She modeled her character on a goody two-shoes from her own past

By Sandra P. Angulo
April 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Paramount Pictures
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In director Alexander Payne’s (”Citizen Ruth”) Nebraskan-set comedy ”Election” (opening today), Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, an obsessively overachieving candidate for student-council president she modeled partly after a middle-school classmate. ”One girl I knew in junior high had all the boyfriends and the highest grades in school, and she was always so rude to me,” Witherspoon, 23, tells EW Online about her Nashville prep-school days. ”I hated her, and this is my little revenge.” With her hyper-precise Midwestern accent, Mary Tyler Moore flip, and ultrapreppy wardrobe, Tracy is a pitch-perfect monster — the kind of Machiavellian goody-goody we can all recall. ”I think everyone knows a few of those people who are so perfect you can’t stand them. You just want to kill them, but you can’t, because they’re so perfect.”

Tracy isn’t the only high school archetype ”Election” deconstructs; there’s a dim-bulb jock; a confident-but-misunderstood lesbian; and a frustrated, underappreciated teacher in a midlife crisis (Matthew Broderick). ”What I really responded to in the film is that it’s real. These are not movie characters, these are people you know,” Witherspoon says. Not your regular teen-flick fare? That may be because unlike Witherspoon’s last movie, ”Cruel Intentions,” ”Election” isn’t targeted solely at an adolescent audience: ”It does have young people in it, but it’s not a teen genre film,” she says. ”It’s not a typical studio film, either. It doesn’t star Kevin Costner and Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s more like an early Coen Brothers movie: just two actors in a comedy about the ennui of everyday life.”

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