BEVERLY HILLS — Anyone who needs a primer in multitasking should ask Reese Witherspoon. Her latest romantic comedy, “Just Like Heaven,” is in theaters now, and she’s been garnering Oscar buzz at the Toronto Film Festival for her role as June Carter in “Walk the Line.” She’s also producing the film “Penelope,” in which she stars with Christina Ricci, under her own shingle, Type A Films. Then there are the gorgeous husband and two beautiful children.
“I feel so lucky, but at other times it’s like being on a hamster wheel and I can’t get off,” the 29-year-old actress says during a recent stop at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel to promote her films.
Although she’s a Nashville native, Witherspoon admits she was surprised when director James Mangold asked her to play country singer June Carter (who died in 2003). “I said, ‘With all due respect, isn’t she, like, 70?'” she laughs. “But I did a lot of research and five months of singing and autoharp lessons. And it was really worth it.”
In “Just Like Heaven,” Witherspoon plays an overachieving doctor who falls for the new tenant in her apartment, played by Mark Ruffalo. There’s one catch: Witherspoon’s character is a ghost. Not the spooky sort, but a charming, Type A fireball like Witherspoon herself, who says she believes in spirits. “I had moments when I was in the hospital having my children, I saw my dead grandparents in the room, and it was comforting,” she says.
As the daughter of a doctor and a nursing professor, Witherspoon studied pre-med at Stanford before her acting career took off. If she hadn’t gone the Hollywood route, she would be a doctor now, says the actress. “During filming, I’d dress up in my scrubs and take Polaroids and send them to my parents and say, ‘Are you happy now? This is what it would have been like,'” she laughs.
Aside from the scrubs, Witherspoon had only two other costume changes, a far cry from her fashion-obsessed turn in “Legally Blonde.” She says her six-year-old daughter, Ava, would come to the “Heaven” set to get her hair and makeup done, but when it came to playing dress-up, “she was very disappointed it wasn’t ‘Legally Blonde 3.'”
Not that Ava will become a mini-Elle Woods anytime soon. “Ryan and I don’t give our kids [son Deacon is nearly two] credit cards or fancy clothes and we don’t plan on it anytime soon,” she says. “In fact, we were discussing how hard it’s going to be for our children to be living such a nice life and then have to live in an apartment and drive a crappy car. It’s going to be a real bummer.”
It’s Witherspoon’s down-to-earth attitude that makes her one of the least scandalous stars and also, ironically, one of the most pursued by the media. “I don’t know why everyone finds my life so fascinating. I’m just kind of a dork,” she says. Among her favorite nonglam activities is watching “Lost,” “American Idol” and Goldie Hawn movies. “I love ‘Overboard.’ It’s my favorite movie, and the second I’m not feeling well, Ryan brings it in. I just love Goldie Hawn. She’s perfect.”
Having tackled the funny blonde genre herself, Witherspoon says she’d like to try an action flick, a suspense thriller, a suffragette drama or something with a nod to her Southern roots. “I was just contemplating why on earth I haven’t done Tennessee Williams yet. It’s just a travesty, really a misstep on my part. I’ve decided we need to get into this tomorrow morning!”