Reese Witherspoon understands the beauty and business of Hollywood. (Photo by  Thomas Whiteside)

Reese Witherspoon understands the beauty and business of Hollywood. (Photo by Thomas Whiteside)

Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Penelope Cruz and Melissa McCartney each get their own cover for Elle magazine’s “Women in Hollywood” issue. They represent the strength, sensuality, power and promise of women in Tinseltown.

Witherspoon, 37, is not only an A-list actress, but for years she was among the highest paid leading ladies, easily commanding eight-figure salaries per picture.

She dropped off Forbe’s list of top earning actresses this year, because she is devoting more time to producing.

“I started noticing a couple years ago that I wasn’t seeing women as the stars of movies. I’m seeing them as the guys’ girlfriends, or so-and-so’s wife,” she explains.

“I just thought, ‘God, if I don’t start buckling down and start producing some movies, what’s my daughter going to see in the movies?'”

Reese Witherspoon and Women of Hollywood
(Click to Enlarge)

Having children also have had a big impact on her life. “I feel like I was so confused before I had kids, I almost got in my own way. Having kids made me clearer about who I was as a woman” she tells the magazine.

Woodley, 21, represents young Hollywood. She scored a breakout role opposite George Clooney in the 2011 film “The Descendants.” She was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Spirit Award.

She already knows she has to be all business in Hollywood. “There’s nothing like walking into a meeting and people expecting me to shake hands, and you hug them,” she says.

“For me, a hug is to disregard all of that bullshit and be like, ‘This is me, Shai. This is who I am. Now let’s talk about real situations. Let’s not talk about all this surface-level stuff.”

Cruz also refuses to buy into the star system.”The concept of a ‘star’ will always sound foreign and surreal to me because growing up in my country, you’re an actor, not a star,” she says.

Of all the roles women can play comedy is the toughest. “A lot of times, women have had all their tools taken away [in Hollywood comedies],” she says.

“It’s like you’re never inappropriate, you have the greatest job, you look great, your hair is amazing, and now go be funny. And it’s like, with what?

“You have to fall down for us to want to watch you get back up. And it’s like they never let you watch women fall down,” she adds.

Reese, Shailene and Melissa were photographed by Thomas Whiteside, while Nico shot Penelope’s cover. Check out the photos and look for the November issue of Elle on newsstands now.