Today: June 20, 2024

Reese Witherspoon On The Good Lie

Based on real-life events, The Good Lie is features Reese Witherspoon as a brash American woman assigned to help four young Sudanese refugees known as Lost Boys [and Girls] of Sudan who have won a lottery for relocation to the United States. We spoke to Wetherspoon about the challenges and joys of working on a film based on such traumatic events and how those experiences have affected both her and her family…

What was it like to premier your film here, in Nashville, where you grew up?
I’m so glad to be here and represent Tennessee. This theatre [The Belcourt] where the premiere was brings back so many memories for me. I’ve seen so many films here with my family. It’s just such a great thing to be have a premier in Nashville, and to have any of my movies, ever, in Nashville.

How do you feel to be back in Oscar buzz spotlight?
It’s so nice. I’m just excited that everybody’s liking the films I’ve been in lately.

The Good Lie is a spectacular, surprising film with an amazing story, told with such humour as well as compassion…
I read Margaret Nagle’s script, and I was just so moved. And I enjoy that idea that… I remember when I met the director, the first thing he said to me was, ‘This movie isn’t about you. And I just want to be really clear about that.’ And I’ve never had a director say that to me before. But it made me happy, because I didn’t want to make a movie where it was just a white girl, an American girl, coming to save African people.

My character [Carrie Davis] is just as emotionally distraught. She’s just as without family as they are. And I thought that was such a beautiful opportunity to talk about family is where you find it.

What was it about the movie that spoke to you? What made you want to do it?
Margaret did such an incredible job, you could tell that there was so much research involved, because when I started watching documentaries, it was completely accurate. Every story you’ve heard, the Sudanese refugees told, is somehow in the movie or in the script. So we just met and I met with Margaret, and Molly Smith, and Philippe Falardeau, the director.

I just felt that there were wonderful — there are so many times when you don’t appreciate your life, until you see someone else’s perspective on our privileges and the opportunities that we have, whether that’s education, or health care, or just food and running water.

One of my favourite scenes is when he’s running his hands, turning the water on and off, after they’d walked through the desert, without water or food. I just thought it was a great message also for families. I think it’s really great to take your kids to this movie. It brings up a lot of integral conversations that we should all be having. I’ll take my kids!

It must have been an incredible challenge for you to play a character where you don’t know the backstory to the other characters. You have to discover it along the way…?
I came from a place of not knowing, so other than a random newspaper article or something, I knew very little about the story. So there was a lot of really interesting documentaries, some stuff on 60 Minutes that was interesting. Still, I didn’t know. A lot of the things that I learned were from talking to Emmanuel and talking to Ger, and sometimes we’d be doing scenes and I’d say, ‘Well, did that really happen?’

And Ger would tell us about being a young boy, and walking all that way, and what it was like. It’s hard to even conceive. And then at the very end of the film, we got to go to the Kakuma Refugee Camp. So I, even though I didn’t shoot any scenes there, I didn’t want to just do the part in Atlanta and be done and go home to my life. I really wanted to see what the experience was like. So I took my teenage daughter, and we went. It was really…. it was very emotional, seeing over 250,000 people displaced. Sleeping on concrete slabs, and just the sprawl of that many people living together. There were twelve different languages being spoken; seven different kinds of religions. There was very little health care, very little food.

It just really brought it all home to me — this is an opportunity to raise awareness, but it’s also an opportunity to create change. Because as I was talking to Rick Warren, I don’t know if you know him, the religious leader. And he said, ‘Sometimes we assume because people are poor that they’re not intelligent. That they don’t have anything to offer to society.’

But these are people who are on top of their field. They’re doctors. They’re educators. They’re community leaders, and they’ve essentially been displaced. So it’s amazing, through this process, to even two days go, be in D.C., and have all these wonderful men and women from the studio, and they’re there, and they’re doing incredible things. One of them is a war veteran, from Iraq and Afghanistan. One of them is a community leader. So, it’s been really educational for me to learn about refugees, and their contribution to society, and how we hopefully lift more of them up out of those situations.

You mentioned that you brought your daughter to the refugee camp. I was just wondering, I’m assuming she hasn’t experienced that sort of poverty before. So what was her experience like?
Well, she’s a wonderful, socially-conscious girl. Even if you read a million books on a situation, you don’t understand it until you see it yourself. I was very lucky that they organised for her to be there, because she is a little young to be off on these trips. It was… she didn’t say a word, the whole day. And then she really didn’t talk about it until a couple of days later. I think the memories of the thing… We saw women giving birth on metal tables, with their infant sitting there with no clothes on. Kids that were sick, and kids, babies like her brother’s age, sitting on concrete slabs and sleeping with seven other brothers and sisters. But I think the conditions were worse.

Seeing that is one thing, but the other remarkable thing was the joy and determination of these people, to rise above, and their determination to have a better life for their children. Their spirit was just incredible! They greet you with smiles and laughter and dancing. I think it’s definitely going to effect her for a long time, as it did me. It was amazing.

What do you think she gained from the experience?

Just consciousness — awareness. Hopefully a feeling of wanting to give back. I just think that travel is the antidote to any kind of selfish behaviour – service, really. It’s not their fault, kids nowadays, we give them all these technologies, and access to things that disconnect them, so as much as you can show them of the world, it’s great.

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