How Reese Witherspoon Is Taking Female Lead Characters Outside Hollywood Stereotypes


If you haven’t yet seen ‘Wild’, the movie starring and produced by Reese Witherspoon, please do yourselves a favor and indulge. She is tipped to win an Oscar for her performance, but it is more than just her presence on-screen that grabs your attention.

If she wins an award, fantastic! Well deserved. But even if she doesn’t what Reese has already achieved with this landmark film is worth much more than a gold statue, because it has the potential to change the status quo of women in film both in front of the camera and behind.

‘Wild’ is a real life story based on the book of the same name by author Cheryl Strayed. Cheryl leaves a tumultuous life of a broken home, drugs, and broken relationship behind to hike the Pacific Crest Trail for 3 months solo. Her journey finding herself is what is most remarkable, because it doesn’t follow the typical plot line of what we see women starring in.

Reese and Australian female producer Bruna Pappandrea started a production company together in 2012 called Pacific Standard and vowed to make the types of films women don’t normally get paid to make or star in in Hollywood. The first two films released from the company are ‘Wild’ and ‘Gone Girl’, both of which are nominated for awards in 2015.

These films are also both based on best-selling books. It is certainly one of those ‘best possible scenarios’ for a new film production company, helped somewhat that it is helmed by an Oscar-winning actress. But Reese’s current reputation as a strong, empowered woman in film had it’s own journey of evolution.


We all remember her starting out as the pretty, perky, sweet blonde girl in movies like ‘Election’, ‘Cruel Intentions’ and more famously ‘Legally Blonde’. After her divorce from actor Ryan Philippe, her career took a decidedly different turn, signaled by her Oscar win for portraying June Carter Cash in ‘Walk The Line’ in 2004.

Today Pacific Standard has 16 movies in development. The New York Times recently stated that she is perhaps on the cusp of a comeback similar to that of fellow Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, who also started his career in typical one-dimensional roles and after taking a little time out, graduated to playing characters unlike what we would ever expect from him in the past.

And that is exactly what Reese wants to get across, that female characters shouldn’t be predictable and “expected” in any way. They should leave audiences guessing, reflecting the real life complexities of women in the world.

“Other than one studio, literally one, nobody was developing anything with a female lead,” she said at the New York Film Festival not too long ago. “It just hit me like a ton of bricks. And I was so mad. And then I thought: ‘Why am I so upset about this? Why don’t I do something about it?’ ”

She explains the agony of sitting through many meetings with film executives who openly tell her how THEY don’t want her to be portrayed on film.

” ‘We don’t want Reese to say profanity. We don’t want her to have sex. We don’t want her to take drugs,’ ” she recited. “I didn’t really feel the constraints of it until about three years ago, where I realized, ‘I’m not this.’ I’m a complex person that has so many different aspects in my personality. But somehow, I have this reductive experience where I’m put into this tiny little box.”

They wanted her to be “likeable” but in a very narrow-minded way. Reese’s idea of likeable was vastly different.

“To me, likable is human, and real, and honest. To me, I find the character in ‘Wild’ much more likable than a lot of characters I’ve played in comedy. She’s telling the truth. She’s not ashamed of the sexual experiences she’s had. She’s not ashamed of her drug use.”


The fact that ‘Wild’ has been so well-received is a revelation to both Reese and Bruna that audiences are indeed ready to see something different from women in film.

“I said to my producing partner, ‘If we can pull this off, this’ll be the first movie, I believe, I can’t recall, but that stars a woman that at the very end has no money, no man, no parents, no job, no opportunities, and it’s a happy ending.’ How important, how needing of that, are we? How late to the party are we?”

“We save ourselves,” she said. “Every woman knows it. Every man knows it. You look up. Nobody’s coming to the rescue. It’s a universal story. But it’s revolutionary in the way that a woman is allowed to tell it.”

In an interview with ‘60 Minutes’, she expands on the important films they are making, saying she feels a lot more free to actually be part of films that matter to her now. Not only does she feel confident in the material she is producing and starring in, but she also feels she has more to say in interviews now.

When asked by some people no why she doesn’t play weaker characters or “American Sweetheart” roles anymore, she replies “I don’t know any weak women!”

Strong women, such as her mother and grandmother have been her role models from the start, and after a few hiccups along the way in her stellar career, strong women have once again become her impetus, and now signature.

Here’s the full 60 minutes interview which is definitely worth watching:


  1. Pingback: Rose Byrne Starts An All-Female Film Production Co. Called Dollhouse Collective

  2. Pingback: Fab Feminist Flicks October Edition: LGBTQ+ Activism - Fabulously Feminist : Fabulously Feminist

  3. Pingback: Reese Witherspoon: "Films With Women At The Center Are Not A Public Service Project"

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.