NEW YORK, May 2 (UPI) -- Reese Witherspoon is not one to back away from a challenge. In addition to juggling marriage, motherhood and a successful movie career, the spirited 26-year-old is now the head of her own production company, as well.
In New York to talk about her latest feature film, "The Importance of Being Earnest," Witherspoon discussed her career, her family life, the relevance of Oscar Wilde to modern audiences and the peculiar experience of being the lone American in a mostly British cast (something she shares with husband and "Gosford Park" star, Ryan Phillipe.)
"I feel very lucky," she said. "I feel very blessed and I just constantly remember that I'm just a little girl from Tennessee. Ryan and I were at the Oscars, at rehearsal, and we just were like... we saw our names and our faces, they do those little placards and we were sitting right up front and I nearly started to cry. I can't believe that I made it this far. I never even dreamt it was possible."
Asked if this is the best time of her life, the petite "Cruel Intentions" star replied:
"I can't complain. Things are going really well. I feel really good about the success of 'Legally Blonde' and I've been really lucky that it's created a lot of opportunities for me, as far as working with directors I've always wanted to work with and basically getting your hands on good material."
One of those filmmakers was Oliver Parker, the director of the critical and commercial 1999 success, "An Ideal Husband," a period comedy based on Oscar Wilde's play and starring Englishman Rupert Everett ("My Best Friend's Wedding") and American actress Julianne Moore ("Hannibal"). When Parker decided to bring another Wilde play to the screen, he again turned to the dashing Everett and an American actress -- this time Witherspoon.
"I saw 'Election' and she completely had what I was looking for," recalled the director of "The Importance of Being Earnest," which opens later this month. "There was something very sweet and charming outside and then inside was this tiger. I quite liked the power of that. It was very important to me in the casting of this that all of the leads have a strong personality... Reese brings such intelligence and complexity to her work."
Asked if he was concerned about the actress' ability to assume an upperclass, country girl English accent for Wilde's romantic comedy of mistaken identities, Parker admitted he was, but added, "She's not anybody's fool and she wouldn't take it on unless she thought she could do it."
Witherspoon, on the other hand, acknowledged that learning an accent -- and being surrounded by well-respected English actors -- was a daunting experience.
"I was petrified!" Witherspoon told United Press International. "I was terrified. I worked really hard. I spent six weeks, three hours a day, every day, working on my accent and I was still scared to open my mouth."
As for being the lone American on the set...
"It was really intimidating. Really scary," she confided. "But I couldn't ask for a more supportive and wonderful cast. Rupert was hysterical, even though he gave me a hard time. What didn't he do to me! He would just berate me for what an American I was! He's so funny. He was really great. I was so scared we wouldn't get along. I just didn't know. But, we were just fast friends in a few days."
"Well, Colin is just so self-effacing, that you just immediately are just like, 'He's so great.' But, Judi, I was really, really nervous because she's Judi Dench... She has a few awards on her shelves. But, she was so wonderful, too. She was exactly as I would hope she would be. She was gracious and kind. [Giggles.] The boys were always trying to tease her into talking bad about people and she never would. She was just: [Reese does spot-on impression of Judi Dench.] 'I absolutely refuse to talk about that. This is just silly. You should get to work.' It was fun. We had a really good time," Witherspoon recalled.
Parker and the cast said they hoped that Witherspoon's hip, young fans will help make "The Importance of Being Earnest" a cross-over hit. The young actress said she would enjoy the film, even if she wasn't in it, simply because it is such a good story and has so many funny lines.
"When I saw this movie, it was just so refreshing and so easy to watch. It just sort of reminded me of those old 1930s comedies where everybody talks really fast and you have to listen because everybody's talking and has a different motivation and you're like, 'Who's that guy again?' But, the costumes and the set design are so lush and beautiful. You always have something to look at when you can't understand what Colin Firth is saying because you don't understand what he's saying half the time.
"Am I the only American who can't understand people [with accents] sometimes? Colin is so funny. He was talking about how he had to loop a lot of his lines. He was like [affecting a perfect Colin Firth imitation] 'I guess they didn't understand me in Colorado.' It's like: 'You need to slow down, darling, I can't understand a word you said," she stated.
Asked if she was surprised that "Legally Blonde" was such a smash at the box office last year, the immensely likable Witherspoon answered: "Yes. I'm always surprised when people like me in anything."
When flabbergasted reporters questioned her as to why she said that it was because "you kind of act in a bubble."
"You act on a set with 100 people sort of looking at you, yawning and falling asleep and you're just acting your heart out and so you're just amazed when it all comes together and people like it. I'm always just thrilled when somebody says they like a movie," she earnestly explained.
Although her fame has offered her many perks and opportunities, it has also led to some strange encounters with fans.
"A lot of mistaken identities," she remarked. "People always think I'm Claire Danes, Christina Ricci or Alicia Silverstone. For real. I always tell Christina Ricci that and she's like: 'I don't get it. I just don't get it.' I had someone make a U-turn in the street last week and say: 'Oh my God! You're that Alicia Silverstone girl!' and I said, 'I'm so sorry that you had to make an illegal turn, but I'm not.' They were so disappointed."
The other thing people commonly get wrong about her is that her life is non-stop glamour. Sure she and her husband stole the show when they presented an award at the Oscars ceremony in March, but she also had to deal with the paparazzi while changing her infant daughter's dirty diaper in the back-seat of her car. She did not have the photo framed, however.
"It was not very glamorous," she quipped.
That anecdote brings up a very good question, Is it hard to balance a personal and professional life when you are constantly in the public eye?
"It's really fulfilling and it's really exciting," she said. "You work so hard to get to a place that... you know, we're all sort of running to get to this successful place that seems so out of reach and then you get there and it's really nice for me to have a wonderful family to share it with and it really makes it that much more fulfilling that my husband is excited for me and my daughter is happy and gets to sort of reap the benefits of having two happy parents."
"It's about a woman who is a New York fashion designer and she's about to marry the greatest New York socialite guy and it turns out she has a little dark secret. She's already married to the guy she grew up with in Alabama. She married him when she was a teen-ager and so she has to go down and sort of extract herself from the marriage, but it's not that easy. And it's really funny and it's really romantic. It's just a really nice film," she said.
Witherspoon is also busy developing projects for her year-old production company, Type A Films. Right now, she is working on a tennis movie and a female buddy film. The actress said her main objective in forming her production company was to have more control over her work.
"I'm not just the kind of person who sits on their hands very well and just waits for things to come to me, so it was really just sort of about creating the kind of opportunities for myself that I always wanted," she explained. " It's really exciting being a part of a project from the very beginning and getting to know the writer and be able to pick the appropriate director for the material. It's really fun."