Who knew that paying attention to what Reese Witherspoon is reading could be the key to uncovering the next Gone Girl?
A new Wall Street Journal piece pegs Witherspoon as one of Hollywood’s foremost “literary tastemakers,” which, if you haven’t been following her Insta, is a result of her rescuing her career from rom-com purgatory to emerge as (maybe?) the most influential and unlikely book club host since Oprah Winfrey. Hear us out.
From Rom-Com Roadkill to Wild
In 2011, after a string of ho-hum films like Water For Elephants, Four Christmases and How Do You Know, Witherspoon was increasingly frustrated with the scripts crossing her desk. Her CAA power-agent husband, Jim Toth, suggested that she turn to her nightstand for new material. First up, the unpublished manuscript for Cheryl Strand’s Wild (which Reese optioned with her own money); from there, she set up a production company with partner Bruna Papandrea (Pacific Standard) and optioned the then-unpublished Gone Girl. Many studios passed on the film (no one said Hollywood was smart), until it became a best-selling juggernaut and suddenly everyone wanted a piece of it—and Reese.
Beyond Amazing Amy
With two incredibly successful adaptations under her belt, Reese doubled down on her search for fresh female voices with complicated protagonists. (As the WSJ noted, she has also tapped some authors to adapt their own work to bring new voices into the filmmaking process.) Her small team focuses on manuscripts that haven’t yet hit bookstores, and she isn’t afraid to bid against major players like Steven Spielberg and producer Scott Rudin.
Hashtag Read This
You don’t need a cheese plate and warm pinot for a bookclub (no judgement if you go ahead with that winning combo anyway). Just like us, Reese turned to GoodReads for reviews and the #RWBookClub hashtag was born, gaining traction that translated into a major influence on sales. Her Insta-endorsements can see books climb up the Amazon bestseller ladder and connect audiences to new works in a way not quite seen since Oprah’s Book Club.
Who Run the World?
Today, she has 16 book adaptions in the works—including an HBO series for Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, an adaptation of Jessica Knoll’s provocative first book, Luckiest Girl Alive. Throughout the process, Reese has stayed independent from a studio and has highlighted blind spots around telling stories centered on women. In response to a studio exec telling her the story of Barbie inventor and AIDS activist Ruth Handler wasn’t “fresh” enough, she said: “Well here’s the thing about female biopics: Almost none of them have been made, so they’re all pretty fresh.”
Preach, Tracy Flick.