Somewhat surprisingly, Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher had never worked together before Netflix’s new rom-com “Your Place or Mine.”
“I had always wanted to make a romantic comedy with Reese,” Kutcher tells Variety over Zoom. “Like, always.”
Though both are icons of the genre who rose to fame in the early 2000s — Witherspoon captured hearts in “Legally Blonde” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” while Kutcher made audiences swoon in “Just Married” and “No Strings Attached” — the stars just didn’t align for them, until now.
In fact, Witherspoon and Kutcher had only really met one time before, at a party decades ago — in a meet cute that could’ve been scripted for one of their movies — though they have different stories of how it went down.
“He was carrying a little cooler,” Witherspoon recalls. “I was like, ‘Hey, what’s in the cooler, cooler guy?’ It was Red Bull. He had a lot of Red Bull in a cooler, and I thought that was quirky.”
“I don’t remember the cooler thing at all,” Kutcher responds. “And it wasn’t my cooler! I was carrying a cooler for someone else. And I was probably so nervous at the fact that this human that I admire so much was even acknowledging me that I probably didn’t even explain the reason I had the cooler. I was just like ‘Oh, Red Bulls [are] inside, Reese Witherspoon?’”
All the while, the two have been keeping up with each other’s careers for years. “I remember seeing you in ‘Punk’d,’ and I thought it was really funny. And then I loved ‘Butterfly Effect.’ I loved ‘No Strings Attached’ with Natalie,” Witherspoon says, turning to Kutcher to ask, “Did you do a movie where you were in a military uniform?”
“Yeah, ‘The Guardian,’” he replies. “With Kevin Costner. Ugh, so handsome.”
“I mean, handsome and handsome. And in uniforms!” Witherspoon says, winking at the camera.
“I think the first thing I saw you in was ‘Election,’” Kutcher adds. “I was like, ‘Woah!’ Because I thought that film was extraordinary, and that you were extraordinary in it. Then I remember seeing ‘Legally Blonde’ and the juxtaposition of those characters… I mean, I’m a big fan. Will you sign my arm? I’ll just tattoo it on later.”
Luckily, “Your Place or Mine” writer and director Aline Brosh McKenna came into the picture to finally get them together. A rom-com icon in her own right, having penned “The Devil Wears Prada,” “27 Dresses” and “Morning Glory,” Brosh McKenna knew exactly who she wanted to star in her feature directorial debut.
“I always picture Reese for everything — like, embarrassingly, every single thing I’ve ever written. I just think she can do anything. And I’ve known Ashton a really long time,” Brosh McKenna says. “They do have so much in common in terms of being iconic in romantic comedies, but also iconic in some of the other roles they’ve played, like Ashton played Steve Jobs and Reese obviously has won an Oscar. They’re also tremendously intelligent and both gifted entrepreneurs. I went to Harvard, and I often felt quite dumb around them.”
Based on Brosh McKenna’s real-life experience, “Your Place or Mine” follows Debbie (Witherspoon) and Peter (Kutcher), who are best friends and total opposites. Though they spent one night together 20 years ago, Debbie now craves routine with her son in L.A. and Peter thrives on change in New York. But when they swap houses and lives for a week, they discover what they think they want might not be what they really need.
It’s been 12 years since Kutcher starred in a rom-com and six for Witherspoon. But, after reading Brosh McKenna’s script, both were immediately on board.
“Coming out of the pandemic, when I read the script, like this is the movie I wanted to see,” Kutcher says. “It was happy, it was fun, it was hopeful and it was all those things that I had really desperately been searching for to find on my little menu of menus.”
Witherspoon, who produced the Netflix movie through her Hello Sunshine banner, agrees that it was that sense of nostalgia that made returning to the genre so enticing.
“Over the years, I feel like it’s been hard — audiences are a little bit more cynical about [rom-coms],” she explains. “I think the great thing about this one is it’s so grounded in reality. Our characters are so flawed in who they are, because really our only obstacle is ourselves. We can’t get together because we are so narrow-minded about each other and we don’t see the bigger perspective that we have so much more in common than we really think we do.”
Kutcher adds, “You get this sense that these two people have to be together and you become invested in their relationship and some functional imperfection keeps them apart. And in the end, we all know they end up together, but there has to be just enough suspension of disbelief that they can’t work through this problem to stay invested in the film. And that is the formula that I think works.”
As in real life, Witherspoon and Kutcher’s characters are both in their 40s, which adds a more realistic aspect to their love story, Brosh McKenna says — and one viewers don’t always get to see.
“You know, I think life is long. And especially when I see movies where the characters are very young, I just think — I sound like an old auntie now — but I feel like, ‘Ugh, he’s not the one, don’t worry about it. You’re going to have 10 boyfriends after that,’” she says. “I think these are things we know to be true, that it’s a long road to people finding each other now. And I think it’s good to show that there’s a lot of personal development that you can go through before you find that other person.”
Brosh McKenna even admits that this is a reality some of her earlier movies didn’t take into account.
“I, controversially, am not sure that Jane and Kevin from ’27 Dresses’ are still married. Just a thought,” she says with a laugh, ready to defend her position. “I mean, there was a lot of romantic idealization — I don’t really feel like they got the chance to know each other. That was a big ass wedding. I’m concerned.”
She’s even more certain about the romance at the center of “The Devil Wears Prada”: “Andy and Nate are definitely not together. That much I can tell you.”
“Your Place or Mine” premieres on Netflix Feb. 10. Watch Witherspoon and Kutcher’s full interview above.