Few A-list actresses have survived in Hollywood for more than two decades with as little drama as Reese Witherspoon.
The beloved, perpetually sunny Southern Belle has been charming audiences since her first bit part in 1991’s “The Man in the Moon,” and until her arrest on Friday on disorderly conduct charges in Atlanta, had managed to avoid the kind of embarrassing late night episodes that so often ensnare the rich and famous.
A notoriously grounded hard worker who won an Oscar in 2005 for her role as June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line,” Witherspoon has appeared in more than 30 films over the years, including such critical and audience faves as “Cruel Intentions,” “Election,” “Legally Blonde,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Monsters Vs. Aliens.”
The four-time People magazine “100 Most Beautiful” people honoree married actor Ryan Phillippe in 1999 and had two children with him before their split in 2006. That relatively drama-free break was pretty much the sum total of her scandal sheet to date.
So, will last Friday’s incident leave a mark on her permanent record?
“This will blow over [by the time of her next starring role] and it’s not really such a big deal,” said Exhibitor Relations box office analyst Jeff Bock of the incident. “She’s kind of been off-the-radar in terms of leading lady roles for a while and hasn’t really been newsworthy for a long time, so maybe it actually helps.”
Witherspoon, who was working on the movie “The Good Life” in Atlanta before the arrest, skipped out on a number of scheduled media appearances in New York this week to support the indie film “Mud” in the wake of the scandal.
“Any press can’t hurt because she’s not really in the press now,” said Bock, invoking the old “all press is good press” dictum. “I think the perception is that she’s Miss Goody Two Shoes and maybe this will help her get edgier roles.”
Breanne L. Heldman, New York bureau chief of Yahoo! Entertainment, agreed with Bock that Witherspoon, 37, did the right thing for immediately sending out a heartfelt apology for her actions and attempting to clean up the mess quickly.
“She’s maintained that squeaky clean image her whole career … and at the end of the day, she now has a strike on her record, but [considering that] she’s in her late 30s and has managed a career like that for 20 years, people will forgive her pretty quickly,” predicted Heldman.
Witherspoon’s apology came after her and husband Jim Toth’s mugshots leaked following the news of his arrest on Friday for suspicion of DUI and her related arrest for disorderly conduct. As officers were speaking to Toth, an agitated Witherspoon reportedly stuck her head out of the window and said she did not believe the arresting officer was really a cop. After stating that she was a U.S. citizen and that she as allowed to “stand on American ground,” Witherspoon reportedly said to the officer, “Do you know my name?,” at which point he responded, “No, I don’t need to know your name.”
The only upshot could be that the limited-release indie “Mud” could, for better or worse, get a bit more attention now and a higher profile because of what’s happened. “It was a classy move for her to back out of her appearances, because it was going to be the elephant in the room,” said Heldman, noting that it would have been hard for journalists to avoid asking questions about the arrest, or at least alluding to late night host Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue jokes about the incident.
“The police report says she asked the cop ’Do you know my name? You’re about to find out who I am.’ Does that ever work? ’Do you know who I am?’ is second only to ’Do you know who my father is?'” joked Kimmel on Monday night. “It’s a bad question because the answer is either ’no’ — which is embarrassing — or ’yes, and you’re going to jail.'” In an irony widely pointed out by the entertainment media, Witherspoon appeared on Kimmel’s show in January in a skit in which she joked about being a big drinker.
The actress earned praise in 2011 when she made an inspiring speech while accepting the Generation Award at the MTV Movie Awards about how it is cool to be a “good girl” and avoid the pitfalls of reality shows, sex tapes and sexting.
“I don’t think this humanizes her or makes her more relatable,” Heldman said. “There are times when it does for celebrities, but this doesn’t in large part because of the things she said to the cop, which were admittedly snobby celebrity behavior.” But Heldman suspected Witherspoon would do the smart thing and bounce back by getting behind a law enforcement-related charity or an anti-drunk driving group.
“She made a mistake, cleaned it up pretty quickly and as far as PR goes I’m sure her career will be just fine,” said Bock, with Heldman adding that it might knock the star down a peg or two temporarily, but certainly not permanently. “People will [just] say she was trying to defend her man.”