Reese Witherspoon is a woman of substance. A woman who walked the entire nine yards of the journey atypical of a woman’s life. Started her career as a teenager, fell in love in late teens, had a baby in early twenties and did not fade away into oblivion. Instead she held her fort, managed both her career and family, along with starting her own garment label, a production house and a book club – Reese’s Book Club.
Reese is someone who did it all.
And that is why we would like you to hear this speech of hers which she gave in 2019 while accepting the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award. It is a powerful speech that has it all – humour, heart, charm but most importantly authenticity. She shares her experience when as a 22 year, one movie old, young mother, she was struggling to get work and was met with rejection every time. And how she, after being labelled as a shrew, chose to embrace her inner shrew and make it big, instead of trying to dampen it down.
Excerpts from Reese Witherspoon’s Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, 2019:
I wish I could have told my 22 year old self that I’d be standing here one day, I mean being recognized by people I profoundly admire for my small contribution to our world. But this is who I was – at 22. I had just made a movie called Election and it had come out and we had had pretty good reviews but I was pregnant and I was going to have a beautiful baby girl who is sitting here right now. And even though the film was really well reviewed my salary wasn’t much to speak off!
So basically I was new mom and I was broke and I needed to get back to work.
So, I was hustling for a job and I was auditioning all over the place and I found that all the scripts that I really loved were at this one particular studio and that I would always get to the last round of callbacks and the director wanted to hire me but the studio wouldn’t hire me. So, I couldn’t figure it out and I finally called my agent and I said -why? Why do I keep getting vetoed out by the studio? And he said, ‘Oh, here’s the thing. That executive thinks you are Tracy Flick and he thinks you are a shrew!
I’ll never forget that he used the word shrew because it sounded Shakespearean and important!
So, by the way, the definition of the word shrew, as it pertains to a woman, is technically a woman of violent temper and speech. Which nowadays, I understand, is the voice of a woman who speaks her mind and raises her voice against the system which underestimates her.
So I would just like to say, Thank you, I’m a shrew!
Does anyone else feel like they’re a shrew?! Could I see a raise of hands please?!
I knew! I liked you people, but back to the story.
My agent got me the meeting with the executive who didn’t like me and he said something to the effect of – don’t be too intimidating and don’t be too smart and don’t use a bunch of SAT words. Just be cool and wear something cute like a leather skirt or something. And now, you all, I am not cute and I didn’t own any leather skirts because I’m not exactly like a leather skirt kind of a girl. Just ask my kids I don’t have edge, I’m just not edgy.
But I had to accept that. So I was annoyed but resolute and I really wanted a job, so I went and bought a leather skirt and I got all dressed up and went to the interview, walking – in my leather skirt – into the meeting. The executive asked me what do you want out of your career and my 22 year old self told him that I wanted to give funny and dramatic performance and I wanted to deliver smart dialogue and create fascinating characters like my idols – Holly Hunter, Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep.
And he turned to me and said well not that many women get to be the lead in movies and also Meryl Steep is completely over.
I’m not even kidding! It actually happened, in real life. And I don’t remember what I said to him because I just sort of went blank and started nodding.
But if I could go back in time and talk to my 22 year old self, this is what I would tell her to say – First of all – Sir, I am not Tracy Flick. That is a character I played in a movie. That is how acting works. And, one day in December 2019, I will be sitting in a room at Milk Studios with so many women who are leading our industry by producing and creating films and television and shows on every platform for millions of people who really want to see better stories of women on film there. There will be so many of us you that you won’t be able to write us off!
And, also, you don’t ever get to talk about Meryl Streep like that! Okay? Ever!
And for those of you wondering, this executive left the studio shortly after and I haven’t seen or heard of him since.
However earlier this year, I had the distinct privilege of working with Ms. Meryl Streep and turns out now that Meryl is doing just fine. She’s actually doing great!
You can listen to the whole speech at – Reese Witherspoon, Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, 2019.
So, if someone could think of writing off Meryl Streep, there would be many more waiting to write you and me off!
But then, can they?
No. They cannot.
Not when they meet a woman who has the courage to grab the world with her spirit, attitude and talent.
*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*