Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment
August 6, 2005
In the romantic comedy Just Like Heaven, Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon), a workaholic doctor who doesn't have time for a personal life, is involved in a car accident, and subsequently finds herself roaming the earth in an ethereal state. She also finds a stranger named David (Mark Ruffalo) living in her San Francisco apartment. David, who is the only one who can see her, becomes convinced Elizabeth is a ghost, but the young woman isn't so sure. Together, they go on a journey to find out what happened to her, and discover a world of missed opportunities along the way.
Just Like Heaven is directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) and also features Donal Logue (Grounded for Life) and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) as a scene-stealing psychic.
In this interview, Reese Witherspoon talks about her experience of working on this project, a few of the issues raised by the story, and her guilty pleasure of television.
MEDIA: What are your thoughts on the afterlife?
REESE: Well, that's sort of an interesting question because I hadn't really thought about it until yesterday when I started getting lots of questions about it. [laughs] But I do believe that there is a certain part of your spirit or your self that carries on. I had grandparents I was really, really close to, and I've had moments...like when I was having my children, I was in the hospital, I felt like my grandparents were with me. I saw them in the room. It was sort of a comforting thing, not as a spooky thing. [laughs] And it's an interesting theory, too, because we are energy, and where does it all go? It must go somewhere...
Did you enjoy working with the special effects involved with this film?
Well, for me, it was a really exciting experience because I never had worked with greenscreens or special effects or stop motion cameras, so it's all very much an education for me. It is different because you have to do multiple takes of things. [laughs] It's not a very natural process. But poor Mark Ruffalo had to deal with it more than anybody. He had to do every scene like three times. And I think it was all a bit maddening for him.
What did you think of Mark being cast as the film's leading man?
Any time that you're doing a film that requires comedy, you really have to have somebody who understands character. And I was really excited to work with him because it makes things so much funnier when you're just not trying to be funny, but you're finding the heart of the character and you're getting into the emotions of the character. And I knew he's a very versatile actor. I was actually just really thrilled how funny he was. I didn't expect to come to the set and be laughing every day. Because he's kind of silly. [laughs] He reminds me a lot of myself. I said to him at the end of this, "You know, more than any other actor I've ever worked with, you remind me of myself." I think we made a nice match.
What do you think of the film's theme of taking time off just to enjoy a personal life?
You know, I read a lot of scripts, and I like the idea that this one had a really great idea at its heart of nurturing yourself and how important that is to nurture your spirit--that you can work your whole life away and take care of other people, but it's important to spend some time taking care of yourself. And if you don't, what happens? Does your spirit leave you? And I like that sort of Wonderful Life opportunity of being able to have a second chance. I like when films have a reason to watch them over again. You get a surprise or a twist or something that's a little deeper than just a surface laugh. So yeah, I have a busy life, too. There's times where I feel like I'm on a hamster wheel and I can't get off. [laughs] Or a speeding train and I have no idea where I'm going. So it's nice sometimes to just take a break and step back. But I think a lot of people have these experiences. A lot of [people] can relate to just working and working and trying to accomplish things, and not concentrating on the things that are important.
Would you call this a "chick flick"?
I don't know...We've got some great parts of it that I think are going to open up the audience a lot. Jon Heder, I think, is incredibly funny and a great comic talent that has a role in this that I think is going to widen out his audience a little bit. And it was exciting to work with him, too, because he's really the real deal. I thought he was going to come in with the puffy, curly hair and the glasses and the dorky suit and the whole thing. [laughs] And he's just a really nice, regular guy, and he's very funny and witty. And also, Mark Ruffalo, I think, has a very diverse audience. So I think it opens it up out of the "chick flick genre." But if your girlfriend drags you, you might like it, too. [laughs]
Do you believe in soulmates?
Oh...I guess without sounding too drippy, I guess I do. I mean, I'm very lucky that I met somebody in my life so young who is just my greatest friend, and beyond every kind of bump in the road or the journey of life, we just really like each other. We make each other laugh...we like the same crappy television shows. Me more than him. [laughs] Yeah, I do believe that there's people out there like...a person for you. I mean, it's been my experience, so it's sort of nice to do that in a film...have that idea.
So what sort of crappy television shows do you watch?
Like What Not to Wear. On good television, though...I like Lost. It's like I can't tear my eyeballs away from the show! [laughs]
Are there any movies that you watch over and over again?
Well, I love anything that Goldie Hawn's in. Overboard is like my favorite movie of all time. Whenever I'm sick and not feeling well, [my husband] brings it in. And I'm sitting in bed and he's like, "Do you want to watch Overboard?" [tiny voice] "Yes! I do!" I just love Goldie Hawn in that movie! She's perfect. Ummm...let's see...what other movies do I watch? I watch a lot of television. I watch a lot of television. [laughs] I'm trying to think of what I've watched lately. I love American Idol. I watch it with my daughter. It's one of the only shows you can watch with your kids that hour of the night. We watch a lot of nature shows and stuff. I like SpongeBob SquarePants.
To what extent is Just Like Heaven a film about euthanasia?
It raises some very interesting, deep questions that I think hit people pretty hard. It's a comedy that has that element to it. I don't think we felt like we were making a movie that stood on one side or the other of euthanasia. I don't think we realized the political ramifications of making a film like this at this moment. But I think it's an interesting movie in that it brings up those questions, and it allows you to think about, "Maybe I should talk to my family about this. Maybe I should plan for these kind of situations." I don't know, it's interesting that people are taking that from it.
Between playing a doctor and playing a spirit, which was more fun for you, and why?
[laughs] Well, it was kind of fun playing a doctor just because my parents are both in the medical profession. And I got to dress up in my scrubs and take lots of Polaroids and send them to my parents and say, "Are you happy now? This is what it would have been like!" [jokes] And then I boss everyone around on set telling them they were doing everything wrong! I was the junior physician around here! Diagnosing people...I really do think I diagnose people sometimes, and it's really not appropriate. [laughs] But yeah, the spirit stuff was kind of cool, too, because I got to walk through walls, and it was a lot of physical comedy that I don't get to do a lot. So it was a great opportunity.
What was your experience of working with director Mark Waters like?
I met Mark Waters years ago when he had done House of Yes, which I really liked. And so I knew him a little bit. We're both sort of people from the middle of America, you know. He's just a nice midwestern guy and married to a southern girl...so I like him even more. And he's really talented. I knew he was obviously good with women, because he had done Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. [laughs] And he's just very efficient. He knows exactly what his shots are. There's no namby-pambying around. You just get right down to it. It was one of the most efficient sets I've ever worked on. It was just a thoroughly pleasant experience.
What did you think of shooting on location in San Francisco?
San Francisco was great. I had gone to Stanford, so I would drive up from Palo Alto on the weekends and stuff. And I didn't have any money, and my friends and I would go to thrift stores...[jokes] so it was completely different thing time! [laughs] I got to stay in nice hotels and see like a completely different side of it...the great restaurants. It's such a great city. I think the movie has really beautiful parts of it, too. We went all over the city, so you see lots of different parts of it. Mark Waters lived there for a long time, so he had a particular fondness for the city I think you see in the film.
What occupation do you think you would have taken up if you hadn't become an actress?
I'd probably be a doctor. I like medicine, I like science. I think with my family being in it, that's probably the path I would have gone on. It's a great, fulfilling opportunity to help people. And I think about what my parents do and what I do...and it's just ridiculous. [laughs] You know, it's amazing...the kind of things they've done in their lives--saved people's lives. [self-deprecating] And I make movies! [laughs]
Thanks for your time.