| Michel Comte |
TORONTO, Canada (AFP) – Reese Witherspoon, who won an Oscar in 2006, is generating critical buzz again, appearing at the Toronto film festival Monday in two based-on-true-life films.
“You never set out to make a film that’s going to get awards,” Witherspoon commented about the talk surrounding her performances in “The Good Lie”, about an American woman who takes in Sudanese refugees, and “Wild”, based on author Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir.
“I don’t even think about it,” she said. “If a movie can help one other person get through a tough time, that’s the gift.”
Her co-star in “Wild”, Laura Dern, however, welcomed the critics’ praise, saying “movies that have this level of truth and importance for all of us should be… seen by the world – and the more support, that’s great news.”
The 38-year-old Witherspoon has been one of Hollywood’s highest-paid and most bankable box office draws since her breakout starring turn in the 2001 comedy “Legally Blonde”.
But she failed to gain credibility as a serious actress until her 2006 Oscar win for her role as singer June Carter Cash – the wife of superstar Johnny Cash – in James Mangold’s biopic “Walk the Line”.
“Wild” is beautifully shot by Vallee, whose previous feature “Dallas Buyers Club” began its journey to Oscar success in Toronto last year.
Devastated by the death of her mother in 1991, Strayed self-destructs – destroying her marriage, becoming hooked on heroin and even becoming pregnant by a stranger.
In a bid to find her way out of despair, she embarks on a 1,100-mile (1,770 kilometre) hike along the US Pacific Crest Trail.
Witherspoon sought out the acclaimed author to bring “Wild” to the silver screen, saying she felt a powerful connection to the protagonist.
“It’s an important book in my life, it’s about a beautiful journey to save yourself.”
The film – with a screenplay by Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity”, “About a Boy” and “An Education”) – shows Witherspoon in explicit sex scenes, injecting heroin and badly bruised from lugging a 75-pound “monster” backpack through the awesome California and Oregon wilderness.
The actor said she expected during filming to have “newspapers stuffed in the pack,” but Vallee insisted that “it actually has to be heavy.”
“It changed the way I walked,” Witherspoon said. It “dug into my shoulders, and my body quickly got tired of carrying this thing.
“And then after five and a half weeks of carrying it on my back, I got so used to it. It was like an appendage, and I missed it when it was gone,” she said.
During the film shoot, Vallee also ordered the actors not to apply any makeup, going as far as covering the mirrors in their on-set trailers to prevent lapses.
“It was raw,” said Witherspoon, but “if Cheryl could be brave enough to tell every part of her story, I had to be brave enough to throw away my vanity and go for it.”
In “The Good Lie”, directed by Philippe Falardeau, Witherspoon plays a secondary role to the actors playing the refugees, several of whom actually lived the experience depicted onscreen.
Emmanuel Jal and Ger Duany were born in South Sudan and were among the more than 20,000 Lost Boys of Sudan who were displaced – and some orphaned – during the 1983-2005 civil war.
Fellow cast member Kuoth Wiel was born in a refugee camp in neighbouring Ethiopia.
Jal said reading the script for and making “The Good Lie” was “very, very difficult. It was like I was reading my own story. It was painful.”
Duany added, “My journey was very long before I came to the United States. I was among the kids that walked to Ethiopia.”
“During that long walk we never thought that we would have something to offer to the world. We were just looking for help – we didn’t know that we would come this far to share something important about our country,” he said.