It appears Reese Witherspoon is determined to redeem her public image through a combination of repentance and praiseworthy film roles.

She and her husband, Hollywood agent Jim Toth were arrested and jailed in Atlanta in April 2013–Jim, for a DUI, and Reese for disobeying an officer’s order to remain in the car and reportedly becoming ornery in response to how long the arrest was taking. You remember her words: “Do you know my name?” “You’re about to find out who I am…You are going to be on national news.”  Although Reese had already apologized soon after the episode saying, “I literally panicked…I know better and it’s just unacceptable,” she continues to answer questions about the event over a year later. At a press conference for her upcoming film Wild at the BFI London Film Festival last week, Reese was again asked about the April 2013 incident.

“I think it was a moment where people realized that I wasn’t exactly what they thought I was. I guess maybe we all like to define people by the way the media presents them, and I think that I showed I have a complexity that people didn’t know about,” reported the Hollywood Reporter. Witherspoon again admitted she made a mistake. “The best you can do is say sorry and learn from it and move on.”

And indeed, she is changing the subject of the arrest through two courageous, gritty film roles–both of which are receiving Oscar buzz.

Witherspoon took on an flawed, vulnerable, and dark character in Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild which chronicles one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail undertaken as a way to rediscover herself after a recent catastrophe. Wild is an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling hiking memoir “Wild” and is to be released in December. Witherspoon used her actual frustration with the process of setting up a tent and using a camping stove to convey the exasperation that her character was feeling with the tasks. Her backpack was also laden with 75-pounds worth of heavy items as opposed to Reese pretending to huff and puff while carrying a paper-stuffed prop as she hoped. The backpack dug into her shoulders, winded her quickly, and hurt her back. “I’ve never been as strong as I was after that movie,” Reese shared. Jean-Marc also required her to go cosmetic-free. Assuming he meant a little mascara and a little foundation, she stood corrected when he insisted no makeup. When she first saw herself in the dailies, she says, “It was raw. I’d never seen myself in a movie like that before.”

Released in early October, Philippe Falardeau’s drama The Good Lie stars Reese portraying a no-nonsense character, Carrie Davis, who fights for justice while attempting to help four Sudanese refugees start over in the U.S.. The film is based on the true story of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” in which tens of thousands of young men fled to refugee camps during the Second Sudanese Civil War between 1983 and 2005, and over 3,000 were given an opportunity to come to the United States. Her character is being compared to the well-loved Sandra Bullock heroine from The Blind Side which likewise marked Bullock’s career comeback after a her Razzie-winning performance in All About Steve.

Witherspoon is an actress most associated with perky, sweet, determined romantic comedy roles, especially the box-office hit Legally Blonde. But her undeniable talent took audiences by surprise when she portrayed June Carter Cash in Walk the Line for which she received a Best Actress Oscar. But years have passed, Reese’s career has been fading, and she’s approaching the age of 40. Witherspoon got involved with production starting her own production company four years ago to find projects that interest her.

A lot can be learned from someone who has made mistakes, been publicly embarrassed, and who’s tapered off in her career–only to come back stronger, with greater insight, and humility. It’s clear Reese forgave herself, found work she truly believed in, and pursued those projects to the fullest extent. Sounds like she’s transformed one of the lowest periods in her life to possibly the highest. Whatever point you find yourself in your career, try to seek out greater projects as well–one way or another. Here’s to you adapting, believing, and striving, and transforming in your quest!

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