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Witherspoon feels the weight of Nashville on `The Line'

Witherspoon feels the weight of Nashville on `The Line'

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LOS ANGELES - How many of the articles written about Reese Witherspoon in the past decade have concentrated on her confidence and her composure? How many have focused on how she has balanced career and motherhood, acting and producing to become one of the most powerful young actresses in Hollywood?

It's a bit surprising, then, to hear a measure of doubt in the 29-year-old Witherspoon's voice as she discusses her turn as June Carter in "Walk the Line," a Johnny Cash biopic that has already stirred up awards buzz.

"I'm terrified of people in Nashville seeing it," Witherspoon says. "I ran into people the other day and I just avoid their eyes. Like I saw Vince Gill the other day and he's like, I can't wait to see the movie.' And I'm like,Ugh.' Because, I'm just scared and Dolly Parton, she's like, I really want to.'Please don't see the movie.'"

Born in Louisiana, but raised in Nashville, Witherspoon couldn't be more aware of the reverence with which Carter and Cash are treated in her hometown, or of the anticipation for James Mangold's long-gestating film. Not only do Witherspoon and co-star Joaquin Phoenix have to embody the two iconic figures, but they did their own singing in the film, putting both actors in unfamiliar territory.

"I feel pretty good about the acting bit, I still don't feel like 100 percent," Witherspon explains. "I still feel I could have rehearsed about two more years on the singing. But, you know what? It is what it is."

While Phoenix had the difficult chore of handling Cash's instantly recognizable voice, the "Legally Blonde" star dedicated herself to doing justice to Carter, whose family was country music royalty. She learned to play several sounds on the auto-harp and immersed herself in a wealth of Carter resources.

"I think you spend months and months listening to the music, absorbing, practicing, working with real musicians who worked with them and getting as much of that as you can," she says, before adding, "And then the day you start shooting you have to throw it all away. Because, they had no self-consciousness. They were natural performers and at that time it wasn't about how you could synthesize a voice and make it appealing, it was about the natural little hiccups and the way you related a story or wrote the soul in the words you wrote."

Ultimately, the experience was satisfying enough that she now says she'd love to try a musical someday. Even if "Walk the Line" does, as most industry observers expect, yield her first Oscar nomination, Witherspoon promises she won't give up on her bread-and-butter romantic comedies.

"I don't do things for money, I do them because I love them and I enjoy them," she says. "I loved making Legally Blonde' and I loved makingLegally Blonde 2.' I am really lucky I am a woman and get to play characters that aren't just the girlfriends or just the wife. I get to play great comedic characters. I would never turn my back on that."

Witherspoon is no stranger to career negotiation and navigation and it's obvious that - Nashville-based nervousness aside - she's at a comfortable place in her career.

"These moments are so rare that you have a film that you feel really great about, that you feel great about the cast and the director," she says. "You just have to hope they come along every five years. If they come along more frequently, you're a lucky person in this business. We all are trying our best to make the best films, sometimes you just have to roll the dice."


(c) 2005, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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