The Man in the Moon

Everyone starts somewhere – and for Reese Witherspoon it was an advertisement in her local paper.

The multi-hyphenate shared an Instagram video on Wednesday, reminiscing about how she was cast and her experiences making her first feature film at 14, 1991’s The Man in the Moon. Witherspoon stars as Dani Trant, a young tomboy, coming of age in Louisiana in the summer of 1957.

It marked Witherspoon’s film debut, kicking off what has been a career still hitting new highs after 30 years. In her video, Witherspoon describes how she first came to aspire to be an actress. “When I was little, I really wanted to be an actor, which was kind of weird because my mom and dad were both in the medical industry,” she recalls. “So when I was 7 years old, I got to be in a local flower commercial. My best friend down the street, her grandma had a flower shop, so I got in this little flower commercial, and I loved it so, I said to my mom ‘I really want to take acting classes.’ And she signed me up. I would do acting classes every Saturday for three or four hours.”

The star goes on to explain that after doing a few commercials, she saw an ad in her local paper looking for a 14-year-old Southern girl to appear in a movie. She auditioned but didn’t hear anything for a month. “I came home from softball practice and my mom said, ‘Reese, I need to talk to you, they’re calling and asking if you’ll go to Los Angeles for a screen test.’ I’ll never forget my mom said to the people on the phone, ‘What kind of movie is this anyway?’ I think she wanted to make sure I wasn’t in like a dirty movie or something. Good job, mom,” she laughs.

She remembers seeing many highlights of Los Angeles while visiting for the screen test, including dipping her feet in the Pacific Ocean and driving past lines of palm trees on Wilshire Boulevard. Then, she had to fly to Louisiana for another round of auditions with the director. “I remember I was feeling really nervous and the director was this really amazing man, Robert Mulligan, he said, ‘Why don’t you chew gum? You just sound different and you act different when you’re chewing gum,'” she remembers. “He’d make me spit it out right before I did the scene, but I had to remember how I did it when I was chewing the gum because he wanted me to kind of throw all my words away or something like that.”

Of course, Witherspoon did get the job, spending the entire summer before her freshman year of high school making the movie. “I learned everything I needed to know about being a film actor, how to hit marks, how to perform for a camera, how to get emotional,” she says.

Credit: Everett Collection

There were embarrassing moments too — like when her director made costar Jason London, who played her onscreen crush Court Foster, teach her how to run more athletically. Or even worse, the time she had to kiss him on screen. “I had to kiss a boy onscreen for the first time, and I was 14 years old and I was so embarrassed,” she squeals. “And I had to do a scene where I was supposed to be skinny dipping, and they had a nude double for me and that was so mortifying when I was 14. Even though I wasn’t doing it.”

Ultimately, though it resulted in a “magical summer” for Witherspoon, culminating in her first movie premiere. “I remember really distinctly Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the premiere. I also remember the outfit I wore to the premiere. I wore this little black velvet dress that had white flowers on top that were lace – and cowboy boots,” she giggles.

The film didn’t perform enormously at the box office, but Witherspoon’s reviews were so strong, it earned her a great agent. Though her parents insisted she go to high school like a normal teenager, she kept acting during the summers, kickstarting her acting career that then propelled her to box office heights with projects like Legally Blonde, before she morphed into the entertainment mogul she is today.

Watch the video above for more.

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The Man in the Moon
  • Movie
  • 99 minutes