Reese likes a good communicator

"Settling back in her chair, Witherspoon proves an engaging subject. She is dressed in a simple black top and blue jeans and (I'm reliably informed) sports a swanky new hairdo. She is refreshingly candid - it's a trait she values, saying that she likes a man to be "honest, candid, a good communicator" - although she does questions about her current beau with a very straight bat."He's not in the movie, so I can't really talk about him," she coos, citing the actor's equivalent of the fifth amendment. Witherspoon, it appears, is also keenly intelligent. She grew up a self-proclaimed "book dork" and certainly seems to have forged her career path with a craftswoman's precision.

She was born Laura Jean Reese Witherspoon in New Orleans, and spent her formative years in Germany, where her father did his military service, before the family settled in Nashville, Tennessee. The Witherspoon family itself boasts a rare pedigree - one of her Scottish forefathers, John Witherspoon, became president of Princeton University and signed the original Declaration of Independence - and Laura Jean was raised in a quiet, conservative enclave.

"My upbringing was kind of old-fashioned," she concedes, "that's how I grew up, hence I've always thought that while you have to let your children be individuals, you have to set boundaries."
Her first film role came with 1991's romantic drama The Man In The Moon, the last film shot by To Kill A Mockingbird's Robert Mulligan, in which she played a 14-year-old tomboy who falls in love with her older teenage neighbour. The young starlet won unilateral praise, her co-stars naming her "Little Meryl". Indeed, so tenacious was she in her pursuit of her dreams, that Witherspoon's parents dubbed her Little Miss Type A.

Type A is now the name of her production company, which has already enjoyed success with Legally Blonde 2: Red, White And Blonde (2003), Penelope (2006) and Four Christmases (2008). "It's funny, that Little Miss Type A thing does conjure up an image of a total control freak," she muses, "but I really wouldn't say that's me. I am a go-getter type of girl, though, but it's probably been motivated by fear more than anything. Anyway, nowadays, I have to be a go for it' kind of girl. If you are a separated woman with children, you don't really have any other option."

And how does she feel about being touted as the most powerful woman in Hollywood? "I don't really know what that means," she offers. "Now, though, I do feel more confident - I have much less doubt - and that helps me in my daily life and in my work. For me, especially in this film, I want to find characters that I think are really strong and speak to young women.
"I admire a lot of people who manage to have great careers and have a family life and then have also kept their feet on the ground. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were a great inspiration. There are people who do great things with celebrity and create opportunities for other people who really need it."
These are not hollow platitudes: Witherspoon herself has been involved in children's and women's advocacy organisations, serving on the board of the Children's Defence Fund, She was also named global ambassador of Avon Products in 2007, for whose foundation she served as honorary chair. Doesn't she ever feel a little too exposed?

"You hope that the tabloid things will go away," she smiles. "Sometimes I feel like a 49-foot woman. I go places where I see people whispering and pushing their children toward me to take pictures or look cute in front of me. I know what that feels like, a little bit. But I would not say it is a detriment. This career has afforded me a lot of great things in my life and I am very lucky and blessed to have everything I do. I want to carry on making good movies."