- Reese Witherspoon reflected on her lack of understanding about homosexuality as a teenager during a conversation with Regina King on Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series on Tuesday.
- “No one spoke to me about sexuality when I was a teenager. I didn’t understand what homosexuality was,” she told King.
- Witherspoon added, “My grandparents didn’t explain it. My parents didn’t explain it. I had to learn from somebody I met on an audition in Los Angeles.”
- The actress recalled her grandmother telling her that homosexuality was “rare,” a line she incorporated into her “Little Fires Everywhere” character’s script.
- “Elena says it because that’s what was said to me in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1994,” she explained.
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On Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere,” Witherspoon plays Elena Richardson, a suburban mother in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in the 1990s.
Working with a diverse group of writers to tackle topics like race, sexuality, and class on the show made the actress reflect on her own upbringing in Nashville, Tennessee, she told King.
“That great experience of being able to look at a time that was actually 30 years ago and think, ‘I was a teenager then. What did my mum say about sexuality, race, class? What were the things that I was told that maybe were true or not true? How was I insensitive?'” Witherspoon, who was a producer on the show, said.
The “Legally Blonde” actress, who had an Episcopal upbringing and regularly attended church as a child, said her family didn’t talk about sexuality when she was growing up.
“No one spoke to me about sexuality when I was a teenager. I didn’t understand what homosexuality was. My grandparents didn’t explain it. My parents didn’t explain it,” she said. “I had to learn from somebody I met on an audition in Los Angeles.”
When the actress did have a conversation with her grandmother, she told Witherspoon that homosexuality was “rare” and “not a thing that happens very often.”
The line stuck with Witherspoon, and she wrote it into her character Elena’s script as she struggles to accept her daughter Izzy’s (Megan Stott) attraction to women.
“Elena says it because that’s what was said to me in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1994,” she explained.
Witherspoon previously told the Los Angeles Times that roles like Elena, which tackle the complexities of motherhood, are still far and few between in Hollywood.
For years, her agents warned her that playing a mother on-screen would age her and ruin her career. She ignored them and took on the role of June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line” (2005).
She found herself dissatisfied with the roles offered to her afterward, so she started a production company called Hello Sunshine in 2016. The company has backed women-driven projects like HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” “Gone Girl” (2014), and “Wild” (2014).
Witherspoon explained that she’s committed to using her artistry to give women from all backgrounds an opportunity to tell their stories.
“Think about the hundreds of years, if not thousands of years of lost women’s stories,” Witherspoon said. “How the hell can I not feel that there’s a sense of urgency? Every woman I know that is working to tell stories of women or marginalised groups feels the same way. You don’t know how long a window will last. You hope it lasts a long, long time, but you never know.”
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