The ''Legally Blonde'' star studied sorority babes for her new role, but her next challenge takes her beyond college -- as a film producer

By Liane Bonin
July 26, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Reese Witherspoon: Chris Delmas/ZUMA Press
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In ”Legally Blonde,” Reese Witherspoon plays a sorority girl who heads for Harvard Law after a faithless boyfriend deems her too dumb to marry. In real life, Witherspoon (wed to ”Cruel Intentions” costar Ryan Phillippe) is one smart cookie. The actress, 25, talks about her new career as a producer, and why she’s NOT a leading lady.

You’ve made a name for yourself in critical favorites like ”Pleasantville” and ”Election.” Why do a fluffy summer comedy?
”Legally Blonde” is certainly an escapist movie. This isn’t about reality and struggle. But you can do commercial movies, have fun making them, and still maintain your integrity. I take it as seriously as I would any other movie. You have to bring the same sort of passion to it.

How did you get in touch with your inner sorority girl?
I went to dinner with them. It’s sort of like an anthropological study. You learn what they eat, how they behave, how they take care of their young, that sort of thing. Seriously, though, I’ve learned that people don’t know what their worst characteristics are. It’s inherent to our nature that we don’t know what, in ourselves, is abhorrent to other people. So it’s really easy to infiltrate people’s lives. They showed all sides of themselves. Sometimes I’m shocked, like, I can’t believe they just said that to me!

The heroine never has a perfect blond hair out of place. Do you ever freak out about your looks?
I refuse to play that Hollywood game. The body image stuff just obliterates women’s self-esteem. I’m never going to be the thinnest girl in Hollywood, or the smartest, or the funniest, or the richest. I finally came to peace with that. You have to let go of that garbage if you’re going to get anywhere. It’s so cool when I meet other actresses and know they don’t give a rat’s ass, either. That’s why they’ll be successful. You’ll never be good if you’re caught up in that.

Were you the popular girl growing up in Nashville?
I’m a huge book dork. I was nerrrrd-eee in high school. I got really good grades. Well, towards the end I slacked off because I didn’t feel like getting good grades, but I loved school. I still love to read, love to write papers, love to write notes.

Now that you’re carrying a major studio movie, how do you feel about being labeled a big movie star?
I’m not a personality. I don’t feel like I have the charisma to pull that off. You know how you meet people and they’re so dynamic you just want to be their buddy? That’s not me. I’m a character actress. Before I did ”Freeway” (1996) I hadn’t done a lot of character work. I had never really studied acting. When I read that script I thought, this scares the crap out of me, so I should probably do it. It was a lot of work every day to get into character and dissolve into this other personality, and that’s when acting sort of clicked with me.

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  • PG-13
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  • 95 minutes
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