How Do You Know - Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd
Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) and George (Paul Rudd) © 2010 Columbia TriStar

Academy Award winner [Walk the Line] Reese Witherspoon, is as comfortable in romantic comedies as she is in dramas. She’s back in comedy mode with her new movie How Do You Know, written and directed by James L Brooks.

Witherspoon plays Lisa, a woman whose athletic ability is the defining passion of her life. When she is cut from her softball team, everything she has ever known is suddenly taken from her. Not knowing what to do, she begins dating Matty [Owen Wilson], a major league baseball pitcher and self-centered ladies man.

But before their relationship takes root, Lisa goes on a disastrous blind date with George [Paul Rudd], and as everything seems to be falling apart, they will discover what it means to have something wonderful happen.

I read that Jim Brooks wrote the role of Lisa for you, is that true?

How Do You Know - Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd
Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) and George (Paul Rudd) © 2010 Columbia TriStar

Jim first called me and said he was thinking about his next movie and he’d like me to play the lead character. I was honored and thrilled, because I’m such a huge fan of his work. I thought we were just going to have lunch, and then he said he wanted to write a movie for me. It was just unimaginable to me that he could think of me in that way.

So we talked about his ideas a bit, and slowly after that he started sending me scenes and different things he had written as he did the research. It was a great experience, because when I finally got to read the actual, full-length script, I’d already known the character. I was excited to see where he was going to take her and where she was going to end up.

Tell us a little about Lisa.

Her whole life has been based on creating goals for herself and then exceeding them. When we meet her in the story, she’s at a crossroads, because she’s uncertain about the future of her career.

I think every athlete has the idea in the back of their mind that someday they’re going to have to change paths; a sports career doesn’t last forever. But it’s another thing to be suddenly thrown from the ship. She’s forced to rebuild her life without a clue of how to do it.

I think what was really interesting about my character is I’ve done a lot of comedies where a woman talks a lot about her romantic dynamics and there’s always talking about men and what should I do? And this character is a woman who has a hard time conveying her emotions and doesn’t even really want to talk about things, which is an interesting female character.

My character says to Owen at one point, ‘If I wake up in the middle of the night and start crying, just ignore me.’ What woman would ever say that in real life? That was a fascinating character for me, because I usually play very verbal characters and this woman is more interior.

What kind of research and training did you do for the role?

How Do You Know - Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd
Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) and George (Paul Rudd) © 2010 Columbia TriStar

I’d work with [UCLA women’s softball coach Sue Enquist] for three days a week for two or three hours, just working on basic skills like throwing, catching, battling, posture, stuff like that. But there was also a different aspect of it – it was a study of a completely different kind of person.

I’d never really known many athletes in my life, so jumping into their world and learning how they wake up, what their day is like, how much they work out, how much of a personal life they have, what their college experience was like, really informed my character. Their relationship with their teammates is paramount in their lives.

Didn’t you train with the USA Women’s softball team?

I got to meet almost all of them and work and train with some of them. It was an incredible, awe-inspiring experience – they have an incredible athleticism, professionalism, drive, and focus that was really inspiring.

What is it about Jim Brooks’ writing that you admire?

Jim has an extraordinary understanding of the absurdity of normal life. He can look at a very simple, even mundane situation and find it absurd and completely hysterical – that’s the perspective he brings. He’s also brilliant at drawing characters who are grounded in reality – he finds these times in people’s lives when they are at a crossroads and finds what is so beautiful about those moments.

All we have in movies is detail. Detail is what makes a movie funny. It’s what makes it real, what makes it authentic. It’s why you invest in the characters. Details from the amount of money people make, how much they travel and how they travel, who their closest friends are, what kind of people they date, what they eat and don’t eat. All of that informs your character and the story.

How do you think the audience will relate to this film?

I think everybody can relate to the idea of going on a terrible blind date. I know I’ve been on more than a few, and also just being at a crossroads in your life, trying to make big decisions, whether they are career decisions or decisions with your family, or romantic decisions, I think everyone has been through that before.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.