| Reese Witherspoon (top) in the film Legally Blonde II and Mira Nair. (Reuters)
London, June 9 (Reuters): When Reese Witherspoon discovered she was pregnant just weeks before she was due to start work on the set of Vanity Fair, she didn’t let her expanding waistline get in her way.
Instead, she spoke to director Mira Nair who agreed to have a pregnancy written in to the script.
Five months on, Witherspoon has a visibly swollen belly and another two months filming ahead of her.
And while the rewrite has provided a neat solution to the problem of her growing girth, she has still had to use a little initiative on set.
“We’ve had a couple of scenes where my stomach was peeking out a bit, but we’ve found solutions,” she said, explaining how she hid her stomach by wearing voluminous dresses and standing behind strategically placed pieces of furniture.
Witherspoon plays social climber Becky Sharp in the adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s classic novel, set in London in the 1820s.
It is her second foray into period drama following her role in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest last year.
“The Oscar Wilde was a very traditional telling of a classic play but this is different,” Witherspoon told Reuters in an interview. “Mira Nair’s interpretation is very avant garde and really cool. I think people are going to be very surprised.
“It’s like nothing you’d expect from an English period film. There’s a lot of sensuality, and things which would normally be seen as rather forward.”
Vanity Fair, due out in 2004, is a far cry from her latest film, Legally Blonde II, due for release on July 2.
While Becky Sharp is a hard-nosed realist who uses her guile to rise through London society, Elle Woods — the Californian sorority-girl-turned-lawyer in Legally Blonde — is a breezy, eternal optimist who never thinks badly of anyone.
“I’m having a great time playing Becky,” Witherspoon said. “She’s a world away from Elle Woods and for me it’s a great departure. It was a natural decision for me to get as far away from American pop culture as I could.”
Blonde, beautiful, articulate and funny, Witherspoon has been hailed as a future first lady of Hollywood. Still only 27, she commands the kind of multi-million dollar fees reserved for the likes of Julia Roberts.
Tennessee-born Witherspoon made her film debut aged 15 in The Man in the Moon and was catapulted to fame by the first Legally Blonde film in 2001.
The comedy, about a not-so-dumb blonde who belies appearances by getting to Harvard Law School and beyond, grossed $20.4 million on its opening weekend and never looked back.
In the sequel, Woods packs her pink suits and designer shoes and, accompanied by her beloved pet Chihuahua Bruiser, heads to Washington to fight for animal rights.
And next' Where does Elle Woods go from here'
“Marc Platt, the producer, thought it would very funny to have Elle in London, having to go up to the bar with all the barristers,” Witherspoon says, when asked about the possibility of a Legally Blonde III.
“Europe is the next big world to conquer. Elle’s conquered America. It’s time to conquer the globe.”
That would be home from home for Witherspoon. She spent several years in Germany as a young child, is a regular visitor to Britain and has Scottish roots. One of her ancestors, John Witherspoon, was the only Scot to sign the American Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Witherspoon helped with the production of Legally Blonde II and says she enjoys working behind the camera.
“I’m interested in directing too...but probably a little further down the line,” she said.
“It’s difficult when you’ve got little children to look after,” said Witherspoon, who has a three-year-old daughter with Hollywood husband Ryan Phillippe.
Recently named by People magazine as one of the world’s 50 most beautiful celebrities, Witherspoon — like Elle Woods — is keen to stress she is more than just a pretty face.
“If all your career is based on how you look, then there’s bound to come a point when that fades,” she said.
“Being a great actor or a funny actor is something that stands the test of time.”