In the comedy Hot Pursuit, uptight by-the-book Officer Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) finds herself responsible for keeping sexy mob wife Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara) alive as they race through Texas, pursued by crooked cops and murderous gunmen. And through it all, the intensely enthusiastic petite policewoman just wants to prove that she’s more than her reputation for screwing things up.
During a conference at the film’s press day, co-stars Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara talked about why they decided to do this particular project together, getting to do so much physical comedy, their shared on-screen kiss, how they’re more similar to each other than people would think, why they wanted to make a movie that wasn’t just focused on romance, and their advice for younger generations of women who are trying to get into the entertainment industry.
Question: How did you decide on this particular project to do together?
REESE WITHERSPOON: I’m such a huge fan of Sofia’s on Modern Family. My family watches it, every Wednesday night on ABC. And I started to think, “Oh, it would be really funny to make a buddy movie with her.” I had been thinking about doing a buddy movie. So, I set up a meeting and we sat in a hotel lobby. She walked in and literally every man stopped what he was doing and stared at her, the entire time. When she walked through the lobby, it was like being in a hair care commercial. And she sat down and was just as lovely and charming as I thought she would be, thank goodness. We just started talking about movies, and this was the one we both decided would be the funniest idea.
SOFIA VERGARA: It was a road trip, and road trips always bring a lot of exciting adventures that can bring a lot of funny situations.
Reese, you are beautiful, but you are kind of playing the dude in this, alongside Sofia Vergara. Were there any vanity issues?
WITHERSPOON: I knew Sofia would be beautiful, so I decided I would be the dude. I like playing weird characters, anyway.
VERGARA: It’s great because you get to be comfortable on set. I was miserable, the whole time, compressed like a sausage in that white dress, all sweaty. And then, I had on high heels that gave me blisters. All while she was carefree and sitting on the floor. She wouldn’t even change for lunch. The dirtier she looked, the better. She knew what she was doing.
Reese, what’s the trick in playing these Type A characters?
WITHERSPOON: I guess I just have it in me. I don’t know. People just like it and think it’s funny, and I just enhance it and make it even bigger and more annoying. People really seem to enjoy laughing at me. I also like to find the heart of a person liked that. I loved Officer Cooper. She’s a little nerd. She has no female friends. She has no friends. She’s kind of a wreck. So, when she meets Sofia’s character, she’s like, “That’s my first friend!”
How much of the physical comedy in the movie was improvised?
WITHERSPOON: We were so happy to have Anne Fletcher directing us because I don’t have a lot of physical comedy instincts. I’m more verbal. So, we got to certain scenes, like where we’re running from bad guys and we’re in that bathroom, and we have to push ourselves through the window. I turned to Anne and said, “Just show me what you want me to do because I don’t know what to do.” So, Anne got up there and put her legs up there. Anne also thought it was funny when we were talking at the same time. Instead of Sofia having a line, and then me having a line, she was just like, “Just talk at the same time, all the time.”
You two have a screen kiss. What was that like?
WITHERSPOON: That was Sofia’s idea.
VERGARA: It was delicious. She smells like strawberries.
Was that in the script?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, it was in the script. But, she pulled my ponytail.
VERGARA: It was bouncing around, and it felt like the right thing for me to do.
WITHERSPOON: I had whiplash for three days. She just grabbed that ponytail and was twisting my head around
VERGARA: That’s something you can’t fake. The audience is intelligent. You can’t fake a ponytail pulling.
Reese, for the scene where your character accidentally ingests cocaine, how did you decide how big to go with that?
WITHERSPOON: We just did it. I had so much fun. I took an Excedrin, and then drank three cups of coffee. Anne [Fletcher] just let me jump all over the convenience store and make up funny stuff. It was crazy!
Sofia, how would you critique Reese’s Spanish?
VERGARA: Well, it was not very good. Obviously, it’s not her best work. That was one of my favorite scenes because she had to struggle a lot. I could see fear in her eyes, and anxiety and confusion. It was great ‘cause that’s how I feel in every single scene of my life. I’ll be looking for words and people will be making faces, even though they don’t want to. So, I really enjoyed it. I tried not to help her that much because it was a personal thing that I was experiencing, and that I really liked. Now that I’ve seen the whole movie, I understand why people laugh so much at me. It’s hysterical to see somebody trying to talk in [another] language and looking confused.
This may be the first time that we’ve seen two females – one Caucasian and one Hispanic – as lead characters in a Hollywood comedy. Are Latinos making more progress in Hollywood?
VERGARA: It would never have occurred to me that I was going to be able to do a movie with somebody like [Reese]. It was amazing that she came to me. It was hard for her to reach me because she couldn’t find me. No. Her husband (Jim Toth) is my agent, so he arranged a meeting between us to see if we wanted to do something [together]. It’s amazing that somebody like her would have the vision to put us together. It’s such a big help to the Latin actors and actresses. Hopefully, this movie will do good and more studios and producers will think of adding us into movies and television shows. I can’t complain because I’ve had such good luck getting jobs, like Modern Family. That has opened all the doors for me. But, we still need more. We need more places where somebody Latin can do their thing. And people like Reese are helping.
WITHERSPOON: I was looking around, about two or three years ago, and reading all these articles in the L.A. Times and The Hollywood Reporter about Latin audiences showing up [at the movies]. They are 35 to 55 % of the audience. So, I looked at movies and thought, “Where are the Latin actors? Also, where are movies that are reflective of our culture, where some people speak Spanish and some speak English?” That’s the kind of life that everybody is living, every day, but we’re not seeing it reflected on screen. I think it’s great. We cross our fingers for the success of a film like this, so that there will be more thought about that kind of opportunity, to showcase what real life looks like.
Are you guys more similar or different from each other than we would realize?
VERGARA: We like the same things. We like the same food. We like make-up. We like having family around. We like the same places to travel. We both had kids [at a young age]. We have a lot of similarities.
Do you think a movie like this will help young women identify with subjects like self-confidence and friendship?
VERGARA: Yeah, I think it’s great. I realized that this movie is very special, in the sense that this is not the normal movie where girls are trying to trick some guy or trying to get some guy or are getting married, or something like that. This is a movie where these two women, that are different and have different personalities, are trying to achieve the same thing and are trying to survive. So, I think a lot of girls can look at this and learn many things from this relationship. You don’t have to be the same. You don’t have to look the same to understand another human being and support each other.
Sofia, fame hasn’t really changed you, over the years. How do you stay grounded?
VERGARA: I’ve been working in the entertainment business for 25 years. Not at this level, of course, but since I got lucky with Modern Family. But for me, I try to make my work a part of my real life. I’ve been working for 70 % of my life, so I try to enjoy it to make it real, and bring my friends and family to enjoy everything with me – my money, my house, events, and my fame. Life goes past really easily, so you can’t take work very seriously. Hopefully, I haven’t changed.
Do you see this as a feminist film, in any way?
WITHERSPOON: We had the idea to make a movie that wasn’t just about romantic involvement, and that wasn’t about men and chasing men. As soon as you strip that element away, you actually get to dig deeper into the female characters. I think it’s great. You just want Cooper to be happy.
What would you say to younger generations of women who are trying to get into the entertainment industry?
WITHERSPOON: That’s a great question. The hardest part, first of all, is to just get your foot in the door, if you are a writer or director. The most important thing is to try everything you possibly can to just start working. The more you have time on set, and the more time you have to learn what developing scripts or movies is like, [the better]. And that’s incumbent on people like this. As women, it’s incumbent on us to hire interns and have people standing next to us, learning how to direct, and learning how to write stories and develop them. Practical experience is the best way to learn, I think. I would say that it’s important to get those experiences and work hard.
Be on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is an incredible opportunity, if you are a professional. We’ve hired people from LinkedIn. One of the most important things that women out there need to know is that you have to show up and buy [movie] tickets. If you want to see something different, you have to support the women who are writing and directing. We need the people to actually come to the movie theaters. The better this movie does, the more movies they’re going to make like it.
VERGARA: And the more opportunities there are going to be for women to do stuff.
Hot Pursuit opens in theaters on May 8th.