As one of the most impressively talented members of the emerging New Hollywood of the early 21st century, Reese Witherspoon has proven that she can do far more than just pose winsomely for the camera. Born March 22, 1976, in Germany, and later raised in Nashville, TN, Reese was a child model and acted in television commercials from the age of seven. She had a part in the 1991 Lifetime cable movie Wildflower before making her 1991 film debut in the coming-of-age story The Man in the Moon (1991). The 14-year-old Witherspoon made an immediate impact on critics and audiences alike, netting widespread praise for her portrayal of a tomboy experiencing love for the first time.
While still in high school, Witherspoon completed two more feature films, Jack the Bear (1993), starring Danny DeVito, and Disney's A Far Off Place (1993), which required the actress to spend several months living in the Kalahari Desert. Following a supporting role in the 1993 CBS miniseries Return to Lonesome Dove and a lead in the critically disemboweled S.F.W., Witherspoon temporarily set aside her career to study English literature at Stanford University. She then returned to film as the abused girlfriend of a psychotic Mark Wahlberg in the thriller Fear (1996). In the same year, she had to deal with yet another crazed male in Freeway, a satirical version of Little Red Riding Hood in which Witherspoon co-starred with Kiefer Sutherland, who took on the role of the aforementioned crazed male. [Natasha Lyonne took the lead role for the sequel]
Her career began to take off in 1998, with her roles in two high-profile films. The first, Twilight, saw her sharing the screen with Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon, and Paul Newman. The film received mixed reviews and lackluster box office, but Pleasantville, her other project that year, proved to be both a critical and financial hit. The actress won wide recognition for her leading role as Tobey Maguire's oversexed sister, and this recognition -- along with critical respect -- increased the following year with another leading role, in Alexander Payne's acclaimed satire Election. Starring opposite Matthew Broderick, Witherspoon won raves for her hilarious, high-strung portrayal of student council presidential candidate Tracy Flick. The character stood in stark contrast to the one Witherspoon subsequently portrayed in Cruel Intentions, Roger Kumble's delightfully trashy all-teen update of Dangerous Liaisons. As the virginal Annette, Witherspoon was convincing as the object of Ryan Phillippe's reluctant affection, perhaps due in part to her real-life relationship with the actor, whom she married in June 1999.
After turning up in an amusing minor role as serial killer Patrick Bateman's burnt-out yuppie girlfriend in American Psycho (2000), Witherspoon again pleased critics and audiences alike with her decidedly Clueless-esque role in 2001's Legally Blonde. Her star turn as a seemingly dim-witted sorority blonde-turned-Harvard law school prodigy unexpectedly shot the featherweight comedy to number one, despite such heavy summer contenders as Steven Spielberg's A.I. and the ominously cast heist thriller The Score. The $18 million film went on to gross nearly $100 million, proving that Witherspoon had finally arrived as a box-office draw.… Expand