Wearing a strapless navy dress and a joyous smile, Reese Witherspoon glowed as she stepped onto the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of her film Four Christmases.
And yet it was just two Christmases ago that she hit her lowest point, shortly after announcing that she and her then-husband, actor Ryan Phillippe, were ending their seven-year marriage.
But that was then and this is now, and right now is looking very good for Reese on pretty much every front. Her year-old romance with Jake Gyllenhaal is still sizzling, and her career has never been hotter. She’s now Hollywood’s highest-paid actress, commanding anywhere from $15 to $20 million a movie. The latest film for the Oscar-winner is Four Christmases, a romantic comedy in which she and Vince Vaughn play a couple forced to spend the holiday with the families of their divorced parents.
The film, it turned out, resonated with her personal life. “I just thought this was a different kind of Christmas movie,” the divorced mother of two says. “I’d never seen anyone do the idea of a blended family and how they have to go to a million different places, but I hear people complain about it constantly.”
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Before the break from Ryan, Reese had never had to deal directly with the particular problems divorce poses. But the fresh experience of recent months was something she brought to work on Four Christmases.
“How do you see your mother and your father and not hurt anyone’s feelings?” she asks. “It’s a situation my own children will have to deal with, so it was of interest to me.”
Also of interest to Reese is teaching her children more than the mere ABCs. At her Spanish-style weekend ranch in Ojai, Calif., Deacon and Ava help feed the chickens and the family’s two pigs while Mom works in the garden. The kids’ private school in L.A. requires students to commit to five community-service projects each year. And in her role as a global ambassador for the Avon Foundation, Reese has taken Ava and Deacon with her on trips as far afield as Japan, Paris and London. “I’m very lucky we get to grow and learn and experience things together,” she says.
This year, there’s been another reason for all this family globe-trotting — Jake. The 27-year-old has been overseas in England and Morocco filming Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, based on the hugely popular video game, and he and Reese have worked hard to nurture their romance, even at a distance of thousands of miles.
Malinda Williams, one of Jake’s co-stars in the film Nailed, tells OK!, “They’re both very intense actors in the way they work. I think they make a great couple.” Plus, she adds, both have their priorities straight. “Reese seemed very humble and down-to- earth — very grounded and normal.”
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For the complete story on Reese’s rise from the ashes of her marriage, pick up the new issue of OK! — on newsstands everywhere Wednesday!