Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon was the second child born to John, a military surgeon specialising in ear, nose and throat operations, and Betty Reese, a registered nurse.
For the first four years of her life, Witherspoon lived in Germany due to her father’s military posting there before the whole family eventually returned to the United States to settle in Nashville, Tennessee.
Like many of her fellow Hollywood co-stars, Witherspoon began modelling at a mere seven-years-old. This led to television commercial roles before she landed her first significant acting part in ‘The Man in the Moon’ in 1990 as a 14-year-old tomboy. Roles in the films ‘Jack The Bear’ (1993) and Disney’s ‘A Far Off Place’ (1993) followed.
After graduating from a private all girls' school in 1994, Witherspoon decided to halt her acting career temporarily to attend Stanford University. Her intentions were short lived though as after just a year of studying, Witherspoon left to continue with her true ambitions on the acting path.
Taking the lead role of Wendy Pfister in the 1994 film, ‘SFW’, Witherspoon’s real break came when she starred alongside brat pack favourite, Kiefer Sutherland and Brooke Shields in the thriller ‘Freeway’ (1996). Her part earned Witherspoon a Best Actress award at the Cognac Festival du Film Project - the first time the industry had taken notice of the young actress’s talents. The same year she also starred with Mark Wahlberg in the film ‘Fear’.
1998 was a breakthrough year for Witherspoon, making three films, of which two in particular were stand-out parts.
Witherspoon was first seen portraying the wayward daughter of Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman in ‘Twilight’, then taking a less notable role in ‘Overnight Delivery’ before finally meeting a milestone in her career in Gary Ross’s black and white 1959s drama, ‘Pleasantville’.
Witherspoon’s role as the kooky Jennifer earned her the Best Female Breakthrough Performance recognition at the Young Hollywood awards and immediately caught the critics’ attentions.
Witherspoon continued her climb up the success ladder in 1999 by playing the part of Alessandro Nivola’s lover in ‘Best Laid Plans’.
Witherspoon’s role of Tracey Flick in the dark satire ‘Election’ (1999) opposite Matthew Broderick was well received by the critics. Playing a fiercely ambitious high school president candidate, the part led to her first Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
Witherspoon climaxed her roles of 1999 with a film she’s still most widely recognised for by many fans – ‘Cruel Intentions’. The remake of the French ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ drew a large box office audience with Witherspoon marking herself as a teen role model alongside pin-ups Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe.
Witherspoon’s role in Cruel Intentions was significant for personal reasons as it was on set that love finally blossomed between her and co-star Ryan Phillppe. The couple had in fact met in 1997 at Witherspoon’s 21st birthday party and got engaged the following year. After the success of Cruel Intentions though, the pair married and their first child, Ava was born soon after in September 1999.
In 2000, Witherspoon’s profile was raised further when she took a guest part on the hit TV show ‘Friends’ as Rachel’s little sister, Jill Greene. Driven by a desire to produce quality movies for young women, Witherspoon teamed up with Debra Siegel to launch a new film production company in 2000 named Type A Films. However, other than a small cameo appearance alongside Adam Sandler in ‘Little Nicky’ (2000) and a supporting role in ‘American Psycho’ (2000), Witherspoon had a relatively quiet start to the millennium to deliberately concentrate on her private life.
2001 secured Witherspoon’s earning potential with the box office smash ‘Legally Blonde’. Starring as Elle Woods, a fashion merchandising executive who becomes a law student in order to follow her ex boyfriend to Harvard, the comedy was an instant hit thanks to Witherspoon’s irresistible performance. The role also earned Witherspoon her second Best Actress Golden Globe nomination.
The relatively small success of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in 2002 didn’t immediately follow the audience enthusiasm of Legally Blonde’s appeal yet Witherspoon’s next film of the same year, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ made up for it. The romantic comedy was particularly close to Witherspoon’s heart because the plot centered around a Southern girl who after transforming herself into a New York socialite has second thoughts about her true roots when she’s on a visit back to her home.
A self identified Southerner; Witherspoon has always credited her family with establishing in her a sense of constancy that reflected in her own parental philosophy. “This whole LA culture is foreign to me because when I was growing up you wouldn’t watch your children every moment. I think part of the joy of being a child is privacy. Your fantasies and dreams are so important to you at that moment.”
The success of Legally Blonde in 2001 was followed in 2003 with its sequel ‘Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde’, which was a box office smash paralleling the success of its original. Witherspoon also gave birth to her second child, Deacon, in October of the same year.
Switching from the tried and tested winning formula of comedic acting, Witherspoon took on the role of elitist Becky Sharpe in Mira Nair’s modern style adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel ‘Vanity Fair’ (2004). The film was a moderate success but at this stage Witherspoon had already established herself as one of Hollywood’s highest earning female actresses, reportedly earning an average of $15 million per film role.
2005 was to be a landmark year in Witherspoon’s life. After completing the romantic comedy ‘Just Like Heaven’, in which she starred with Mark Ruffalo in a plot similar to 1990’s mega hit ‘Ghost’, Witherspoon filmed the part of June Carter Cash in the Johnny Cash biopic, ‘Walk The Line’. This project was potentially the most challenging of Witherspoon’s career to date - starring alongside Joaquin Phoenix, she was required to sing Carter’s songs, learn to play the autoharp and pull off a convincing portrayal of Carter’s trademark wisecracks and renowned character traits.
Witherspoon’s efforts came to fruition as not only did she win a Golden Globe for Best Actress and a Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor, she topped off her run of success with the ultimate accolade, an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Although topping up the phenomenal success of 'Walk The Line' would always be a challenge, she highlighted her determination to maintain the good form by gaining a Teen Choice Award nomination for her role in 2007's ‘Rendition’, where she played Isabella Fields El-Ibrahimi. She met actor Jake Gyllenhaal while filming and the pair soon became an item. Their relationship lasted for over a year, even getting engaged before they parted ways.
Witherspoon's film production house went on to create 2008's ‘Penelope’, ‘Four Christmases’ (2008), ‘Legally Blondes’ and a voice role in ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ following in 2009.
In 2010, Witherspoon teamed up with Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson for James L. Brooks' romantic comedy film ‘How Do You Know’. Her success means that she is always on demand, with 'Water for Elephants' released in 2011 and 'This Means War', released in 2012, which starred Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as two CIA agents fall in love with the same woman, played by Witherspoon.
Her latest films include 'Mud' (2012) and 'Inherent Vice' (2014).
However, whilst Witherspoon's impressive CV of acting parts had paid off with much publicised success, her family life had suffered. In November 2006, Witherspoon filed for divorce from her husband of eight years and father of her two children, Ryan Phillippe, citing irreconcilable differences.
She has since moved on and began dating Jim Toth, a co-head at the Creative Artists Agency, in early 2010. On 26 March 2011, the actress tied the knot for the second time at her ranch in California.
Witherspoon married Jim Toth in a pink gown designed by Monique Lhuiller, with her daughter and son from her first marriage being bridesmaid and ring bearer respectively.
She told Elle Magazine that her first marriage helped her learn a lot, despite being so young at the time.
"It was a good opportunity for me to really find out what it means to be a partner and to be in a marriage and it's not anything that I thought it was. You can't say, 'I don't want to talk about that' [to your partner]. You just can't. You've got to talk about it all."
Witherspoon is further strengthened by the knowledge that with an Oscar on her mantelpiece and a reported $29 million price tag per film (surpassing Julia Roberts as the highest paid actress of all time), her future as an A-list actress is secure.