BEVERLY HILLS, California — They’ve bonded over their shared rejections, the fact that they’re too short to ride motor scooters, and not being able to afford James McAvoy. So how did Reese Witherspoon and Christina Ricci become two of Hollywood’s biggest stars?
As the fantasy flick “Penelope” enters theaters, we sat down with Witherspoon, the movie’s producer and co-star, to talk about her determination to bring a cursed Christina and her pig nose to the big screen. The always-playful Reese was eager to open up about her and Ricci’s shortcomings, her love of “The Velveteen Rabbit” and her tips for breast augmentation.
MTV: In the eyes of fans, when a star is also producing a movie, it means they care about it just a little bit more than their usual stuff. Is this true?
Reese Witherspoon: Oh, certainly. I feel like this is my baby. [My producing team] saw this script about four or five years ago, and we’ve been working on making it into a film for so long. It’s so exciting for me. Being on the red carpet — we had a premiere at the Toronto Film Festival — was a big moment in my life, me breaking through into a new career, almost.
MTV: What made you so passionate about “Penelope”?
Witherspoon: I just really believe in the idea of this film. I love that it’s magical and very cinematic. It has a fairy-tale feeling, but it also, at the center of it, has a great story for a young woman. I’ve spent so many years working in this business, trying to find characters that were strong and self-possessed and really representative of the women I know in life. This character is an extension of a lot of the roles that I’ve played.
MTV: So what does Penelope have in common with Elle from “Legally Blonde” or Tracy from “Election”?
Witherspoon: Well, she has to define herself despite what other people say and despite what other people are trying to make her think. She has to find her own identity.
MTV: This was a hard movie to get made for a lot of reasons, one being that the studios never thought they’d find an actress brave enough to wear a pig nose for a whole movie. Tell us the truth: Would you have enough courage to put one on for a role?
Witherspoon: Oh, sure! I thought about doing the role for a while, but other commitments kept me busy. So then we approached Christina, and she had no fear about it whatsoever. She was like, “Sure!” I had a meeting with her and I said, “Are you nervous about putting on the pig face? Is that going to be weird for you?” And she was like, “No, it’s going to be great!”
MTV: In a weird way, it works on her.
Witherspoon: Yeah, it’s really beautiful on her! At first we were like, “Does she look weird enough?” But still, I thought it was very brave of her.
MTV: What is your favorite Christina Ricci movie?
Witherspoon: Oh, I loved her as Wednesday Addams in the “Addams Family” movies. And “The Opposite of Sex,” she was great in that. She and I grew up auditioning for the same things, so I met her in a lot of rooms while we were both waiting to see if we got the part.
MTV: Who usually beat out who?
Witherspoon: [She laughs.] It would always go to some other person! And we’d get together and curse: “I can’t believe she got the part! We should have gotten that part!”
MTV: When you were growing up, what was your favorite nursery rhyme?
Witherspoon: I always liked “The Velveteen Rabbit.” I thought that was so sweet, how he became a real rabbit because someone loved him so much. My grandmother used to read that to me a lot.
MTV: Penelope’s pig nose can be seen as a metaphor for the insecurities any woman has about her appearance: zits, moles, whatever. So what’s your pig nose?
Witherspoon: [She laughs.] I was a late bloomer. For sure, [my boobs] were my pig nose. I was like the girl who didn’t need a bra until she was a senior in high school. I got teased about it pretty bad.
MTV: Did you feel like Penelope and want to hide in your room?
Witherspoon: Oh, yeah. Instead, I just went home and stuffed my bra. I just stuffed a bunch of stuff in there and pretended.
MTV: Did it work?
Witherspoon: Yeah, but then you go in for the hug [with a date], you know? And you’re gonna get that smushy feeling. You dread that moment.
MTV: I must say I’m very impressed with your producing skills. You got James McAvoy just before he exploded with “Atonement.”
Witherspoon: Yeah, he’s so great. And I can’t wait to see him in “Wanted” too. He looks so cool in that trailer, where he’s learning to be an assassin with Angelina Jolie. He’s just so versatile. He can be a doctor in “The Last King of Scotland” or a wonderful musician in this piece. He changes for everything. I think you can tell from his films that he’s just a really cool, interesting guy.
MTV: It seems that way.
Witherspoon: And how lucky were we that we got him cheap? Hell, yeah! We can’t afford him anymore.
MTV: In “Penelope,” one of the most memorable sequences has you and Christina riding around on a Vespa scooter. What was that day like?
Witherspoon: It was cool. We had fun driving around London, with people screaming out our names: “Christina! Reese! Look over here!”
MTV: Was that really all you guys?
Witherspoon: Well, we’re both so short that neither one of us could touch the ground. So for most of the shots, we had to use stunt doubles. And when we actually had to ride it, they had to hook it up on a trailer — a really low trailer. It was pretty funny that neither one of us could even hold up a Vespa because we’re such shorties.
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