When you're sitting in the living room of the 20th-storey presidential suite in The St. Regis Singapore, there are a lot of things designed for distraction. Be it the Czech crystal chandeliers, the gold and jewel-accented textiles or the wide-angle view of the Botanic Gardens — it's an enclosure of luxury that wows with opulence.
Amid these trappings lies the main distraction: Reese Witherspoon, looking intently at me with her large, blue eyes. It all feels surreal — her sitting across in an intricate, moss green lace dress and me in an outfit I had spent half an hour that morning trying to decide. The Tiffany T chain necklace adorns Witherspoon's neckline — all its 18-carat gold T-shaped nuggets attempting to steal the limelight from her eyes.
In town this week for Tiffany & Co.'s launch of Tiffany Masterpieces, the actor's relationship with the jeweller stretches long before red carpet appearances, ambassadorships and product placements in films such as Legally Blonde. "My grandmother bought me a Tiffany lock necklace with my initials on it, so that's always a special memory," she recalls fondly of her high school graduation present. "And I wore that in Legally Blonde."
While Tiffany Masterpieces traditionally debuts in New York, Singapore was the first in the world to showcase the collection at a customer gala event. Of course, Witherspoon had first dibs — she wore the skyscraper necklace to the MET gala this year, which she attended with Tiffany's design director, Francesca Amfitheatrof.
In the last two decades of her career, the Nashville native has sung country in her Academy Award-winning performance in Walk the Line, and has been a Dubsmash regular on Instagram along with her Hot Pursuit co-star Sofia Vergara. But in our intimate interview, she sings praises of a different kind: That of Amfitheatrof's design aesthetics, Baz Luhrmann's eye for costume, and her grandmother's Southern fried chicken.
Your onscreen relationship with Tiffany & Co. dates back to Legally Blonde. How much does jewellery and costume affect your performance in a role?
It's so important. The minute you put on the shoes, the dress, the jewellery — it's just transformative and it can change the way you walk and the way you hold your body. I would say it absolutely informs my character and my performance.
How was your experience donning the jewellery and girly outfits in Legally Blonde?
It was amazing and I got to work with my friend Sophie De Rakoff who did all the costumes for Legally Blonde 1 and 2 and Sweet Home Alabama. She's just really clear with her ideas about character. I remember there was one particular scene where I was dressed in pink leather and the inspiration was they wanted me to look like a piece of luggage, because I was moving!
We love your proposal scene with Patrick Dempsey in Sweet Home Alabama. What's your advice for men looking to find a ring?
Oh I think you can never go wrong picking Tiffany's! Anything that comes in that blue box just makes people happy. I'm filled with delight whenever I see the box. I think it's just so great for men because they don't have to worry so much that the woman doesn't like it. There's not a woman on earth who hasn't received a blue box and not be filled with joy.
Men are pretty much clueless when it comes to jewellery sometimes. Any advice on what to look out for?
I actually think it's wonderful to ask a woman what she wants. You'll have this piece of jewellery for a long time, and she's going to give it to her children and her children's children. So it's important that it's filled with love because that's going to be a piece of jewellery that stays with their family forever.
Speaking of which, are you planning on passing any pieces to your 16-year-old daughter Ava?
Absolutely. I've gotten to give her a few pieces from my grandmother. There's nothing more special I think, than being able to pass on jewellery to your daughter. It's a beautiful tradition. My mother gave me her jewellery, my grandmother gave me her jewellery, so I'm looking forward to that.
And your sons?
My sons too! Certainly. Anything that he wants for the special woman in his life. It's going to be exciting.
Which is your favourite piece from Tiffany Masterpieces?
I love the necklace that I wore to the MET Gala. It felt like it was inspired by the '20s but it also had this contemporary sensibility. I almost had to have nothing else on — just the stunning necklace. It's kind of sexy.
How did you feel when you first put it on?
When you get to touch or look at these exquisite pieces, it's such a privilege. But to work very closely with Francesca and pick the perfect piece for the Jason Wu dress that I wore — it's always such an incredible opportunity to collaborate with a true artist. Francesca has a long experience of being an artist and working with contemporary designers so she has the most exquisite taste. I trust her implicitly.
Speaking of masterpieces, when is a performance in a film a masterpiece to you?
It's interesting; so much of the media is about the first weekend or how it (the movie) performs in time. But my experience has been this: A film is a true masterpiece when you're having a conversation about it 10 years later. There are so few films that stay with people, or that people want to watch over and over because they hold a special place in time for them. So that's the mark of a true masterpiece.
Which are your favourite costume moments in film?
I look back at Carol Lombard in My Man Godfrey or films like Breakfast at Tiffany's and How to Marry a Millionaire. There was a lot of attention paid to costume and jewellery. But even contemporary films like Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge — he and his wife Catherine have an impeccable eye.
Now onto food, Singapore's favourite subject. Which soul food do you miss the most?
I get to go back to Nashville quite a bit because I'm opening a store there. I love fried chicken. It's something amazing, the way they brine it in buttermilk and salt.
Are you good at making it?
I can, yeah. Fried chicken's hard though, because you have to get it just right. My grandmother made the best fried chicken.
How many selfies do you take in a day?
[laughs] In a day? I don't know, I probably take one or two pictures a day. Not always selfies, usually they're things like flowers and trees. I got to see the beautiful Gardens by the Bay. I took photos of the flowers for my mother because she's a water colourist, so I usually send her pictures around the world and she paints them for me which is really fun.
Will you take a selfie with me?
Sure, of course.