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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 09:13 GMT
Talent behind Witherspoon's win
Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon has won a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of country singer Johnny Cash's wife June Carter in Walk The Line.

It adds critical acclaim to the 29-year-old's prolific and commercially successful career and comes after her Bafta and Golden Globe wins for the role.

From independent movie Man in the Moon to box office hit Legally Blonde, Witherspoon is known for roles which combine innocence and toughness with plenty of wit.

Full profiles of the main Oscars contenders

New Orleans-born Laura Jean Reese Witherspoon spent the first four years of her life in Wiesbaden, Germany, where her surgeon father served in the US Army reserves.

Her family subsequently returned to the US and settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where Witherspoon had "a very definitive Southern upbringing".
Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line
Walk The Line (2005)
Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
Legally Blonde (2001)
Cruel Intentions (1999)
Election (1999)
Pleasantville (1998)
The Man in the Moon (1991)

"It bred in me such a sense of family and tradition," she told the Los Angeles Times. "It helped me establish a normalcy in life that I hope will stay with me for the long haul."

Witherspoon won her first acting job aged seven, when she appeared in a TV commercial for a flower store run by a family friend.

Aged 14 she auditioned for a part as an extra in independent film The Man in the Moon, but director Robert Mulligan was impressed enough to offer her the central role of tomboy Dani Trant.

It spawned a string of roles, including US TV movie Desperate Choices: To Save My Child, mini series Return to Lonesome Dove, a minor role in Danny DeVito's 1993 movie Jack the Bear and a starring role in Disney film A Far Off Place.

Abandoned studies

After graduating from Harpeth Hall, an all-girls high school in Nashville, in 1994 Witherspoon attended California's Stanford University to study English literature.

Witherspoon did not complete her studies, however, as she was offered parts in two major movies - Fear, starring Mark Wahlberg, and the gritty Freeway with Kiefer Sutherland.

Reese Witherspoon
Witherspoon found success after 'a definitive Southern upbringing'
Neither was a huge box office success but they helped establish Witherspoon as a rising star and challenged her "virginal blonde" screen image.

"From then on, my agenda was, 'whatever is most different from the last thing I played'," she told Detroit News in 1999.

Roles alongside Paul Newman (Twilight) and Tobey Maguire (Pleasantville) followed, but it was Witherspoon's co-starring performance with Matthew Broderick in 1999's Election that brought her first rave reviews.

Her portrayal of high school overachiever Tracy Flick also earned Witherspoon her first Golden Globe nomination.

Witherspoon subsequently appeared in Cruel Intentions - an updated version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses - alongside Ryan Philippe, whom she married in 1999 and had a son and daughter with.

Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde
I don't want to just be serious and be the head of a corporation
Reese Witherspoon
The following year she appeared in American Psycho as the fiancee of a 1980s yuppie played by Christian Bale.

It was Witherspoon's role in 2001 comedy Legally Blonde that established her a Hollywood actress capable of carrying a lead role.

Playing Elle Woods, a perky Beverly Hills girl who enters Harvard Law School, the $18m (10m) movie became a $95m (54m) hit and earned Witherspoon her second Golden Globe nomination.

Explaining the character's appeal, Witherspoon said she was "girly and feminine, but she's also very accomplished and driven".

"That's just like me," she told Venture County Star newspaper. "I don't want to just be serious and be the head of a corporation."

Reese Witherspoon in Vanity Fair
Golden Globes
Best actress (Walk the Line)
Screen Actors Guild
Best actress (Walk the Line)
Before reprising the role in its 2003 sequel - Red White and Blonde - she starred in The Importance of Being Earnest and blockbuster hit Sweet Home Alabama.

In 2004 director Mira Nair's movie version of Vanity Fair - which starred Witherspoon as Becky Sharp - received mixed reviews.

Nevertheless one year later she was sitting on top of the US box office again in Just Like Heaven, a romantic comedy in which Witherspoon played a ghost.

But it is her Walk The Line performance as June Carter Cash, who was a country star in her own right, that has attracted her greatest critical acclaim yet.

It has already earned Witherspoon the best actress prize from the National Society of Film Critics and New York Film Critics Circle, and looks set to propel her towards another series of sparkling performances.


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