Reese Witherspoon felt nervous about her new movie The Good Lie

07 Oct 2014 16:19
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Refugee saga: A scene from The Good Lie, directed by Philippe Falardeau.
One might surmise that there aren't many people who can rattle an A-lister like Reese Witherspoon.
But the Academy Award-winning actress says she was a bit nervous when she first learned with whom she'd be working on her latest film, The Good Lie.
A fellow Oscar winner, perhaps?
Multi-tasker: Reese Witherspoon is packing in a lot of acting along with a busy life as a mother. Photo: Jason Kempin
Nope.
In the film Witherspoon stars with three men of Sudanese descent - Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany and Emmanuel Jal - two of whom are former child refugees.
"I thought it was a great idea the director had that he wanted to cast real refugees, but I had some trepidation," says Witherspoon, who plays Carrie Davis, a woman who takes four refugees under her wing after a humanitarian effort brings them to the United States.
"But from the minute I auditioned with all three of these men, I was put at ease. They were so professional, so prepared, and had a real, emotional connection to the material. Their personal experiences just elevated the performances to a level where I felt like, 'Oh, now I understand what this movie is going to be like.'"
And after first reading the "moving" script, she says, her "immediate reaction was, 'I can't not do this'."
Though the characters in the film are fictional, The Good Lie mirrors the tale of "lost boys" and "lost girls" - real-life orphans of the civil war in Sudan, which began in 1983. Some walked more than 1600 kilometres in search of safety, and 3600 of the refugees eventually made it to the United States in the 1990s.
"It was painful. A lot of flashbacks," says Duany, who plays Jeremiah in the film and in reality escaped to Ethiopia with his family. In 1994 at age 15, he came to the United States from a refugee camp in East Africa.
The film "is a reality. It's the story of millions of people, and these types of problems are still going on all around the world," he says.
"This is just like my story," says Jal, who plays Paul. As a child, Jal was recruited into the South Sudanese Army but was able to escape to a refugee camp and made his way to Britain.
Though making the film brought back difficult memories, Jal says, he "immersed myself in it" and took the opportunity to sharpen his acting skills under Witherspoon, who the actors say took on the role of a big sister.
"We did form a friendship," says Oceng, who stars as Mamere. "We formed a family. It's the first film I've done where I've actually connected and made real friends."
And, much like in the movie, Witherspoon says she learned from them as well. She says that at the beginning she wasn't familiar with the story of the Lost Boys but it worked out because she "came at it from the perspective my character had, which was knowing nothing".
The experiences of her co-stars helped her understand what the refugees had gone through.
"I asked these guys a lot of questions. Part of it is so hard for me to process and understand. I'd say, 'This really happened?' They told me stories that were incomprehensible … I learned a lot."
"I feel like you are my small sister," Jal says.
"Even though I'm older than you?" Witherspoon cracks. "Or maybe we're the same age? I don't know. I think you're younger than me."
Witherspoon's Carrie, an employment agency counsellor who has been enlisted to help the three refugees find jobs upon their arrival in Kansas, ultimately ends up becoming much more involved in their lives.
"It's a beautiful movie about family and taking care of one another," Witherspoon says. "It's just one of those movies that makes you think about what you can do to be more appreciative and grateful for the things that you have."
Movies and motherhood Witherspoon has a jam-packed few months ahead. She has two new films with her name attached: The Good Lie, in which she stars as a woman who takes four Sudanese refugees under her wing, and Gone Girl, the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn's best-selling novel. Witherspoon, 38, had the foresight to snatch up the movie rights in 2012, and serves as a producer on the film, starring Ben Affleck.
She's also getting major attention for Wild, coming out in December in the United States, which made waves along with The Good Lie at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
And then there's Inherent Vice, and Don't Mess With Texas, slated for release in 2015.
Not to mention she's juggling life with a toddler, a preteen and a teen. Her two children with ex-husband Ryan Phillippe are growing up fast - Ava is 15, and Deacon is 10 - and she also has two-year-old Tennessee with husband Jim Toth.
With a happy family life and a post-Oscar-winning career that is hotter than ever, Witherspoon knows she has a lot to be thankful for. "I'm just really enjoying this time. It's great to be part of films that you feel proud of," she says.
But right now she's talking up The Good Lie, which she says is "very close to my heart." Unlike with some of her other more mature fare, her eldest two children can watch her in this one. It's a point she makes sure to bring up during an interview: "It's so hard to find movies to take your kids to," she says. "In the same way my kids love The Blind Side, [ The Good Lie] has a very similar uplifting feeling at the end. There's a lot of hard stuff, but it's definitely OK for kids." Kids starting "around age 10", she clarifies.
Also similar to Sandra Bullock's award-winning turn in The Blind Side, Witherspoon is already receiving pre-awards season buzz for her Good Lie performance, which she says is "very flattering. People are very nice and supportive."
But while all of that chatter is nice, there is one role of which Witherspoon remains proudest: "I've accomplished a lot. But I feel like I'm a really good mum," she says. "Yeah, most days I feel like a really good mum."
MCT

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