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In the left-of-center "Election" Witherspoon truly shined, strutting her stuff as the tightly wound, defiantly perky and frighteningly obsessive high school class presidential candidate Tracy Flick.

"I see myself as a character actress," Reese explained. "I'm always interested in eccentric characters. It was almost harder for me to do a role like ['Sweet Home Alabama']
 I'm always interested in eccentric characters.
where I used more of my own real voice. That's more challenging to me than, say, playing a Tracy Flick, [which] is also a lot of work. But I feel so naturally inclined towards people that are sort of off the wall or larger than life. I like that stuff. It's fun."

"Reese is an actor's actor in many ways," according to Josh Lucas, another of her recent co-stars. "I wouldn't put her in the territory of the common movie star. Her work is incredibly precise and somewhat challenging, and she's not afraid to put herself in a bit of a dark light in a sense, to play a bitch or to play someone who's off-kilter to some extent."

"She has tremendous respect amongst the acting community, which is rare for a 'movie star,' " he continued. "The thing about Reese is she's massively intelligent."

It was certainly an underlying intelligence — a hidden smartness that mirrored Reese's real-life persona — that separated Reese's otherwise fluffy "Legally Blonde" character Elle Woods from similarly shallow-appearing Barbies in likeminded films starring other "sweethearts."

Sure, Elle may have danced in a Ricky Martin video, she may have designed a line of faux fur panties and yeah, she perfumed her pink résumé before delivering it to a prestigious potential employer. But she also graduated with top honors from Harvard and saved an innocent woman from jail.

It was Reese's comedic talent that drove "Legally Blonde." The fish-out-of-water college comedy was unquestionably the movie that pushed the Tennessee native's career to new heights, proving that she could carry a flick all by her lonesome and even securing her the clout to become a producer.

Director Andy Tennant, who previously helmed the sober "Anna and the King" with Chow Yun-Fat and Jodie Foster, was one Hollywood player who was paying close attention to "Legally Blonde"'s opening numbers while laying his plans for "Sweet Home Alabama."

"On Friday she wasn't on the list [to star in 'Alabama']," he admitted. "On Monday, she was at the top of the list."


NEXT: Now a producer and an A-list actress, Reese needs armored trucks to deliver her paychecks ...
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Photo: Buena Vista Pictures


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