Reese Witherspoon
Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon is a true Hollywood pro — after all, she’s been acting since she was 14. But when she joined then-husband Ryan Phillippe onstage at the 2002 Academy Awards to present an award, she found herself suddenly flummoxed when he veered from the carefully crafted script. But in a new interview, the Little Fires Everywhere star admits that the much-discussed moment — though embarrassing for her at the time — led her to have a very honest conversation with her daughter, Ava, about gender norms and how some people are uncomfortable with women earning more money than men, according to the Daily Mail.

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During that infamous Oscars incident, Ryan took a jab at Reese’s earning power.

As the couple presented the award for best makeup to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Reese asked Ryan onstage if she could read out the winner’s name. After hesitating briefly, Ryan handed her the envelope and quipped, "You make more than I do. Go ahead." Ouch!

When questioned about the awkward moment during an appearance on Friday’s episode of the HFPA in Conversation podcast, Reese confessed to being "flummoxed" by her ex-husband’s off-the-cuff remark. "You’re reminding me of that! I forgot that ever happened. But you’re right — he did say that and no, it wasn’t scripted."

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Though Reese said she doesn’t know what motivated Ryan to make the comment, she strongly disapproves of the message behind it.

"There are so few women who make a lot of money that sometimes they’re shamed for it. And sometimes they are expected to give more and do more and be more to others in the same position that, say, a male movie star would not be expected to," Reese explained, adding that she believes gender norms have evolved dramatically since then.

Reese revealed that her Hollywood success even had her daughter’s classmates making fun of her when she was in elementary school.

Ava, who is now 21, apparently came home crying in second grade after another child told her that her mom was "one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood." (Reese’s current net worth is estimated at $200 million.) She was embarrassed by her classmate’s comment, but Reese said she sat her young daughter down and had an important talk, telling Ava she should "never feel ashamed of a woman making money."

As she recounted to the podcast audience, she went on to explain to Ava: "There are women all over this world who don’t have an opportunity or an education or the ability to make money. So don’t ever feel bad about your mom making money. And don’t ever feel bad if you make money, and don’t be embarrassed or ashamed if it’s more than your partner."

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Reese has always been refreshingly honest on the subject.

In a 2017 cover story for Glamour, Reese urged the magazine’s readers never to settle for a partner who doesn’t support them in their financial success. "Run away from a man who can’t handle your ambition," she said, noting that men’s insecurities about wage disparities in a relationship should never be an obstacle to women’s success.

"That’s my advice: Just do what you do well," she continued. "If you’re a producer, you’ve got to produce. If you’re a writer, you’ve got to write. If you’re in corporate America, keep working hard to bust through the glass ceiling."

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She played a crucial role in helping to close the gender wage gap at HBO.

As one of the celebrities leading the Time’s Up movement, Reese has given many passionate speeches about equality. She also started her own production company, Pacific Standard Films, dedicated to making movies and TV shows with strong, empowered female leads.

Inspired by Reese, HBO — home to her hugely successful Big Little Lies series — took a hard look at its long-standing pay disparities and made sweeping changes. Casey Bloys, HBO’s president of programming, told the Hollywood Reporter in April 2018 that the decision to identify and correct any pay inequalities at the network resulted from "thinking about the movement and some conversations with Reese, who is really at the forefront."

Although it was a big win for Reese, she’s only getting started in her mission to make sure all women are paid what they’re worth. "I just hope in my lifetime that I can help more women make more money. Financial stability is freedom," she told the HFPA in Conversation podcast.