Witherspoon Is Down Home in 'Alabama'

There was a time Reese Witherspoon wasn't eager to tell people she grew up in the South.

"People would tell me, don't you walk around barefoot? Aren't you married to your cousin and stuff like that?" Witherspoon tells Us Weekly magazine in this week's cover story.

But the 26-year-old actress has vaulted into the top echelons of Hollywood. She's raking in $15 million for the sequel to the hit comedy Legally Blonde.

Not bad for a Nashville girl, or anyone.

Look What Happened to Earl and Pearl's Kid

In her new film, Sweet Home Alabama, opening today, Witherspoon plays Melanie, a New York fashion designer who becomes engaged to Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), a rising political star.

He's a JFK wannabe who, in a show of love and sheer political power, twists some arms to open Tiffany's after hours, where Melanie is encouraged to pick out whatever she wants.

But Melanie's not thrilled. You see, she wasn't exactly truthful when she told her New York friends that she was a Southern debutante who grew up on a plantation.

Actually, she grew up in a doublewide trailer, the child of poor-white-trash parents Earl and Pearl. And worst of all, she's still married.

The rowdy, beer-swilling husband Jake (Josh Lucas) has done everything possible to delay their divorce, even though she ran off seven years ago. He still lives in the shack they once shared with a hound dog.

But when Melanie flies home to straighten things out, she finds the South isn't as backward as she recalls. Even Jake shows that under his deeply reddened neck, he's not so unsophisticated.

A Foot in Two Worlds

Witherspoon says it's easy to relate to her character. "The movie reminds me of similar things that I've dealt with in my own life, as far as having a Southern upbringing, moving out of the South to an urban city and then returning home with different experiences and perspectives," she says.

"Melanie brings that attitude back to the South with her and it's fun to watch her interact, bringing those diverse elements to the scene."

Witherspoon's own childhood was quite different than her character's. She was modeling by age 7 and won a 10-state talent search at 15. When she was 23 she had appeared in several films. She met her husband, actor Ryan Phillippe, in 1999, shortly before they both appeared in the movie Cruel Intentions.

You might assume that the actress has a lot more in common with her character's New York alter ego. But don't be too sure.

"I'm a mom," says Witherspoon, speaking of her 3-year-old daughter, Eva. "I pay more attention to running around after my little toddler. But I'm very lucky I have stylish friends so they help me out."