be entitled to half of all assets gained during the marriage under California law—with Witherspoon's being the more significant. Witherspoon requested that the court grant no spousal support for Phillippe, and he did not contest. On May 15, 2007, he filed for joint physical custody of their children and made no motion to block Witherspoon from seeking support from him. Witherspoon and Phillippe's final divorce documents were granted by the Los Angeles Superior Court on October 5, 2007.
Throughout 2007 there was persistent speculation in the mass media about a romantic relationship between Witherspoon and her Rendition co-star Jake Gyllenhaal. After her divorce was finalized in October 2007, they became more open about their relationship, mainly due to the release of paparazzi pictures of them vacationing together in Rome. They reportedly broke up in December 2009.
In early February 2010 it was reported that Witherspoon had begun dating Jim Toth, a talent agent and co-head of motion picture talent at the Creative Artists Agency, where Witherspoon is a client. Witherspoon and Toth announced their engagement in December 2010, and married on March 26, 2011, in Ojai, California, at Libbey Ranch, Witherspoon's country estate (which she since has sold). Their son, Tennessee James Toth, was born on September 27, 2012.