“We aren't just the wives and the girlfriends”: Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman on Hollywood sexism

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Amy Swales
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Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and a slew of other big names have spoken out in a new interview about sexism in Hollywood – and how their work has taken on a new dimension in light of the Trump administration.

Taking part in a round table discussion for The Hollywood Reporter alongside Elizabeth Moss, Oprah Winfrey, Jessica Lange and Chrissy Metz, the actors agreed television now had more opportunities for complicated female characters, such as in their shows The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies and This is Us.

“We have the opportunity to show the entire spectrum of human emotion that women have,” said Witherspoon. “We aren't just the wives and the girlfriends. We are actually living, breathing people who have insecurities.”

However, they acknowledged that there was still a long way to go, not least in representing a spectrum of body shapes on screen.

Metz, 36, who plays Kate on This is Us, said she was nervous over having to film a scene “half-naked” on weighing scales, but that she thought it was important.

“Everything is about the way we look – initially, anyway – so I think it is super important that the fear is being removed,” she explained. “I just got to the point where I was like, ‘This is so important for this character and for the journey that she is going on and for me and for all the women who are in [the show’s] hair and makeup [departments] who were like, ‘Oh, I could never do that!’

“I’m like, ‘But why?’ Why are we so judged on the way we look when it’s just the vehicle – it’s just the package that we're in? […] It needs to be seen. And so many women have been like, ‘I’ve never seen my body shape on TV.’ And I say, ‘I know! Neither have I!’”

She also said her weight affected the kind of roles she was offered: “I would also love to do a project that is not about weight. So just a woman who happens to be going for a job interview or whatever. Slowly but surely it will happen.”

The women went on to tell The Hollywood Reporter that they felt gender roles were still very much in play when it comes to balancing family and work.

Kidman, 49, said of her career decisions: “I’m now at a point where I have to go, ‘What is that going to cost me? And what is that going to cost the people I love? Do I want to leave now to do this?’ Men have that, but they don’t have it in the same way that we have it […] We don’t get the choices as much with our careers and our lives because a lot of it is, we have to be there to take care of everything still. Or I do.”

Witherspoon agreed: “They go away and come back and they’re a hero. We go away and come back and we have abandoned our children [laughs].”

In fact, Witherspoon revealed that an exchange with a “very famous” male actor had illustrated the divide for her perfectly, saying: “I said, ‘How did you prepare for this role?’ He said, ‘Well, I went into the woods for three weeks and I didn’t talk to anybody.’ And this person has a lot of kids and is married. And he’s like, ‘You did the same thing for Wild, right?’ I was like, ‘Uh, no.’ If I went away for three weeks and no one could call me, everybody would’ve had a mental breakdown. I got on a plane and was shooting within 24 hours. I wish I had prep time.”

Witherspoon, 41 – who has said before that she set up her own production company in response to a bad script offering yet another ‘girlfriend’ role in 2012 – added that she felt it was their responsibility to tell women’s stories on screen.

“We all have a mission to understand the greater humanity of women and to promote that […] a bigger array and a more dynamic idea of what a woman is and what her experience is – and I think it has been such a great year. I look around the table [and think] about what these shows are and the topics that are coming up because of these shows, and it's incredible.”

Watch: Five reasons to watch The Handmaid’s Tale

With Lange starring in Feud: Bette and Joan on FX and Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu and Channel 4, Lange says Donald Trump coming into power has lent an edge to the shows, given the issues they deal with in an era where the US president seems to be cracking down on women’s rights.

Lange, 68, said: “We started shooting [Feud] in September, before the election, and Ryan [Murphy, showrunner] said he was thinking, ‘Well, we’ll make this piece about misogyny, sexism, ageism, all of this, but come the beginning of the year, it might just be ironic.’ But of course […]

“I think it's more relevant now than it could have possibly been at any other time. I don't think we've ever seen this much misogyny, this much sexism, and I think the fact that we have this story that is set in a particular period, but obviously Hollywood in the 1960s, is just a microcosm of the greater atmosphere that we are all living through now.”

Read the full interview on

Images: Rex Features