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Reese Witherspoon Talks About "Walk the Line"

Reese Witherspoon on Portraying June Carter Cash

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Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line

Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line"

© 20th Century Fox
Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash's Love Story Hits the Big Screen in "Walk the Line:" While writer/director James Mangold does spend time on Johnny Cash's first wife, his family life, and substance abuse problems, it's really the love between Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash that's the focus of the biopic, "Walk the Line."

"Walk the Line" stars Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as the love of his life, June Carter Cash. Besides taking on the task of portraying two well-known musical stars, both actors had the added pressure of doing their own singing, a task Witherspoon admits was definitely unnerving.

Reese Witherspoon on Singing in “Walk the Line” and Working with Joaquin Phoenix: “At first it kind of felt like [I was ] lost and set adrift. First of all, I didn’t know I was singing. I signed up to do the acting bit. That would have been in a completely different contract. [Joaquin] and I went into that with a lot of trepidation, particularly him. He was playing an icon that had such a recognizable voice. And me, I am just a perfectionist and totally afraid of stinking (laughing). So we went into it and I was just determined to get the right coaches and the right people.

The singing part was easier for me than the autoharp part. Playing the instrument was really difficult for me. I had never played an instrument. I don’t know how that even happens to people. Also, recording the album… You think you are a good singer when you are in the car…you can sing along. But then when you go in and you actually sing into a microphone for 4 hours straight…”

Witherspoon said that while she loves to sing along to CDs in her car, her passengers aren’t usually all that thrilled about it. “My kids tell me to turn it off all the time. The other day they sent me a CD of songs [from the movie] to check something out and Deacon put his fingers in his ears and said, ‘I hate this song! Turn it off!’ It was me singing! But all the practice and rehearsal really helps boost your confidence.”

Reese Witherspoon’s Future as a Singer: Witherspoon shows she has a decent voice in “Walk the Line,” and in fact some critics have even suggested if she ever tires of acting, she could have a career in country music. Reese says she owes it all to T Bone Burnett. “You know, if T Bone Burnett produced the album, I'd be great. T Bone's responsible for every song that came out of me.”

Witherspoon joked that she had to sing one particular honky tonk song 467 times before it came out right. She also admits singing in front of an audience, even for a seasoned performer such as herself, is intimidating. “The person who really inspired me in that way was Joaquin [Phoenix] because he did it before me. The first day we had to have a performance was the day in Texarkana where I run into the guitar. I had to sing that day and so did he. And I just kept going, ‘Not me. I'm not going first. You go first. There's 600 extras out there',” recalls Witherspoon.

Stage fright struck the accomplished actress as she tackled her first song in “Walk the Line.” “They literally had to push me to get me up there on the stage and say, ‘You have to do this. It is time. We are all waiting for you.’ I thought I was going to throw up the whole first day. It was awful,” laughed Witherspoon.

Reese Witherspoon on Overcoming Stage Fright: “Really, it helped watching Joaquin. For all the ducking and bowing that we did during the rehearsal process, the moment that he had to step on stage and be in the clothes and be Johnny Cash, he just had this incredible confidence. And he didn’t break. He wasn’t nervous or insecure. Maybe he was on the inside, but from what I saw, he really inspired me.”

Reese Witherspoon Turned to Catherine O’Hara’s Autoharp Teacher to Learn the Instrument: “We found an autoharp teacher through Catherine O'Hara who had done it in ‘A Mighty Wind.’ [O’Hara] basically puts all other actresses who try to play the autoharp to shame, and I told her such. It's embarrassing [that] I have to play autoharp after her because she's very proficient. But we found her coach and he ended up coaching Joaquin on guitar, too. His name is Kit Alderson. He's a great guy.”

Reese Witherspoon Knew Her Responsibility to Get June Carter Cash Right in “Walk the Line:” “…I grew up with music history in Nashville so I knew more about the Carter family than I knew about the Cashs, Johnny Cash really. We were taught to study the history of it and the history of Appalachian Folk Music, and it was just a big part of where I grew up. Bluegrass is a big thing in Tennessee. And their influence just on musicians is incredibly impactful. She invented her own style of playing the guitar, Mama Maybelle [June Carter’s mother] did. But yeah, I was definitely intimidated. I mean, growing up in Nashville, I'm terrified of the country music community seeing the film because I know they're going to say, ‘Fraud.’”

Page 2: Reese Witherspoon on Capturing June Carter Cash's Spirit in "Walk the Line"

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