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      Facts

      Reese Witherspoon went from Southern debutante to a driven Hollywood hot ticket after getting her start in the 1991 feature The Man in the Moon. Cast thanks to a 10-state talent search, the inexperienced actress had only local commercials to her credit, but she gave a shining performance on her first time out, playing with heartbreaking poignancy a fourteen-year-old girl in love with the boy-next-door dating her sister. It was immediately apparent from her performance that the newcomer could handle three-dimensional, passionate characters with both manners and moxie.

      That same year Witherspoon made her TV acting debut in the Diane Keaton-directed cable movie Wildflower (Lifetime, 1991), playing a girl who discovers an epileptic teenager (Patricia Arquette) held captive by her father. Witherspoon racked up more television credits as a critically ill young woman in Desperate Choices: To Save My Child (NBC, 1992) and a young wife with a wandering eye in the miniseries Return to Lonesome Dove (CBS, 1993). That same year she evaded murderous poachers as the star of A Far Off Place, a teen-aimed Disney adventure filmed in the Kalahari Desert.

      Though she had always projected an aura of sexuality, Witherspoon delivered a breakthrough turn as a sensitive and sassy hostage in the controversial Gen-X satire S.F.W. (1995) which signaled her move toward more risky, complex roles. She was stalked by a pre-Boogie Nights Mark Wahlberg in James Foley's Fear, and kissed her nice girl image good-bye in Freeway (both 1996) as a gun-toting, illiterate, trash-mouthed juvenile delinquent, snarling and pouting her way through a modern-day Little Red Riding Hood. (The film debuted on HBO before receiving a limited theatrical release.)

      Developing a varied and rewarding career seemed to come naturally to the young actress, who shied away from typical teen roles and avoided being stereotyped. After she portrayed the wayward daughter of Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman in Twilight, her kewpie-doll prettiness and pert demeanor found its way into Gary Ross' Pleasantville (both 1998), as the 90s hoyden introducing a bold new life force to the 1950s black-and-white world, changing it irrevocably.

      She continued her march to stardom with turns in three 1999 releases: as Alessandro Nivola's lover who plot together to escape from their desolate town in Best Laid Plans, opposite Matthew Broderick in the darkly satiric Election and playing the plucky but virginal Annette in Cruel Intentions, a spin on Les Liaisons Dangereuses set amongst the teen set.

      While the better-than-average Cruel Intentions would see a larger audience and showcase Witherspoon's versatility, critics' favorite Election would really set her apart from other performers of her generation. Playing the fiercely ambitious and preternaturally perky class president candidate Tracey Flick, Witherspoon essayed a whole new kind of villain, a seemingly harmless teenager so unflinchingly focused on her goal that anything and anyone in the way is justifiably destroyed. Funny and frankly terrifying, Witherspoon's portrayal of the character took Alexander Payne's black comedy to its highest level. A guest role as Rachel's younger sister on the hit sitcom Friends (NBC) raised her profile even further in 2000, a year that saw the young star otherwise busy with marriage and the birth of her first child.

      In 2001, Witherspoon returned to the big screen, leading the charming comedy Legally Blonde to the number one box office spot. This cute tale of a spirited fashion major from Malibu-cum-Harvard Law student became a surprise hit due in no small part to her irresistible and playful but heartfelt performance. She was tapped to play Cecily Cardew in the somewhat lackluster 2002 film remake of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and would move into the realm of producing with projects in development including a feature adaptation of the best-selling novel The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

      First Witherspoon returned in a movie close to her heart, the romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama (2002) about a southern girl who, after transforming herself into a New York socialite, has second thoughts about her true self during a trip back home. The following year, Witherspoon starred and executive produced the sequel Legally Blonde: Red, White and Blonde (2003), a lesser version of the original that took the beloved character Elle Woods to Washington D.C to battle to pass a law--the film was endurable solely thanks to Witherspoon's charms.

      The actress wisely took a hiatus from forulamic comedies and took on the role of the aspiring elitist Becky Sharp in director Mira Nair's stylish adapatation of William Makepeace Thackeray's classic novel Vanity Fair (2004), playing a character that uses all of her charm, wit, guile and sensuality to climb the ranks of British society. The actress' innate likability and relatively sympathetic portrayal of the ladder-climbing Becky resulted in a sympathetic, more determined, less calculating interpretation than other big and small screen versions of the character.

      Witherspoon's potent on-screen charisma helped fuel her next effort, the more conventional Just Like Heaven (2005), a romantic comedy with a Ghost-like plot in which she plays a workaholic doctor who finds herself in an ethereal state haunting her home after it's leased to a depressed widower (Mark Ruffalo). Though falling somewhat short on laughs and originality, the film benefitted from its appealing leads and scene-stealing supporting players, and its eventually-involving love story.

      Next the actress was on to a project that offered a greater acting challenge, playing country singer June Carter Cash opposite Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny Cash in director James Mangold's biopic Walk the Line (2005). Witherspoon was at her best in the role, set within the singers' tortured road to romance, which also required her to convincingly perform her own songs (in Carter's signature country twang), play the autoharp and deliver Carter's trademark wisecracks and one-liners.

      Off-screen Witherspoon was at the center of media and lawmaker attention on issues involving paparazzi in 2005 after she was harassed and detained by the agressive shutterbugs; the actress failed in her attempt to bring charges against a photographer who she claimed followed her home from a gym visit and boxed in her car and prevented her from entering the gates of her Brentwood home in April 2005, but as a result of a second incident in September of that year another photographer was charged with six misdemeanor counts, including battery (for allegedly shoving a five-year-old child and hitting another on the head with his camera), child endangerment and false imprisonment stemming from his dogged attempts to snap shots of Witherspoon and her daughter Ava at the younster's sixth birthday outing at Disney's California Adventure theme park. The Witherspoon incidents along with other high-profile paparazzi mishaps that year involving such stars as Lindsay Lohan prompted California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other legislators to consider tougher laws governing paparazzi behavior.





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