Reese Witherspoon discusses the infamous ‘money’ joke at the 2002 Oscars

2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party

Reese Witherspoon chooses her words pretty carefully whenever she speaks about her first marriage and her first husband Ryan Phillippe. I tend to believe there was a lot of drama and a lot of bad sh-t in that marriage, much of which has never come out publicly, even though Ryan has been outed as a pretty awful person. Still, we don’t know what went down between Ryan and Reese, we only know that the last years of their marriage seemed especially fraught and that Reese walked away as a much bigger star than Ryan. Reese was a bigger star during their marriage too, which led to one memorable moment during the 2002 Oscars. Reese and Ryan were presenting together as Hollywood’s then “golden couple.” Reese went off script to ask Ryan if she could read the winner and Ryan handed her the card and said “You make more than I do.” Reese spoke about that moment and a lot more with the HFPA In Conversation podcast. Some highlights:

Ryan’s 2002 Oscar comment wasn’t scripted: “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, and he didn’t tell me he was going to say that before it happened on air. So I was a little bit flummoxed in the moment, too.”

Women face increased pressure when they achieve financial success. “There’s so few women that 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. But I do think gender norms have changed quite a bit since that moment in 2000 or something.”

Her daughter Ava came home from second grade in tears. Ava’s classmates had told her that her mom is “one of the highest-paid actress in Hollywood,” leading the young girl to feel “so embarrassed.” Reese shared, “I said, ‘Don’t ever feel ashamed of a woman making money. There are women all over this world who don’t have an opportunity or an education or the ability to make money. And the more women who make more money, will give more money away, will take care of their societies, will take care of their communities, will do more with that 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 its more than your partner.'”

On Power: “[I have] an interesting relationship with the word ‘power,’ and all I can think of is I just hope in my lifetime, I can help more women make more money. Financial stability is freedom.”

[From E! News]

I remember the 2002 Oscars moment clearly and from what I remember, Ryan actually got high marks because he didn’t seem particularly upset about the fact that Reese was making more money. It was more like a statement of fact and Ryan didn’t seem mad. Oh, I found the video, I’m including it below. It’s like I remembered. And did Ava really CRY when people were bullying her about her mom making money? How bizarre. But yeah, women should not be shamed for making money and we shouldn’t feel ashamed about making money or talking about money. I know I’m a gauche American and other cultures think it’s tacky to talk so much about money, but we absolutely need to normalize women talking publicly about how much money they make and how much money they deserve.


Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid.

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56 Responses to “Reese Witherspoon discusses the infamous ‘money’ joke at the 2002 Oscars”

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  1. Silverdragon says:

    By pointing it out so publicly, Ryan proved that he thought about the payment-gap, even when no one else thought about it in that moment. So it was obviously something that bothered him, otherwise why mentioning it?

    • jbyrdku says:


    • Professor Plum says:

      Exactly. It was definitely an issue for him.

      • SM says:

        As much as Ryan may be a problematic person and he clearly had issue with being the lesser star in that relationship, I do not get a vibe from him that he was bothered by that. More telling is the fact that she felt like she has to ask a man whether he would allow her to open the envelope despite them being married and equal at least, as they both were well known actors at the time. It is equally chilling that she had to explain herself to her daughter for making money, I wonder if any man have to justify their success to their children. And women are expected to give back for their success whether men can spend their fortunes on expensive toys and gold digging young lovers.

    • Ella says:

      Eh, people also joke about things that don’t bother them at all. If her earning power emasculated him, drawing attention to it in a room full of the most powerful and famous people in Hollywood would be the last thing he’d do.

      I think Reese is using it now to make herself seem like a feminist figure, and not the “do you know who I am” drunk driver of yore.

      • Sumodo1 says:

        Yeah, I remember that moment. He must’ve gone to a speech therapist at some point in his life because then, Philippe still had “Eastern Maryland Mush Mouth.” It’s like a Maryland “mush melon,” or cantaloupe. They have no flavor.

    • AllGood says:

      It bothers most men, methinks. Ethan Hawke hinted at frustration at Uma Thurman doing better than he was at some point in their marriage. Uma has only ever dated alpha males in business since then, I believe, though she did have a fling with Quentin Taratino or something.

  2. Bettyrose says:

    So.young. OMG. But where even is Philippe these days while Reese is everywhere?

    • terra says:

      A small part on Big Sky on ABC. Before that the last place I saw him was a single episode of Brooklyn 99 a few seasons ago.

    • Leducduswaz says:

      He was the lead in the tv version of Shooter a few years ago. I watched one episode cause Randy Orton was in it and I’m a sucker for WWE guys trying their hand at acting. It was even more forgettable than the movie. Randy was as entertainingly bad as you’d expect.

    • terra says:

      @Anne and @Leducduswaz, Ah, I never watched that, so I didn’t remember. Netflix recommended it to me for months, but it looked forgettable, so I passed.

  3. Noki says:

    He seemed very resentful to me,no wonder it didnt work. He was a part of the male teen hearthrob actors that all fizzled when the teen and slasher movie hype died down.

  4. Oh_Hey says:

    Ive seen comments about the Ava thing and being a kid her daughter’s age at around that same time I don’t think the other kids said “boo, you suck cause your mom is rich”. Wide spread acceptance of feminism is new and even some folks that are seen as girl power vanguards are on record saying they weren’t feminists until like a few years ago. All that to say those kids comments were probably more like you dad’s a deadbeat and your mom’s a ballbuster or something.

    Also Ryan is a known *alleged* mess right? We know Reese has said she was in an abusive relationship at a young age and she won’t name the guy. She was added to his latest accuser’s witness list at an upcoming lawsuit hearing and then suddenly a settlement came. His non-Reese baby momma has terrible things to say. He cheated on Reese for Abbie Cornish then cheated on Abbie with the baby momma. The money comment unfortunately tracks with him.

    • Millennial says:

      I’ve done a bit of Insta investigating and honestly I don’t even think he sees his child with Alexis Knapp. Maybe they have an agreement or something, but it really seems like he just pretends his kids with Reese are his only kids. Alexis’ daughter looks just like him. Cant deny her.

  5. Feedmechips says:

    I have a hard time buying that someone would bully a kid because their mom makes more than their dad.

    • Laalaa says:

      It’s not about her making more money, it’s because that makes her dad weak and a woosy, that’s why kids tease about this!
      I can absoluty believe it, I was made fun of for my mum working, and she was a single mom

      • Feedmechips says:

        I think the odds of that comment coming out in the context of anything other than “wtf do you have to complain about?? Your mom is the highest paid actress in the world!” are very minimal.

      • Leducduswaz says:

        I can easily see it being about “your dad is a deadbeat” and such. Kids are sponges, so if the other parents were joking about him being a mooch, it’s not a stretch that they’d pick that up and run with it on the playground.

    • Kate says:

      Kids will make fun of other kids for literally anything – it doesn’t have to make sense. If your name is Hannah and a mean kid says “Hey Hannah do you like bananas? Hannah looooves bananas. Hannah Banana!” at you on the playground in a mocking tone that can still feel awful for a kid even though it’s a really dumb joke. I’m sure one’s mom being on a magazine list of Hollywood’s top paid actresses would be a great way for some kids to bring her down a peg. All they’d have to do is make jokes about her butler or the caviar she’s eating for dinner. Even if it’s stupid, just calling her out and making her feel different or implying she thinks she is better than them would be embarrassing for a 7 or 8 year old.

      • S2 says:

        This. Kids will tease other kids if someone’s mom is gorgeous, the same way they’ll tease another kid if their mother is overweight or anything else. It doesn’t have to be a traditionally-considered pejorative, for it to be a source of bullying, all they have to do is see it gets to you, and kids will latch on. Heck, I’ve seen kids teased for being “rich” and kids teased for being “poor,” and it’s equally hurtful in both circumstances. The conditions themselves, of course, are in no way equal; But often what kids see as rich or poor are not reflective of real-life circumstances; hence the quotes.

  6. Implicit says:

    That crying story with the little girl never happened she just wanted a way to tell her “theory”…Yeah she’s created so many opportunities for women over the years don’t we all know who she is🙄

    • ZsaZsa Fierce says:

      Unless you are Ava herself, can you really say that the incident never happened?

    • Mumbles says:

      It doesn’t sound realistic, agreed.

    • Jules says:

      Yea this sounds really cringe. I think Philippe is a douche, and I feel bad for celebrity kids who did not sign up for the lifestyle. Of course women should be paid equal to men and there should be no shame in that. But.. Reese always comes across as entitled and narcissistic, and she is also pushing the narrative that money is everything.

    • MuttonChop says:

      If kids want to make fun of a kid, they will pick anything out that’s different about you and turn it around, even if it’s not a bad thing to begin with. It’s not implausible once you stop applying adult logic to it and remember they’re children.

      • Sayrah says:

        Right. I can remember kids singing the starship song “Sara” to me in the 80s. I was painfully shy and started hiding in the bathroom when it was played at parties. I can absolutely believe this.

    • Christy says:

      I disagree. When I was in 4th grade, my parents had a new house built and it was along the way home that a lot of kids walked. Certain kids called me “rich bitch” and it was upsetting. Kids literally will find anything to pick on. And for the person being picked on, it’s not about the thing – which is usually stupid – but about peers turning on you.

  7. Isa says:

    Ryan definitely is a whole mess of red flags.

  8. Noodle says:

    I work with a women’s advocacy group at my university, and we focus a lot of our time on empowering and mentoring women in areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. One of the most popular topics we are often asked about is pay equity, and how to negotiate a salary as a woman, because this isn’t a common skill that we are taught as young women. Women are often paid less than their male equals, because not only are they offered lower initial salary, many do not negotiate that amount after the offer. Before I became involved in this organization, I never negotiated either; not that I never wanted to, but I never knew how. I grew up in a family where we didn’t talk about money, and being firmly upper-middle class, I never had to ask. These are some of the beliefs we have to address in our families and communities and workplaces, where we normalize talking about the beliefs and behaviors that create income inequality, particularly for women. I appreciate Reese’s effort to bring it to the table.

    • HufflepuffLizLemon says:

      Thank you for your work on this Noodle! I was talking at lunch with a peer yesterday about how for years I was very underpaid, and even when I tried to negotiate, it got me nowhere but “take it or leave it.” It took my boss, a white man, backing me and telling our Finance and HR departments that I WOULD get salary X and highlighting my contributions to finally get at the same level as a comparable male employee. This was quite a few years ago and that backing has changed my financial security, and now I’m in a better position to negotiate for myself and I’m preparing to help one of my mentees negotiate her next position and to back her for it. This is why allies and sponsors are SO important-mentorship is great, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle-people need to advocate for each other and be able to “bring others with them.” Corporate culture has a long way to go.

    • Zantasia says:

      Thank you for your work, Noodle!

  9. sara says:

    “he didn’t seem particularly upset about the fact that Reese was making more money”

    The fact that it was unscripted and at such a high profile moment shows that it DID bother him and he wanted to embarrass her over it.

    • Sojaschnitzel says:

      Absolutely. It was a shitty move and I do not believe that it did not bother him.

    • lucy2 says:

      Yeah I have to think if that wasn’t something that was bothering, he never would have said it. He had that one locked and loaded for a while, IMO.
      I think she handled it well in the moment, but I bet there were some words exchanged later.

      Side note her hair was really cute at that length.

    • detritus says:


      Imagine if it was gender reversed. Everyone would be screaming petty woman etc

      Such a pretty face, so yucky on the inside.

  10. Prof Trelawney says:

    first, I had a male boss try to guilt me one time about how my salary was higher than another woman’s in a similar role, something I shouldn’t have known in any case, but I’m still proud of myself for looking him straight in the eye and saying, well that’s her battle to fight then. Guy turned out to be a totally mediocre, over-paid, misogynistic jerk who stalled out in mid-management… Lesson — don’t ever let someone guilt you for the money you earn, or manipulate you into being a “nice girl” during negotiations. You can be nice and strong…

    second, I remember when she won her Oscar (I think) for Walk the Line, how at the table he kind of pushed her hard. It was meant to be congratulatory but I remember thinking even at the time, ooooh I don’t like that, I hope she’s ok…

  11. Jen says:

    Yeah, I was in a physically abusive relationship when I was young and my partner would make comments like this. I find it to be hallmark…the tone and words are just below the radar, but that it was so public and out of nowhere read the same as a lot of the more insidious abuse I went through. It was weird veiled aggression about his insecurities and envy and jealousy meant to take her (and me) down a peg that is mostly for their partner to read. It’s hard to explain further, it just makes my hair stand on end because this was actually the more constant scary thing I personally remember than him hurting me, although that talk would ramp up before an episode.

    • Prof Trelawney says:

      agree…I think this is how abuse can escalate too, the confusion, gaslighting, it was just a joke, but I don’t think it is, and it doesn’t feel loving…or if it is, ok, but mainly I think we all need to know and trust our own gut instincts on things like this…

    • Kate says:

      I can see that. It’s hurtful but can be explained away as trying to be funny or playful. She asks him playfully for a favor, he agrees but makes it clear it’s not because he loves her or finds her cute it’s because he has to do it as the self-perceived lower one in the relationship hierarchy. I’m sure at home it was a lot of that minus the smile and laugh he had to give while on camera in front of an audience.

  12. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    She obviously edited the reason for her daughter’s tears to suit her narrative lol. She’s just another version of Paltrow. Successful women celebrities, from successful wealthy families, asked to bestow their thoughts about our current events and culture and their ‘secrets’ for maintaining such a desirable existence. It’s all quite vomitus mass imo lol.

    • Mumbles says:

      Girlboss feminism, ie not really feminism at all, but capitalism in a female form. Just like all that “Lean In” crap.

    • Emm says:

      Right. Honestly when I read her comment I thought there was no way this really happened. First of all I’m sure Ava went to an elite school where everyone’s parents are part of the 1%. Second, I grew up in mostly middle class/ some working class and there was never ever anything against kids whose parents where the more well to do ones, if anything they were the popular kids that everyone wanted to be or be friends with. If you lived in the two neighborhoods that were considered the “rich” ones and you got to where the clothes from Abercrombie everyday everyone wanted to be your friend and were pretty envious. Also, none of those kids were ever embarrassed to live in the big house or wear all the expensive clothes or drive brand new cars when they turned 16, like at all.

  13. MM2 says:

    “Ava’s classmates *had told her* that her mom is “one of the highest-paid actress in Hollywood,” leading the young girl to feel “so embarrassed.”

    Reese never said kids were teasing her child. The kids obviously saw a news story & mentioned to the girl that her mom was one of the highest-paid actresses & the girl got embarrassed. To which Reese said never to be embarrassed about women making money.

    I’m sure these kids figure out, over time, who their friend’s parents are & comment. And I’m sure kids get embarrassed over all kinds of things that make their parents stand out (don’t all kids). Why people want to dissect this story & make Reese, or her kid, out to be a liar is odd.

    • L4frimaire says:

      Why would people think this is false. We always hear about working class kids afraid to reveal how little their family makes, so actually believe that kids are given a hard time if mom makes more than dad, even in privileged circles. I’ve heard people disparage stay at home dads when mom’s the primary breadwinner. People are bothered by women making money, especially more than their spouse. Right now Janet Yellin’s speaking fees are becoming an issue, and we see how they go in on anything related to Meghan Markle and money.

  14. Veronica S. says:

    I feel like jealousy is so common in that industry to begin with because of the culture of celebrity and nature of fame, but when you compound it with gender roles…you can see where a lot of resentment creeps in with men who have been raised to believe they should hold the position of prominence in the relationship and family. Some of them literally just don’t know how to be big unless they make their female partners small. She’s no sweet peach, but you get the sense that divorce happened for a good reason.

  15. Willow says:

    Oh yeah, based on experiences with my own kids, I can believe that happened with her daughter. That statement sounds like something an adult said at home, a child overheard, maybe not understanding the comment itself but understanding it was hurtful. So the child repeated it to Ava, trying to hurt her feelings. Kids repeat stuff their parents say in private all the time.

  16. Lorelei Gilmore says:

    My daughter is 10. She burst into tears the other night because her friend told her that she was super spoiled when she showed her friend her new Christmas toy. It’s all the same thing.

  17. Fleur says:

    I don’t believe that she forgot that Oscar moment happened. I remember. Everyone who was old enough to follow celebrity news in 2002 remembers that remark. It was all over the news after he made that comment, and it seemed awkwardly clear for a long time afterward that he was jealous of her success. Meanwhile, she was stuck bearing it.

  18. Dee Kay says:

    These days, whenever I hear of a husband jealous or angry over his wife being more professionally successful than he is, I think of this moment with Ryan Philippe and Reese Witherspoon. I think men whose wives make more should be proud and grateful!!!!! And if they’re not, then they’re insecure sexist a–holes.

  19. L4frimaire says:

    I remember when he said that and it sounded resentful to me. Reese is absolutely right. Women are really shamed for making money, especially women of color. They’re told they’re being greedy or ungrateful if they demand more, or say they’re worth more, or conspicuously consume, hence the Birkin bag shaming, while we never hear this about guys who collect cars. I remember a congressional hearing where the then- head of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards was speaking, and some Congressman kept harping on her salary, as if that was where all the budget for PP was being used. They never call out the salaries of men asked to testify. Anyway, when I saw that quip from Phillipe, though there was trouble in paradise.

  20. Bisi says:

    I have a different take on it though. I feel she put him on the spot and robbed him of the moment to also call out the winner. It seems selfish to me to ask him of something like that in public he could only have said yes to without looking like a twat. He looked really sad and nostalgic as she read it.
    I read his comment as as usual, go on and get your way again because you earn more. As noted above there must have been issues in that regard for him to have said that in public.

  21. AllGood says:

    “And the more women who make more money, will give more money away, will take care of their societies, will take care of their communities, will do more with that money.”

    All good except complete lack of mentioning of taxes. It’s the taxes you pay that could do the most good, Reese! Make sure your daughter (and son) understand that it’s not just about working hard, using your talents, and individual achievement but also about collectivity and contributing in an organised way through taxes that fund healthcare, education, housing for those who need it, etc. ‘Cause we all know there’s no real playing field at scale and for many the meritocracy is largely an illusion and luck and birth situation helps you much more than “hard work.”