Reese Witherspoon Says Daughter Ava's College Applications Felt Like an 'Arrow in the Heart'

Ava Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon at the "Big Little Lies" Season 2 Premiere
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Witherspoon stars alongside Kerry Washington in Hulu's new series, 'Little Fires Everywhere.'

Reese Witherspoon is opening up about the pain of having her 20-year-old daughter, Ava, grow older and attend college.

The 44-year-old actress stars as Elena Richardson on the new Hulu series, Little Fires Everywhere, adapted from a novel by Celeste Ng. In a new interview with Emmy magazine, she shares how reading the book reminded her of parenting Ava (whom she shares with ex-husband, Ryan Phillippe)  and further ignited her interest in the series.

“It’s so difficult to articulate what motherhood means and there are so many passages in the novel that did,” says Witherspoon, who stars alongside Kerry Washington on the series. “[One passage was about] training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core and all.”

“It’s such a vivid way to describe the loss of your children as they grow up,” continues the actress about Ava, who followed in her footsteps and ended up attending Stanford University. “My daughter was applying for college back then, so it hit me like an arrow in the heart.”

The book follows single mom Mia Warren (played by Washington), who moves to Ohio with her teenage daughter, and becomes involved with Elena and her family. Witherspoon says she channeled her own mom, Betty Reese, for the role of Elena.

“I don’t know why it never occurred to us until we were almost into production. I was like, ‘I’m playing [my mother] Betty!’” she says.

Washington, 43, also felt an instant connection with the story. “Reese sent the book to me while I was still filming Scandal. And that book owned me,” she tells the magazine.

Author Ng couldn’t be more thrilled with the cast, sharing how she always had Witherspoon in mind for the role of Elena, even before the book was published.

After watching the actress in Big Little Lies and saying to her husband, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if Reese Witherspoon read my book and wanted to option it and then wanted to star in the adaptation?” she sent an advance copy of her book to the star and her team.

Within two years of the novel’s publication, Ng’s dream casting has been brought to life on Hulu.

“This just may be the only thing that’s ever made me believe in manifesting things into the universe, speaking them into existence,” Ng says.

See more on Little Fires Everywhere below.