By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon (“Election,” “Walk the Line”) returns to her comedy roots in the female buddy comedy “Hot Pursuit.”
The petite blond, blue-eyed actress, who was born in New Orleans and grew up in Nashville, is paired with sultry and saucy Colombian comedienne Sofia Vergara, best known for her role on the popular TV sitcom “Modern Family.”
Witherspoon, 39, plays a cop who has been banished to the records room after a snafu out in the field. She has a chance to redeem herself when she is called up to escort Vergara’s Daniella Riva, the wife of a Texas mobster who has agreed to testify against a drug kingpin across the state from San Antonio to a Dallas courthouse. It seems like a routine enough assignment, Riva’s husband is knocked off and some dirty cops may be behind it. It’s then up to Witherspoon’s diminutive and by-the-book Officer Cooper (Witherspoon) to deliver her uncooperative witness who also is a target of the bad guys.
Looking perky and pert in a short sleeve spring dress, Witherspoon spoke about co-starring in a “Thelma & Louise” type comedy with Vergara, who also serves as executive producer. Their connection came through Witherspoon’s husband Jim Toth, who happens to be Vergara’s talent agent.
Q: You are beautiful but you are co-starring with Sofia and you are kind of playing…
Witherspoon: (nodding her head) … the dude.
Q: Were there any vanity issues? Also, there were several scripts that the two of you could have done together. How did you decide on this one?
Witherspoon: I am such a huge fan of Sofia’s on “Modern Family.” My family watches it every Wednesday night and I started to think, “Oh, it would be really funny to do a movie with her, a buddy movie.” So we were meeting and literally every man in the hotel lobby stopped what he was doing and stared at her the entire time. It was like being in a hair care commercial. She sat down and she was just as lovely and charming as I thought she would be—thank goodness—and we just started talking about movies and this was the one we both decided would be the funniest. I knew she would be beautiful so I decided I would be the dude. I like playing weird characters anyway.
Q: This may be the first time you we’ve seen two females—one Caucasian and one Hispanic—as lead characters in a Hollywood comedy. Can you talk about that and how Latinos are making more progress in Hollywood?
Witherspoon: I was looking around about two or three years ago and reading all these articles in the “L.A. Times” and “The Hollywood Reporter” about Latin audiences showing up (at films). They are 35-55 percent of the audience, and looking then at movies and going “Where are the Latin actors?” Also, movies that are reflective of our culture where some people speak Spanish and some speak English, that’s the kind of life that everybody is living every day but we’re not seeing it reflected on screen, so I think it’s great and hopefully, we’ll cross our fingers, for the success of a film like this, there will be more thought about that kind of opportunity to showcase what real life looks like.
Q: You two have a screen kiss. What was that like?
Witherspoon: That was her idea. No, it was in the script.
Q: And when she pulled your ponytail, was that in the script?
Witherspoon: No, she did that. I had whiplash for three days. She just grabbed that ponytail and was twisting my head around.
Q: How much of the physical comedy in the movie was improvised?
Witherspoon: We were so happy to have Anne Fletcher (“Step Up,” “The Guilt Trip”) directing us because I don’t have a lot of physical comedy instincts. I’m more verbal so we got to certain scenes like where we are running from bad guys or we are in that bathroom and we have to push ourselves through the window. I would turn to Anne and say, “Just show me what you want me to do because I don’t know what to do,” so Ann just started putting her legs up there. Anne also thought it was funny when we were talking at the same time.
Q: There seems to be a little Tracy Flick (“Election”) in your character, so what is the trick in playing these Type A characters?
Witherspoon: I don’t know. People just like it and think it’s funny and I just enhance it and make it even bigger and more annoying. People really seem to enjoy laughing at me.
I also like to find the heart of that person. I loved Officer Cooper. She’s a little nerd and she has no female friends. She has no friends and she’s kind of a wreck so when she meets Sofia’s character, she’s like, “That’s my first friend.” I love that scene where she makes out with a guy and runs to tell Daniella, and Sofia’s like “Whoops, we’re not friends.”
Q: Do you see this as a feminist film in any way?
Witherspoon: We had the idea to make a movie that wasn’t about romantic involvement. It wasn’t about men and chasing men. As soon as you strip that element away, you actually get to dig deeper into female characters. I think it’s great.
Q: What would you say to younger generations of women trying to get into the entertainment industry?
Witherspoon: First of all, get your foot in the door if you are a writer or director. The most important thing and do everything you possibly can to just start working because the more you have time on set and learn what developing scripts or movies are like, (the better). It’s incumbent on people like us to hire interns and having people standing next to us learning how to direct. Practical experience is the best way to learn. I would say it’s important to get those experiences and work hard. (The professional networking website) LinkedIn is an incredible opportunity and if you are a professional, we’ve hired people from LinkedIn.
One of the most important things for women out there is you have to show up and buy (movie) tickets because if you want to see something different you have to support the women who are writing and directing the better this movie does.