Reese Witherspoon finds her groove in Penelope

Feb 25, 2008 at 8:30 p.m. ET

When an Oscar winner walks in a room -- compared to the more common B-list actor -- the response from everyone around is clearly different.

Earlier in the day, Will Farrell and Woody Harrelson crossed SheKnows' path while awaiting Reese Witherspoon at Los Angeles' W Hotel. Although the sight of the comic with a white man's afro produces hilarity, when Witherspoon enters a room just down the hall for her "Penelope" press conference, a regal air takes over the space.GIRL POWER
Her Type A Films began its production tenure by creating "Legally Blonde 2." Type A has grown to create and launch its own property that arrives in theaters February 29 -- the modern fairy tale, "Penelope."Reese Witherspoon "This is the first one where we found the script and director," Witherspoon said. The story of a girl cursed to have a pig's nose until she finds her Mr Right stimulated her creative juices upon first reading. "It was a script where I got a lot of ideas about how to make it. We thought about making it an animated movie and couldn't figure out what to do with it.""Penelope" fit Type A's mission. "It's perfect for our company. It is a fantastic cinematic movie," Witherspoon said. "At the center of it is a great female character who's strong and ambitious. She has a journey to go through to get to the places she would find herself."The Oscar-winner considered portraying the title character with a pig nose, but other commitments demanded her time. But, she says, "I always wanted to be in it in some capacity."Witherspoon instead plays Annie, a Vespa-riding biker-chick who serves as a real world mentor for Penelope. "It was fun for me to get to play a smaller character where she's a… broad," she said and laughed. "I got to cruise around the streets of London on a Vespa and wear that funny hair and just be ballsy and fun."24-HOUR SUPPORT
Although the brunt of "Penelope" -- from a plot point of view -- is squarely on star Christina Ricci's shoulders, Witherspoon was keenly aware of other pressures. "I carried the weight in other ways," she said. "Like how are we going to get distribution — those things."It was freeing for the actress to portray a supporting character. "Those are the kind of parts I came up playing. It was nice to return to that," Witherspoon said. "And I love those kinds of characters where, like Barbara Stanwyck -- you just don't know if she's going to kiss you or stab you in the neck."Although she talks tough, Witherspoon was the picture of self-depreciating humor describing her experience actually riding the aforementioned Vespa. "Because I'm height challenged, my foot wouldn't touch the ground. They tried to lower it as low as they possibly could, and my feet still couldn't touch the ground. We had to put it on a rig," she laughs. Witherspoon was not alone. "Christina's too short, too. She had to sit on the bike with me. We had to do it good ‘ol movie style on a rig."TIMELESS AND MAGIC
The film setting possesses that mysterious fantasy feel that could be New York or London in the nineteenth century or last week. "It's such a magical fairy tale. We wanted it to be timeless," said Witherspoon. "We wanted to create a magic imaginary world."Penelope poster "Penelope" also stars James McAvoy and Catherine O'Hara. For the film to achieve its magic, she found a star in Ricci who brazenly adorned a pig nose for her art. "She looked so darn cute with the nose," Witherspoon laughs. "Christina came in and said ‘I want to wear the pig face. I want to do this.' I said, ‘Are you sure?' She's just fearless. There's such intelligence to her work. We grew up auditioning together for years sitting in waiting rooms waiting to get cast or not cast. We built a friendship and it's always great to finally do that collaboration you talked about for so many years."When asked what she and Ricci bonded over in those waiting rooms, she replied with a sentiment more often felt in Hollywood than on-set crushes. "Losing a lot of parts to other actresses," she said and laughed. "We have a similar sensibility. She's got this great force of nature about her. You want to wrap your arms around her and hug her and that's why I'm so excited about this film. It is an opportunity for audiences to really embrace her."THE CHARACTER OF BEAUTY
The magic of "Penelope," Witherspoon said, is how the lessons that need to be learned to kill the curse lay in information one already possesses. "She has to accept herself first before her body could change," Witherspoon said. The mother of two believes "Penelope" teaches a valuable lesson for all women. "There are all sorts of definitions of beauty. Finding what makes you unique is what defines you in life. It's important to know yourself."At the heart of Witherspoon's passion for "Penelope" is to fill a female Hollywood void. "Sometimes I get frustrated that there aren't a lot of great female characters out there. I miss those characters," she said. "Christina is playing one of those characters."MIND TRAINING WITH VINCE
Next for Witherspoon is appearing opposite Vince Vaughn on the upcoming comedy "Four Christmases." The work has been an education in tapping her inner improv. "He's a wonderful collaborator. He's so open. I was scared to death the first day," Witherspoon said. "His mind works so fast. You can't keep up with him. But, I feel like I'm trained. I got him a few times and that's a mental benchmark for me. Yes, I got him."ON CASH AND OSCAR
Although she won an Oscar for portraying June Cash in the classic, "Walk the Line," Witherspoon told SheKnows that the gold statue sitting in her house plays no part in choosing film roles or projects to produce. "I think you have to go forward as you always have," she said. "You can't let anything stop you from… it's how you grow up in life. I still feel like I can barely afford an apartment. I still call my accountant -- can I afford this?"When Witherspoon selects material, she believes there is a subconscious element at work as well. "I'm always choosing things based on where I'm at in life," she said. "Depending on what I've gone through recently plays a part in the decision-making. Things usually come your way that you would gravitate towards that mirror things in your own life."And, by the way, where is the Oscar?"I've considered making it into a door knocker or a necklace," she said and laughed. "Actually, I keep it in my living room."