By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated January 29, 2002 01:00 AM

Julia Roberts, 34, may get upwards of $20 million per movie, but she’s been around since the late ’80s. Reese Witherspoon, 25, has only been at it since the late ’90s, when she took a leave of absence from Stanford University to try acting, but already, reports Variety, the “Legally Blonde” star is about to start commanding an $8 million paycheck. That, says the trade journal, will be her fee to star in a drama set in the world of professional women’s tennis that begins shooting in May. In the as-yet-untitled film, Witherspoon is to play a former wonder-woman of the court who burns out at the U.S. Open and takes a job as a resident tennis pro at a wealthy country club. But then there’s the climb back to the pro circuit. Variety notes that Witherspoon, who is marred to actor Ryan Phillippe (they have a daughter, Ava Elizabeth, born in September 1999), 27, has been on the fast track as far as salary is concerned. Her fee for “Blonde,” a hit of last summer, was $1 million, and for this coming fall’s “Sweet Home Alabama” she was paid $5 million. She is also serving as a coproducer on the sequel to “Legally Blonde,” though she hasn’t committed to returning in the starring role. With her husband, who currently stars as a hustling actor in Robert Altman’s “Gosford Park,” she is also set to star in and produce the upcoming film “The Flying Smiths,” reports the paper.