'I never dated two people at the same time. I couldn't keep up, I can barely keep up with one'
Fighting off the men on screen is one thing, but real-life, modern dating? You can keep it, Reese Witherspoon tells Gill Pringle
MAYBE it's because she's been a mother for most of her adult life -- she was just 23 when she had her first child -- or perhaps it's because she married young, but the actress was curious to know how it felt to be a single woman with two men fighting over her.
"It's every woman's fantasy to have two unbelievably hot, sexy guys battling over you," she teases.
"I'm doing this for the ladies."
The result is the action comedy This Means War, featuring Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as CIA agents fighting it out for her.
Now that she's tried on the dating game for size, if only on screen, Witherspoon can't help but glance down contentedly at her wedding ring as we debate the changing face of sexual politics and internet dating.
"I just find dating nerve-wracking, and really, I don't date. I went from being married and then I was married again, so I didn't really date much," says the actress, who was wed for eight years to Ryan Phillippe, with whom she has two children; their marriage ended in divorce in 2007. She went on to date Jake Gyllenhaal for two years, before finding lasting love again with agent Jim Toth. The couple married a year ago at her ranch in California.
In This Means War, her character's best friend urges her to choose between her suitors by having sex with them both. In real life, Witherspoon takes the higher moral ground. "Sexual politics are always changing; that's life and you have to go with the flow -- but no, I never dated two people at the same time. I wouldn't know how to keep up with two -- I can barely keep up with one!"
Discussing modern dating rituals, she admits that if she were single today she would consider performing a background check.
Asked to describe a dating deal-breaker, she wrinkles her brow and casts her mind back: "I had somebody go into my computer without asking me and look at all my photos. I thought that was really un-cool."
Hand in hand with the ability to investigate a potential beau at the click of a mouse comes the equally vexing decline in privacy. Not just for celebrities, but anyone with a smartphone, Facebook page or even an iTunes account.
"I think the decay of privacy is very significant. It affects everyone today, although I think it's probably affected me for a little bit longer," she laughs in recognition of the two decades she's spent in the spotlight. "I lost my privacy a long time ago. It's something that you make peace with and you try to be careful and safe about things."
One of the most diverse actresses of her generation, she slips easily between comedy, romance, period fare and drama. And while she took home the Best Actress Oscar in 2006 for her portrayal of June Carter in biopic Walk The Line, she's often better recognised for her fine-tuned comedic skills; her This Means War co-star Tom Hardy described working with her as a "master class in the comedy genre".
She has recently completed work on the Mississippi drama Mud; she'll also portray 1950s artist Margaret Keane in Bug Eyes, and she's co-starring with Colin Firth in satanic thriller Devil's Knot.
"I have a production company, but I don't personally make a lot of movies," says the actress, who she set up her Type A Films production company after getting a taste for the business side of film-making after executive producing Legally Blonde 2 in 2003.
"I personally usually make one movie a year, because I have another full time job -- being a mother."
Witherspoon has long refused to be a victim of her own celebrity, to which end paparazzi frequently snap her jogging in the park, shopping in the supermarket or collecting her children Ava (12) and Deacon, (eight) from school.
Born in New Orleans to Catholic parents -- her mother a nursing professor and her father an ENT specialist -- she was raised with a typical Southern gentility which makes her stand out from the brasher elements of Hollywood.
A straight-A student, she spent just one year studying English at the prestigious Stanford University, before leaving to pursue acting, having already been bitten by the bug at the age of seven, when she appeared in a local florists' commercial. She took her first lead role in The Man In The Moon, at 14.
Throughout all her subsequent film success, achieving box-office highs with Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama, she has remained close to her family and says her mother is her guide.
If her This Means War character is forced to choose between Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, then Witherspoon herself refuses to choose between her co-stars.
"I'm married and my husband probably wouldn't be happy with me choosing either one of them," she laughs.