In a New York City photo studio one November afternoon, a blond two-year-old in a Gap polo shirt, cargo pants and scuffed white sneakers leans over a coffee table littered with fashion magazines. One of the glossies is lying open to a beaming, perfect-toothed Gwyneth Paltrow in a fragrance ad. The toddler takes a good, hard look at the Oscar-winning actress and, with remarkable dexterity, grabs a pencil and begins carefully doodling over her eyeballs and incisors.
“Mommy, Deacon was drawing on a lady in a magazine!” announces his six-year-old sister, Ava. Mommy, aka Reese Witherspoon, is sitting nearby in front of a lit-up mirror, having her hair blown out. Deacon trails behind his sister and beams up a giant smile.
“That’s not nice! Come here, Mr. Dude,” says Witherspoon with mock sternness, and scoops them both onto her lap. The two giggling kids grab at the brushes on the table, bounce up and down in the makeup chair, and proceed to nearly strangle their young mother with hugs. Together, their three heads are one big blur of hair so naturally, buttery blond it could make a Bel-Air trophy wife cry.
Witnessing this spontaneous display of affection by such a genetically blessed family, it’s no wonder that the actress and her kids are stalkerazzi magnets. The iconic image of Witherspoon is not of her in an Alberta Ferretti gown treading the red carpet. Rather, it’s of the off-duty actress hand in hand with a pink tutu-clad Ava walking to ballet class. Watching Witherspoon whip off Deacon’s pull-up diaper or swing him on her hip, as she does now, even in four-inch heels, it’s obvious that her role as Hollywood’s most hands-on mom has nothing to do with acting.
Then again, it’s acting that has made the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-born physician’s daughter, who turns 30 in March, the $15 million-a-film megastar she is today. (In the hierarchy of actress salaries, only Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman earn more.) “I’m not a spring chicken anymore,” she acknowledges cheerfully over lunch at the Modern, the illuminated-glass-and-steel restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art that is one of her favorites in town. “I have these young girls come up to me and say, ‘I’ve watched your career since I was little!’”
Dressed in well-worn jeans and a snug knit jacket, a giant Miu Miu handbag perched beside her and an hors d’oeuvre-size Asscher-cut diamond twinkling on her left hand, she looks at first like any young, well-groomed mom out for lunch when the kids are with the nanny. But there are those quick blue eyes, the creamy complexion and skinny brows, not to mention that famous bone structure, giving her what beauty magazines like to call a “heart-shaped face.”