Some movies you do for the cash. Some you do for Oscar glory. And some, if you're Reese Witherspoon, you do for the kids.
She's done many a hit, from Legally Blonde to last winter's Four Christmases. She's been a critic's choice since Election. And she has her Oscar, for Walk the Line.
So her reasons for doing Monsters vs. Aliens: her daughter Ava, 9, and son Deacon, 5. It's "a movie they could wear the funny 3-D glasses to see."
Monsters is an animated 3-D comedy about Earth-bound monsters released from government custody to battle invading aliens. Even a movie that has Witherspoon's character transforming from an unassuming bride into Ginormica, a gigantic "monster" woman, has its teachable moments.
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"Sometimes we walk away from movies, and I quiz them about them. 'What did you think that movie was about?' I did that after Monsters vs. Aliens, and my little girl goes, 'I think it's about never letting anybody underestimate you!'
"Wow. Gold star for her. She's the one who should be doing my interviews on this one!
"Then my son said, 'Make sure octopus aliens don't eat our planet!'"
A struggle with her own identity
Witherspoon giggles. Boys will be boys, after all. But she saw role-model potential in Susan, the "little woman" who grows into someone more substantial in the film, which opens Friday.
"Susan has a great story line," Witherspoon says. "I knew if we did this right that she could be very inspiring to a lot of kids. She's somebody who has a not very high opinion of herself at the very beginning, not wanting anything much for herself out of life. But she takes this journey, becomes gigantic, and starts to see her inner resources as her own greatest asset. I love playing somebody who is in a struggle with her own identity. Kids connect with that, I think.
"It's not her size that matters. It's the strength she finds in her personality that's what's cool about Susan."
A reunion with Paul Rudd
Another plus to making the movie was that she would get to reteam with Paul Rudd, her co-star in Overnight Delivery, back in 1998. Rudd plays Susan's self-absorbed, career-obsessed weatherman fiancé in Monsters. Until, that is, she becomes Ginormica. They recorded their scenes together for the animators.
"Just being in the booth with him made the scenes funnier," Witherspoon says. "Nobody can deliver a line like him. He's not afraid of being an idiot. Paul's a guy who was born missing that humility gene."
Rudd recalls being impressed with Witherspoon long before she was a household name.
"I remember watching Man in the Moon and thinking, 'That girl is one of the most naturally gifted kids I have ever seen,'" Rudd says of Witherspoon's first film, made when she was just 14 (she turned 33 this week). "There's not many careers that would track from that to Fear to Tracy Flick in Election to Legally Blonde to Walk the Line. She is amazing."
More animation to come
That mutual admiration society will be honored when they team up yet again for a new James Brooks romantic comedy that Witherspoon will star in. How Do You Know is the working title of a film that has Witherspoon learning a "secret" new skill — "It's not another musical instrument" is all she'll say about that — and will also star Owen Wilson.
And then there's the movie after that, another one for the kids. The Bear and the Bow will be animated; Witherspoon will play a royal scion who would rather become a great archer than a princess. Billy Connolly also stars, because this Pixar tale is set in ancient Scotland.
"I get offered a lot of animated movies. I don't know why. Is my voice funny? But something about Susan and Ginormica reached me. And right after that, Pixar came along with another great character. A girl from royalty who would rather be a great archer? And she has a Scottish accent? Who could turn that down? You always go for the great character to play, even if she's animated."