Becoming... Reese Witherspoon
IN HER STRIDE
"I feel like I'm just finally getting who I am, and it's really nice that at the same time, audiences are kind of getting who I am, too," says Witherspoon (at the New York City premiere of Vanity Fair Aug. 16).
MOM'S THE WORD
"I take myself a lot less seriously," Witherspoon says about becoming a mom to Ava, 4 (left), and 10-month old Deacon. "I'm not a supercool person. I'm a mom and a wife, and that's what I like to be." Of husband Ryan Phillippe, whose mom ran a daycare center when he was growing up, Witherspoon says, "He's just instinctual."
Witherspoon attended the all-girl Harpeth Hall School in Nashville. The actress (in her senior-year cheerleading photo in 1994) was so academically minded that her pals nicknamed her Big Words. "I was always more interested in studying than in boys," she says. Upon graduation, she enrolled in prestigious Stanford University, but left after a year to pursue acting.
A friend brought Phillippe to Witherspoon's 21st birthday party in March 1997 and at night's end, she told him, "I think you're my present." The couple (left, in 1998; right, in August) married in June 1999 and had daughter Ava three months later. "I'm not interested in the fallacy of the Hollywood relationship," says Witherspoon. "We're normal people with normal problems."
Witherspoon eschews the party scene in favor of quiet time with family and friends (like her Legally Blonde costar Selma Blair, left in 2002). "There's nothing better to me than hanging at home on a Friday night and eating pizza, watching thrillers," she says.
"It's hard for me to walk away from jobs, but at the end of the day, it's just a movie," says Witherspoon (left, filming the period piece Vanity Fair in London in 2003). She only does one film a year, and 2004's effort is the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, in which she's playing the singer's wife June Carter Cash (right, on the Memphis set in July).
Witherspoon (from left: at the 2001 premiere of Legally Blonde; at the 2002 premiere of Sweet Home Alabama; in Valentino at the 2002 Oscars) "has that old-style Hollywood beauty, but with something hip and relaxed about her," says friend Jessica Teich. Yet the actress says looking glamorous doesn't come easy: "For me a lot of that stuff is difficult."
Witherspoon joined forces with fellow celebrities (from left) Susan Sarandon, Courtney Love and Rosie O'Donnell for May 2000's Million Mom March in Washington, D.C., which called for stricter gun-control laws. "This was a great thing for me to do on my first Mother's Day," Witherspoon told Teen People.
Witherspoon got her acting start in a commercial at age 7, and won her first movie role seven years later in 1991's critically acclaimed Man in the Moon. "I've always been serious about work," says Witherspoon (in 1993). Concurs Andy Tennant, who directed her in the 1992 TV movie Desperate Choices, "She was, at 15, far more grown-up than I was."
RUN, REESE, RUN
During her first pregnancy, Witherspoon admits she "gained a lot of weight." The second time around, she craved potato chips and hamburgers – but tried to stick to salads. To keep slim today, Witherspoon (in Tennessee in July) runs and practices yoga.
Witherspoon's role model for managing work and family is her mom, Betty, a professor of nursing. "My mother was working a 10-hour day and picking up her kids and cooking dinner and balancing the workload with her husband," she says.
With the success of Legally Blonde, Witherspoon (at a party for the movie in 2001) became a leading lady – and scored $15 million for its 2003 sequel, which also spawned an Elle Woods Barbie doll (inset). Witherspoon donated her earnings from the Barbie to the Children's Defense Fund.