Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Reese Witherspoon opens up about Hollywood’s “Smurfette Syndrome”


Reese Witherspoon has long been firmly in the corner of women in Hollywood. Her latest project, in which she’s both starring and producing, is new HBO comedy-drama Big Little Lies – and she’s surrounded herself with powerful women in her quest to bring the show to the small screen.

But Witherspoon says that strong, majority-female teams are still a rarity in Hollywood. Speaking at the Television Critics’ Association press tour over the weekend, the 40-year-old actor spoke candidly about the film industry’s so-called ‘Smurfette Syndrome’ – a reference to the iconic cartoon with just one female character.

“For 25 years, I’ve been the only woman on set, so I had no other women to talk to,” she said, according to Vanity Fair. “They call it ‘Smurfette Syndrome’, because she’s got a hundred Smurfs around her and she’s the only girl.”


The cast of Big Little Lies, from L-R: Laura Dern, co-producers Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, Robbie Myers, Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz.

Based on the critically-acclaimed novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies follows “three mothers of kindergartners whose apparently perfect lives unravel to the point of murder”. The A-list cast includes Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz, with Witherspoon’s good friend Kidman also serving alongside her as co-producer.

Read more: Natalie Portman says she was paid three times less than this male co-star

Describing the atmosphere while making the miniseries, Witherspoon revealed that she and her co-stars had shared dinners and “wine” instead of more traditional rehearsal projects to create a sense of intimacy on-set. “Honestly, it’s so refreshing to get to spend time with women,” she said.

reese nicole

Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon at the 2017 Golden Globes in January.

Witherspoon also spoke about the importance of showing realistic women’s stories in mainstream cinema, not just indie or arthouse flicks.

Read more: Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange get real about film industry ageism

“We have to start seeing women as they really are in film,” she said. “And not just in a movie theatre with a tiny budget. We need to see real women’s experience whether it involves domestic violence, whether it involves sexual assault, whether it involves motherhood or romance or infidelity or divorce.”

Nicole Kidman, who also appeared on the panel, opened up about the nature of her personal and professional relationship with Witherspoon. “We’re very, very close friends,” she said. “We're able to talk about everything… I love that [Big Little Lies is] about women making something happen with friendship at the core of it.”

Despite the fact that women buy half of all cinema tickets bought every year, female characters make up just 12% of protagonists in top-grossing films – more often being relegated to the role of girlfriend, mother or wife, according to a 2015 study. The research, conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, showed that women were also underrepresented in supporting roles, and only comprised 30% of all speaking characters.

It was in part to combat these bleak statistics that Witherspoon set up her own film production company, Pacific Standard. So far, Witherspoon’s impressive producing CV includes no less than ten TV and film projects, all boasting refreshingly meaty roles for women – including the multi-award-winning movies Gone Girl and Wild.

Images: Rex Features


trump vs meryl and clooney.jpg

George Clooney takes down Trump for calling Meryl Streep “overrated"


Six old-school musicals to watch if you just can’t wait for La La Land


Nicole Kidman reveals she wants another baby at 49


The best A-list Instagrams from the week so far

From Sienna Miller’s backstage inspiration to Jennifer Lopez’s cosy couple snap

by Nicola Colyer
23 Aug 2017

Prince Harry emotionally criticizes the paparazzi over Diana’s death

“She was still very much alive on the back seat of that car”

by Kayleigh Dray
23 Aug 2017

Chrissy Teigen gets real about her troubled relationship with alcohol

“I need to fix myself”

by Kayleigh Dray
23 Aug 2017

5 famous women have been targeted in disgusting private photo hack

Miley Cyrus, Kristen Stewart and Stella Maxwell are the latest stars to have their pictures leaked.

by Moya Crockett
22 Aug 2017

Tom Hardy's final CBeebies Bedtime Story is a tribute to his late dog

“Run with the angels... I will see you when I get there”

by Kayleigh Dray
22 Aug 2017

UKIP candidate suggests paying British Indians to leave the UK

And Twitter responds perfectly

by Moya Crockett
21 Aug 2017

Elisabeth Moss denies that Scientology is anything like Gilead

The Handmaid’s Tale star discusses the parallels between her show and her faith.

by Moya Crockett
21 Aug 2017

JK Rowling spots mansplainer in the wild, and deals with him perfectly

The Harry Potter author won’t let any woman’s confidence be knocked by mansplaining

by Kayleigh Dray
21 Aug 2017

The best A-list Instagrams from the week so far

From Nicki Minaj’s vintage look to a Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants reunion

by Nicola Colyer
18 Aug 2017

Chris Brown tried to excuse his attack on Rihanna, and it’s not OK

“Violence is a choice he made – and he alone is responsible for it”

by Kayleigh Dray
17 Aug 2017