Hot bosom buddies Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon

Actresses Reese Witherspoon (left) and Sofia Vergara hamming it up on the red carpet for the premiere of their movie last month in Hollywood. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Actresses Reese Witherspoon (left) and Sofia Vergara hamming it up on the red carpet for the premiere of their movie last month in Hollywood. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Sofia Vergara (left) plays the wife of a drug boss on the run with a police officer, played by Reese Witherspoon (right). -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS
Sofia Vergara (left) plays the wife of a drug boss on the run with a police officer, played by Reese Witherspoon (right). -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS

Actresses Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara may appear different, but have become fast friends on the set of Hot Pursuit

You often hear about the importance of chemistry between the male and female leads in a movie, but actresses Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara say it is just as crucial for female co-stars to have a strong connection. They should know - their new movie Hot Pursuit depends on it, even more so given that it is a female-led buddy comedy, a rarity in Hollywood. It is an odd-couple story about an uptight police officer (Witherspoon) who finds herself on the run with the wife (Vergara) of a drug boss.

Paired for interviews with Life! and other press in Los Angeles, the women cannot resist having a little fun with reporters who ask if their chemistry in the film is real.

"I can't stand her," deadpans Witherspoon.

"It's all an act," Vergara adds.

They are not above pretending to flirt with each other, either.

Asked what each likes about the other, Vergara purrs: "Her eyes. Look at how blue they are. They're really pretty, no? I always start looking at them and, like, so cute..."

Witherspoon giggles.

They seem to have formed a genuine friendship off-screen too, bonding over their willingness to make fun of themselves as well as the fact that both are entrepreneurs and mothers as well as actresses.

It is not the first time they have been quizzed about whether they truly get along, they say - perhaps because they appear to be such a study in contrasts.

Vergara, a 42-year-old statuesque brunette and ex-model from Colombia, is the archetypal Latina bombshell. She is also the highest-paid actress on American television, thanks to the success of the long-running sitcom Modern Family.

The flaxen-haired, Tennessee-raised Wither- spoon - who at 1.56m tall is almost a full head shorter than her co-star - is the classic Southern belle. And she has made her name with films such as the Legally Blonde comedies (2001 to 2003) and the 2005 country-music drama Walk The Line, which earned her a Best Actress Oscar.

It was Vergara's work on Modern Family that brought them together, however, after Witherspoon, 39, co-founded her own production company and was looking for a comedic partner on screen.

"I came up with the idea (to cast Sofia) because I'm a big fan of Modern Family and I think she's such a fresh voice in comedy," she says of the mockumentary-style sitcom, which has won the Emmy for Best TV Comedy five years in a row (2010 to 2014).

"And then I started thinking, 'What if she and I did a buddy movie together?' So we sat down and talked about different ideas and this was the idea we both liked the best. We had screenwriters write it, and the first draft was so good we ended up making it in seven months."

Vergara says they would not have made it through the gruelling shoot if they had not hit it off.

"It was two months in New Orleans in the heat, we saw each other every day for long, long days, so we were lucky that we like each other - if not, it would've been really hard."

Now they finish each other's sentences - a jumble of Tennessee- and Colombian-accented English.

Vergara tips her hat to Witherspoon and her newly minted production company, Pacific Standard, for accommodating her tricky schedule.

"I don't have much time - for seven months of the year, I have to be in Modern Family, then I have a lot of other jobs with my endorsements and my companies," she says.

This constraint means she has been confined to small roles in movies such as Chef (2014), Fading Gigolo (2013) and Machete Kills (2013).

"Usually, movies are not going to sit there and wait for me. Reese did, she sat and waited for me. I was lucky that she was able to work this into her schedule and my schedule, and I was able to play one of the main characters."

The raison d'etre of Pacific Standard - which made last year's Gone Girl and Wild - is to make movies with strong female characters.

Witherspoon explains: "That's our whole directive. It was started because of the lack of strong female leads in films. I wasn't seeing any good scripts coming down the pipeline and if you see one, then seven actresses wanted the part and I thought this is bizarre."

Her solution was to start buying the film rights to books she enjoyed. "I read so many books anyway, and my husband was like, 'Why don't you start making these books into movies?'

"So then I bought Wild, which was my first book, and Gone Girl was my next," says the actress, whose next book-to-screen project is Big Little Lies, an upcoming TV series about the dark secrets lurking behind the seemingly perfect lives of three young mothers, which will star herself and Nicole Kidman.

Apart from movies such as The Heat (2013), Pitch Perfect (2012) and Bridesmaids (2011), there have been few female-led ensemble comedies and even fewer buddy comedies helmed by women.

With Hot Pursuit - which is also unusual because it boasts a female director, Anne Fletcher - Witherspoon says they did not encounter that much resistance from the industry because "people were really excited about the pairing of the two of us".

Still, she reveals that "there were some people who were like, 'Oh, we already have a woman's movie this summer'. And I was like, 'Oh, so there can't be two?'"

Vergara says nothing beats working with another female lead.

"It's a lot more fun to work with girls. I work with Ed O'Neill all the time on Modern Family and I love and adore him, but with a girl, you can talk about anything.

"With Ed, I can tell him I have cramps, but he doesn't feel bad for me or anything. If I tell Reese she's like, 'Oh, really? I have something in my purse for that.'"

The duo say they learnt a lot from each other, not just as actresses, but also as mothers and entrepreneurs.

Vergara is a spokesman for brands such as Diet Pepsi and has a clothing and a furniture line, an area that Witherspoon entered recently with the launch of her own clothing and home label Draper James this month.

"Her work ethic is incredible. I've never seen somebody work so hard," says Witherspoon.

"You too," Vergara responds. "I hurt her on the set, she went to the hospital and the next day she came back to work like it was nothing."

The pair swop parenting tips as well. Vergara - who is engaged to Magic Mike star Joe Manganiello - has a 22-year-old son, Manolo, from her first marriage, while Witherspoon has two children, Ava, 15, and Deacon, 11, with ex-husband and actor Ryan Philippe, along with a two-year-old son, Tennessee, with her current husband, talent agent Jim Toth.

"She gives me really good parenting advice," Witherspoon says. "It was funny - one night, Manolo was on set on a Friday and I said, 'Doesn't he want to go out? It's New Orleans'. And she goes, 'Shhh, don't give him any ideas, he has to stay here with me.'"

What really connects them, however, is a shared sense of humour, which means neither star is in danger of taking themselves - or interviews such as this - too seriously.

Asked to describe her co-star, Witherspoon says: "The thing I love about Sofia is..."

"My boobs," Vergara interjects.

"Shut up," says her co-star affectionately, before explaining that they both come from families where they are each constantly made fun of. "She is so willing to make fun of herself - you gotta love somebody like that. She'll make up jokes about herself. Some women aren't like that, they're sensitive. She's like, 'Make fun of my boobs.'"

When they need to, the two can switch off the banter and revert to loyal-friend mode, such as when Vergara jokes about not being able to find a part in one of Witherspoon's upcoming film projects.

"Is there a role for me there?" she asks plaintively.

"I don't know," says Witherspoon, sounding vexed. "But I will find something else for you," she adds tenderly.

stlife@sph.com.sg

Hot Pursuit opens in Singapore tomorrow.