Pay attention, ’80s babies and ’90s kids! Reese Witherspoon is reminiscing about her first movie role — the 1991 cult classic Man in the Moon — and what it was like shooting a movie at only 14 years old. But more importantly to all of us who watched the film roughly a zillion times during our formative years, Witherspoon spills her feelings about having her first on-screen kiss with teen heartthrob Jason London. Swoon!
Witherspoon shared a “Storytime with Reese” video to Instagram going behind-the-scenes on what was effectively her big break. As she tells it, she caught a serious case of the acting bug after she got the chance to be in a commercial for a local flower shop owned by her friend’s grandmother. Hooked, she had her mom sign her up for acting classes. That led to a few more commercials, but nothing big — until she was an ad in the local paper looking for a 14-year-old Southern girl to star in a movie. After auditioning and not hearing anything for weeks, she assumed she hadn’t gotten the part. However, Hollywood soon came calling.
Recounted Witherspoon, “I came home from softball practice, and my mom said, ‘Reese, I need to talk to you. They’re calling and asking if you’ll go to Los Angeles for a screen test.’ And I’ll never forget, my mom said to the people on the phone, ‘What kind of movie is this anyway?’ I just think she wanted to make sure I wasn’t in, like, a dirty movie or something. Good job, Mom.”
It was Witherspoon’s first trip to the west coast, making it a pretty memorable experience. She put her feet in the Pacific Ocean. She drove down Wilshire Boulevard where all the palm trees are. She put in a long day of auditions and then flew back home, chalking it up as a great experience. “And then I got called again!” she gushed, adding that the directors wanted her to fly to Louisiana to run some scenes. When she showed up nervous, she got some invaluable advice from director Robert Mulligan. “He said, ‘Why don’t you chew gum? You sound different, you act different when you’re chewing gum.’ He’d make me spit it out right before I did the scene, but I had to remember how I did it when I was chewing the gum because he wanted me to throw all my words away or something like that.”
It obviously paid off, because Witherspoon booked the role. “It was the summer before I started my freshman year of high school, and we shot all summer and it was the most magical experience,” she shared. “I learned everything I needed to know about being a film actor: how to hit marks, how to perform for a camera, how to get emotional.” She even got lessons on running more athletically from London.
And speaking of London, well, Witherspoon admits some of her scenes with him were the most memorable. “I had to kiss a boy onscreen for the first time! I was 14 years old and I was so embarrassed. Oh, and I had to do a scene where I was supposed to be skinny dipping, and they had a nude double for me and that was so mortifying for me when I was 14 — even though I wasn’t doing it,” she said, laughing.
In full disclosure, I was obsessed with The Man in the Moon growing up. Young Southerners ourselves, my cousin, sister and I felt a deep connection to the coming of age story (even though it was set in 1957, far before our time). In the movie, Witherspoon stars as tomboy Dani Trant, who falls in love with a teen named Court Foster (London). The hitch? Dani’s sister Maureen Trant (Emily Warfield) is also in love with Court — and he loves her, too. Feel free to ask me how much my twangy adolescent self loved Court. Let me cut you off right there, though, because there are no words to adequately express the pining I did in those days.
Y’all, the movie is so good. And, as Witherspoon touches on, heartbreaking. But suffice it to say the now multi-hyphenate Witherspoon still recalls the emotional journey her role required. “Jason London was amazing, and he was so sweet and helpful. And Emily Warfield became the sister I never had. It was a really magical summer for me. The movie came out and it didn’t make a lot of money or anything like that,” she admitted, laughing. Since she got such stellar reviews, though, it led to her securing an agent and, ultimately, booking even bigger roles.
“I made Man in the Moon in 1990, so guys, do the math… it was 30 years ago,” she said. “I’m so proud that was my first movie. I really love that movie. If you get a chance, check it out. It’s really cute.” Seriously, though, listen to Witherspoon. Go forth, watch, have a good cry and hit me up if your inner Court-loving adolescent needs a virtual hug.