How Reese Witherspoon is Changing Hollywood for Women

With projects ranging from her HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’ to her production franchise to her growing lifestyle brand, Witherspoon has become a force in female storytelling

“Of all the nasty words I’ve heard that are used to describe women, the one that has the ugliest connotations is ambition,”

.. “I don’t know why that’s declared conniving for women, because I’m constantly inspired by Reese’s ambition. You have a dream? She makes it happen.”

.. The Oscar-nominated movies Wild and Gone Girl , as well as Big Little Lies, which won eight Emmy Awards (including one for outstanding limited series), were all projects produced by Witherspoon from books she discovered and optioned.

.. On-screen, Witherspoon is best known for playing women who get things done, from Tracy Flick in Election to June Carter Cash in Walk the Line to Madeline Martha Mackenzie in Big Little Lies. Her most iconic role is Elle Woods, a pink-loving, Chihuahua-toting sorority girl whose ditziness belies her intelligence and who trades California frat parties for Harvard Law School in 2001’s Legally Blonde and its 2003 sequel

.. Witherspoon joined a small club of actresses who commandeered multimillion-dollar paychecks per project, including Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Sandra Bullock. But, according to Witherspoon, that Hollywood game changed in 2008: “As our friends in the music business understand, everything went digital.”

.. She cites the loss of DVD sales in particular. “We lost about a third of our revenue, and studios had to recalibrate their development. The first thing to go was the $30 to $40 million [budget] movie,” she says. “Those are the movies women star in. Women like me coming up through the business didn’t star in $100 million movies.”

.. her husband, Jim Toth, an agent at Creative Artists Agency who represents 15 of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, including Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. (With Toth, whom she married in 2011, Witherspoon has a son, Tennessee, 5. With her first husband, actor Ryan Phillippe, whom she was married to from 1999 to 2007, she has Ava and a son, Deacon, 14.)

.. Unbeknownst to Witherspoon, Strayed kept notes during their calls and still has the notebooks. “I can look at them and say she made a lot of promises on those phone calls—and she honored all of them,” Strayed says.

.. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, a thriller about a jaded wife who fakes her own murder to incriminate her cheating husband. Flynn had doubts about the book’s Hollywood potential. “I got a lot of feedback that it was complicated and hard to unravel, which I think was code for, ‘Oh, it stars a woman? Pass!’ ” she says, adding she couldn’t understand why a morally complex female was such a foreign concept. “Don Draper. Tony Soprano. Walter White. We have all these male antiheroes that do despicable things, and we’re fascinated by them. Women are human beings too: They do good stuff and they do bad stuff.

.. “A good pitch is when you can see that someone is breathing what they are presenting, as opposed to saying it,”

.. Though Witherspoon realized in her 30s that acting wasn’t her only skill, she still treats all meetings—whether about financing or pitching a TV show—like an audition. “I know I’m good at things,” she says. “And I’m over being bashful about it. Do basketball players have to sit there and act coy? Tell me something: Does LeBron James twiddle his thumbs and say, ‘Jeez, I’m kind of great at shooting, and I guess I’m OK at dribbling and passing’? No, he’s like, ‘I’m amazing! I rock!’ I wish more actresses had that kind of bravado.”