Hollywood With A Sense of Service
With a supportive Dad who was an Army surgeon in Cold War Europe and a lineage that traces back to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon brings a unique "down home" flavor and a sense of "giving back," unique qualities in Hollywood.
Reese spent the first four years of her life in Wiesbaden, Germany where her father, John, served as a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Reserves. Shortly after, John moved the family back to the States, settling in Nashville, Tennessee, the capital of Country Music, and a natural place to start for a woman who won the best actress Oscar in 2006 playing Johnny Cash’s wife June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line."
Young Reese, who was a self-proclaimed "dorky girl with coke bottle glasses," was inspired by the music of the South and dreamed of becoming the next Dolly Parton.
"I tried to make her a neurosurgeon, but she did not want anything to do with that," her father, John Witherspoon says.
After her first two years at Stanford University studying English Literature – and actually toying with the idea of going pre-med like her dad – Witherspoon was lured into leading Hollywood roles, with her breakthrough performance in the 2001 comedy "Legally Blonde," and then thrust into the limelight hosting the first Saturday Night Live episode after the 9/11 attacks.
She now is an Academy Award winning A-list actress with nearly 40 movies to her credit, and is considered one of "Hollywood’s Best-Paid Actress."
In recent years, Witherspoon produced the thriller "Gone Girl" and earned her second Oscar nomination and fourth Golden Globe nomination for portraying Cheryl Strayed in "Wild." In 2017, she produced and starred in the HBO drama series "Big Little Lies," and got her first Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.
Her latest release, "Home Again," is due for release in September.
Herself a mom of three, Witherspoon’s been careful in choosing her roles, wanting to be a role model for young girls. "What kind of person would I want to look up to if I was 12 or 13? It’s important to have respect for yourself. Don’t throw your intellect away because it’s popular now to be physical and beautiful. Honestly, there’s such a movement in that direction right now, and I don’t really understand it," she told Reader’s Digest in an interview.
"I think about how many people had to work hard to get the vote for women, to get women into college, get women better jobs -- for equality. Some of those people who seem to be throwing away their intellect should think more about how they are re-creating an old image of inferiority," she added.
She also keeps a solid sense of giving back to others. She was active in the Children’s Defense Fund, doing a lot of fundraising on their behalf. She also donated all proceeds from her "Legally Blonde Barbie Dolls" to the charity. It runs in the family. Reese’s father volunteered to assist in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
"I feel a lot of personal responsibility because of how much I’ve been blessed," she said.
Witherspoon also credits her father with instilling confidence in her, "which is everything in this business," as well as a sense of humor from her mom, a pediatric nurse.
"He likes to have intellectual arguments with me all the time -- it’s one of his favorite things," she said about her Dad. "And I liked all that debate and mock trial stuff in high school. It’s important to know how to make your points."
She also has been recognized for her participation in the Malala Fund, an organization which promotes education for young girls, and the inspiration for Gone Girl and Wild; and the Lopez Family Foundation, started by fellow actress Jennifer Lopez, that works on access to medical care for women and children
In 2007, Witherspoon made her first move into the world of endorsements, as she signed a multi-year agreement to serve as the first Global Ambassador of cosmetic company Avon Products. She acted as a spokeswoman for Avon’s cosmetic products and served as the honorary chair of the Avon Foundation, a charitable organization that supports women and focuses on breast cancer research and the prevention of domestic violence.
Explaining her motives then for joining the foundation, Reuters reports, "As a woman and a mother I care deeply about the well being of other women and children throughout the world and through the years, I have always looked for opportunities to make a difference."