Reese Witherspoon’s latest project, this time as a producer, is the Apple TV+ series Surface. Created by Veronica West, who also developed the High Fidelity TV series with Zoë Kravitz, Surface is about a woman named Sophie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). After a traumatic head injury stemming from what seems to be a suicide attempt, Sophie attempts to heal and piece her memories back together.
“It reminded me of Big Little Lies. It’s this very affluent community, but there’s this mystery lying underneath it all. It’s unsettling, and as an audience member, you don’t know who to trust. At the end of every episode, there’s a moment where you’re like, ‘Oh my god, that is completely not what I expected,'” Witherspoon said to USA Today regarding the script.
“It was an interesting place to start, to feel like I was building Sophie as the audience was experiencing her too,” Mbatha-Raw says. “One of the essential questions of the show that I found fascinating was, ‘Is it generous to protect people from the murky things about their history, or is it actually a selfish act?’ There was lots to chew on,” said Mbatha-Raw.
Previously, Mbatha-Raw co-starred with Witherspoon in Disney’s 2018 sci-phi adventure A Wrinkle in Time. Then, only a year later, they were both in season 1 of Apple’s The Morning Show. Mbatha-Raw has acted professionally for 17 years, but Surface marks the first time she’s produced — something that she credits to Witherspoon and her production company Hello Sunshine.
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“[Witherspoon] certainly walks the talk, in terms of empowering women,” said Mbatha-Raw. “I’ve been working for a bit now and have picked up so much along the way, so this was really a chance to develop my voice.”
Reese’s Other Work as Producer and Actress
Following her frustration with the roles she was offered after her Academy Award-winning performance in 2005’s Walk the Line, Witherspoon started shepherding female-centric projects as a producer. A turning point for Witherspoon came with 2014’s Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir, which earned her a second-best actress Oscar nomination. Having received an advanced copy of the book from Strayed, Witherspoon shopped it around studios.
“I said, ‘I’m not changing a word. I want her full spectrum of a female experience to be on film, and I don’t want it neutered.’ It’s a movie that changed my life: Developing the film, having it actually happen and then watching audiences receive it was one of the most important, formative experiences of my career,” said Witherspoon.
Witherspoon has partnered with the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman, and Kerry Washington for hit streaming series that they also produce. Those were The Morning Show, Big Little Lies, and Little Fires Everywhere, respectively. Besides those projects and Surface, Witherspoon also produced the murder mystery Where the Crawdads Sing, based on the 2018 novel by Delia Owens, which has surpassed box-office expectations with $44 million thus far.
While she doesn’t appear in the film, Crawdads has been a passion project for Witherspoon for a long time. The movie’s success made her “feel like people are hungry for genuine, authentic storytelling with women at the center. I mean, we’re 50% of the population but not represented in as many films. And it’s a good message to our industry, too, to make more films like this.”
Witherspoon has more than a dozen projects in various stages of development, as both actress and producer, to look forward to shortly. Those include one that, according to her, she “can’t really talk about,” in which she’s “reprising a character I played a long time ago.” There will also be Legally Blonde 3, co-written by Mindy Kaling and Dan Goor.