February 1, 2023

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THEN AND NOW: The cast of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ 18 years later

  • “Sweet Home Alabama” premiered on September 27, 2002 – 18 years ago.
  • The film starred Reese Witherspoon as Melanie Carmichael, an NYC fashion designer trying to choose between her not-so-ex-husband Jake and her new fiancé Andrew, played by Josh Lucas and Patrick Dempsey, respectively.
  • With this film, Witherspoon solidified herself as the newest rom-com queen.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Eighteen years ago, viewers were introduced to Melanie Carmichael — or should we say Melanie Smooter — a trendy New Yorker with a secret: She used to be a country girl from Pigeon Creek, Alabama.

“Sweet Home Alabama” is notably among the rom-com canon for having two actually viable love interests (see also: “The Notebook”). It’s genuinely hard for viewers and Melanie alike to choose which guy she wants to be with — that is, if either will have her.

Ideas for a sequel have been floating around for years, with both Josh Lucas and Reese Witherspoon and director Andy Tennant stating they’d be on board.

Keep scrolling to see what the cast of “Sweet Home Alabama” is up to now, 18 years after it premiered in 2002.

Reese Witherspoon played teenage-rebel-turned-fashion designer Melanie Carmichael (née Smooter).

Melanie (or Felony Melanie, as she’s known in Pigeon Creek) grew up a wild child in her small Alabama town, egged on by her childhood bestie and sweetheart, Jake Perry. While the two got married young, she eventually fled town after she had a miscarriage and reinvented herself as Melanie Carmichael, a successful fashion designer and prim and proper Southern belle.

At the time of the film, Witherspoon was already a star and rom-com queen with her appearances in “Election,” “Cruel Intentions,” “Legally Blonde,” and “Fear” behind her. She was also still married to her “Cruel Intentions” co-star, Ryan Phillippe.

Today, Witherspoon is an Oscar-winning actress who has become the queen of streaming. She also has a successful lifestyle brand, Draper James.

Witherspoon, 44, remains one of our most beloved actresses. She won an Oscar for her performance as June Carter Cash in 2005’s “Walk the Line,” and was nominated again in 2015 for “Wild.”

Recently, she’s made the move to TV, starring in and producing both “Big Little Lies” and “Little Fires Everywhere.” She also received an Emmy nod in 2020 for her role in Apple TV’s “The Morning Show.” With her production company Hello Sunshine, she has multiple female-centered productions in development.

Up next, Witherspoon is reprising her role as Elle Woods in a third sequel to “Legally Blonde,” and she is set to star in two Netflix rom-coms.

She divorced Phillippe in 2006 and married agent Jim Toth in 2011.

Witherspoon has voiced her desire to do a “Sweet Home Alabama” sequel if the opportunity arises. “We are not making a sequel that I know of, but if Disney wants to make a sequel, they can just call me. I would happily make ‘Sweet Home Alabama 2,’” the actress said in 2016.

Josh Lucas played Jake Perry, Melanie’s estranged husband and first love back in Pigeon Creek.

Jake was Melanie’s literal partner in crime – they blew up a bank once – and first love. The first scene of the film is the two of them as kids having their first kiss. Though Melanie moved away because Jake was unable to get his act together, he eventually grew up and refused to divorce Melanie until he had proven he was good enough for her, forcing her to fly home and set the film’s events in motion.

Lucas, at the time, had starred in films like “The Weight of Water,” “American Psycho” (alongside Reese Witherspoon), and most famously, “A Beautiful Mind.” But “Sweet Home Alabama” is what really put him on the map.

Lucas recently appeared in the Oscar-nominated film “Ford v. Ferrari”

After “Sweet Home Alabama,” Lucas appeared in a few notorious box office flops, including “Stealth” and “Poseidon.” He also appeared in “Glory,” “Hulk,” and “Life As We Know It.”

Recently, the 49-year-old starred in “Ford v. Ferrari,” “Mark Felt,” and had a recurring role in “The Mysteries of Laura.” He also appears in “Yellowstone” as a younger version of Kevin Costner’s character. He’s set to star in the fifth and final “Purge” movie, titled “The Forever Purge.”

He married writer Jessica Ciencin Henriquez in 2012. They were divorced in 2014.

In 2019, Lucas revealed that he and director Andy Tennant had spoken about doing a sequel to “Sweet Home Alabama” in which Jake and Melanie are divorced, and Andrew is “still in the picture,”USA Today reported.

Patrick Dempsey played Andrew Hennings, Melanie’s dreamy NYC fiancé.

The film starts with Andrew proposing to Melanie, while his mother, the mayor of New York City, disapproves and believes that Melanie is hiding something. Though Andrew seems like the perfect man, forgives Melanie for lying during their entire relationship, and even agrees to get married in Pigeon Creek, she still leaves him at the altar anyway, kick-starting an 18-year debate on who the better choice was.

Dempsey, in 2002, was best known for his role in the ’80s teen films “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Loverboy.” He had also played Mike Damone in the short-lived TV version of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

Now, Dempsey will forever be linked with Dr. Derek Shepherd and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Not long after “Sweet Home Alabama,” Dempsey signed on to the ABC medical show/prime-time soap “Grey’s Anatomy” to play Derek Shepherd, a neurosurgeon with a very complicated relationship history. Dempsey remained on the show for 11 seasons, becoming half of one of the most iconic relationships in TV history.

After he left, Dempsey, 54, began focusing on his racing career. He also has an extensive vintage car collection and even has said he would leave acting behind to focus on his racing career full-time, though he hasn’t yet. He’s also appeared in “Bridget Jones’ Baby,” “Valentine’s Day,” the Italian financial thriller series “Devils,” and produced “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”

Dempsey married his wife, Jillian, in 1999. She filed for divorce in 2015, but the two reconciled then officially called it off in 2016.

Dakota Fanning appears very briefly in the film’s first scene as the young version of Melanie.

One of the film’s most iconic exchanges is spoken between the young Melanie and young Jake when they discuss why anyone would want to get married – obviously, so you can kiss your spouse anytime you want.

This was one of Fanning’s first roles and it was her first kiss, ever. She continued to become a child star with roles in “War of the Worlds,” “Uptown Girls,” and became the youngest SAG Award nominee for her performance in “I Am Sam.”

Also, at age 12, she became the youngest person inducted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Fanning is currently starring on “The Alienist.”

Fanning, 26, has successfully made the transition from child star to serious adult actress – she currently stars in the Emmy-winning series “The Alienist,” and appeared in the Oscar-winning film “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” as one of the members of the Manson Family.

She also appeared in the “Twilight Saga” as one of its villains, Jane, a sadistic vampire. She appeared with Kristen Stewart again in “The Runaways,” about the band of the same name.

Her upcoming films include the Kirsten Dunst-directed adaptation of “The Bell Jar,” and an adaptation of “The Nightingale,” in which she co-stars with her sister, Elle.

Throughout her career, she also found time for school. As of 2018, she was completing her college degree at NYU’s Gallatin school.

Ethan Embry played Bobby Ray, one of Melanie’s closest childhood friends.

Bobby Ray is one of the people who’s happiest to see Melanie when she returns to her hometown, and he has been keeping up with her design career in New York. While it seems like an open secret that Bobby Ray is gay, Melanie accidentally outs him while she’s drunk – however, he eventually forgives her and even covers for her when one of Andrew’s mother’s colleagues comes to Alabama to snoop.

Embry was best known at the time for his starring roles in “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Empire Records,” and “That Thing You Do!” In 2006, he starred in the Showtime crime series “Brotherhood,” which only lasted three seasons, but was critically acclaimed.

Embry currently stars on “Grace and Frankie” as Coyote.

Embry, 42, continued to work steadily after “Sweet Home Alabama,” and regularly popped up in films in supporting roles, most recently as real-life NASA astronaut Pete Conrad in “First Man.”

Currently, he stars in “Grace and Frankie” as Coyote, one of Frankie’s sons, which is set to wrap up after its seventh and final season. He’s also recurred in “Once Upon a Time,” “Sneaky Pete,” and “Fairly Legal.”

Embry married Sunny Mabrey in 2005, and she filed for divorce in 2012. They began dating again in 2013, and remarried in 2015.

Melanie Lynskey played Lurlynn, another one of Melanie’s friends who still lives in Pigeon Creek.

Lurlynn, of course, is the friend who had a baby in a bar. She stayed in Pigeon Creek and married another of their friends, Clint. While Melanie and Lurlynn have a brief rough patch, Lurlynn forgives her, and is remembered as one of the film’s most relatable characters.

Lynskey, who hails from New Zealand, began acting when she was 17 starring alongside Kate Winslet in 1994’s “Heavenly Creatures.” She also starred in “Ever After,” “Coyote Ugly,” and “Snakeskin” before appearing in “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Lynskey is most recognisable now for her longtime role in “Two and a Half Men.”

Lynskey, 43, appeared throughout “Two and a Half Men” as Rose, the neighbour of the main characters who harbours an obsession with Charlie.

Outside of that sitcom, Lynskey has become successful within the independent film community, starring in movies such as “Hello I Must Be Going,” “Happy Christmas,” “Sadie,” and “We’ll Never Have Paris.” She also appeared in more mainstream films like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Up in the Air.” In 2020, she appeared in the Hulu miniseries “Mrs. America.” She was also in 10 episodes of “Castle Rock.”

Lynskey is set to star in the Justin Long-directed comedy “Lady of the Manor,” which her “Sweet Home Alabama” co-star Reese Witherspoon’s ex Ryan Phillippe is also in.

She married future “Westworld” star Jimmi Simpson in 2007, but they divorced in 2012. She became engaged to “Parenthood” actor Jason Ritter in 2017.

Candice Bergan played Mayor Kate Hennings, single mother to Andrew and the film’s antagonist.

Kate is the mayor of New York City, and still jaded from the dissolution of her relationship with Andrew’s father, causing her to be extremely suspicious of Melanie – she even sends her lackey down to Alabama to catch her in a lie. While she eventually gets on board with their relationship, she immediately reverts back to being a snob when Melanie chooses Jake … this leads to Melanie decking her while still in her wedding dress.

Bergen, of course, was already an icon by the time she was in “Sweet Home Alabama” for her starring role as Murphy Brown for 10 years in the sitcom of the same name. She also had an Oscar nom under her belt for 1979’s “Starting Over.”

Two years prior to “Sweet Home Alabama,” she had also played the antagonist in another rom-com, “Miss Congeniality.” Around this time, she also appeared in “Sex in the City” as Carrie’s editor at Vogue, Enid.

Bergen reprised her iconic role as Murphy Brown in the 2018 CBS revival.

Bergen, 74, continually appears in rom-coms, such as “Bride Wars,” “Rules Don’t Apply,” and “Book Club.” She also reunited with her almost daughter-in-law, Reese Witherspoon, in “Home Again,” this time playing her mum.

From 2005 to 2008, Bergen starred in “Boston Legal” and was nominated for both Emmys and Golden Globes. In 2018, she reprised her role as Murphy Brown in the revival, which lasted for a season.

She also has a thriving Instagram business, Bergen Bags. She paints handbags and donates all the proceeds to charity.

Mary Kay Place played Melanie’s mother, Pearl Smooter.

Pearl, Melanie’s mum, tried to force her daughter to do pageants in order to secure her a better future outside of Pigeon Creek, and was upset when Melanie was unsure if she wanted to stay with Jake or not.

Place first gained fame for her starring role on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” in the ’70s. At the time of “Sweet Home Alabama,” Place was appearing in small parts in “Being John Malkovich,” “Girl, Interrupted,” and “Latter Days.” She also appeared in three episodes of “The West Wing” as the Surgeon General.

Place is currently on “911: Lone Star.”

Place, 72, appeared in her first lead role in 2018’s “Diane,” in the titular role. For her performance, she won both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress.

She also has roles in “AJ and the Queen” and “911: Lone Star.” She’s set to appear in two musical films: “Music,” which is directed by Sia, and Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the Broadway musical “The Prom.”

Fred Ward played Earl Smooter, Melanie’s dad who participates in Civil War reenactments.

Earl, though quiet, loves his wife and daughter a lot, even if he doesn’t always know how to express it. He also regularly participates in Civil War reenactments, much to his daughter’s chagrin.

Ward’s career began in Italian cinema in the ’70s, but soon after began appearing in American films like “The Right Stuff” and “Silkwood.” At the time of “Sweet Home Alabama,” he was appearing in other comedies as well, like “Joe Dirt,” “Corky Romano,” and “Road Trip.” He also appeared in a 2006 episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” (starring Patrick Dempsey, though they didn’t interact on-screen) as the father of Denny Duquette.

After a 42-year career, Ward hasn’t acted since 2015.

The 77-year-old hasn’t acted since 2015, when he appeared in two episodes of “True Detective.” He has also appeared in episodes of various TV shows, including “United States of Tara,” “In Plain Sight,” and “ER.” He also appeared in “30 Minutes or Less.”

Jean Smart played Jake’s loveable mum, Stella.

Stella and Melanie were close when Melanie was growing up and with Jake, and she always believed that the two were meant to be together. She also works as a bartender at the bar that Jake and his friends frequent.

Smart is a legendary actress, best known for her role in “Designing Woman” in the ’80s and ’90s. She also won two Emmys for her performance in “Frasier” around the time of “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Smart has had an extensive career in TV. She was nominated for an Emmy this year for her performance in “Watchmen.”

Smart, 69, has appeared in many TV shows since her Emmy-winning turn in “Frasier.” She was nominated again for her role as Martha Logan in “24,” won for her role in “Samantha Who?” and was nominated three more times for “Harry’s Law” in 2012, “Fargo” in 2016, and “Watchmen” in 2020.

In 2020, she also completed filming “Superintelligence,” Melissa McCarthy’s next comedy, in which she plays the president. She also frequently appears on stage and was nominated for a Tony in 2000.

Smart has been married to her “Designing Woman” co-star Richard Gilliland since 1987.

Courtney Gains played Sheriff Wade, one of Melanie and Jake’s friends from childhood who became a cop.

Wade is one of their childhood friends and remained close with Jake as they grew up. He married Dorothea, a bank teller and one of their other friends.

Gains is best known for his portrayal of Malachai in the 1984 horror classic “Children of the Corn,” based on a short story by Stephen King. He also appeared in “Back to the Future,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” with his future “Sweet Home Alabama” co-star Patrick Dempsey.

Gains frequently plays police officers and soldiers.

The 55-year-old has found success in this department. After playing Wade, he played a detective in “Fastlane,” a sheriff in “Ambush at Dark Canyon,” a cop in “Perception,” a captain in “Field of Lost Shoes,” another detective in “Corbin Nash,” and another sheriff in “Candy Corn.”

Other than that, Gains frequently appears in procedurals like “Monk,” “NCIS,” and “Franklin & Bash,” and horror movies like “The Funhouse Massacre,” “Camp Cold Brook,” and “The Quiet Ones.”

Mary Lynn Rajskub played Dorothea, Wade’s wife and a bank teller.

Dorothea is something like the town gossip, and she updates Melanie on everything that her old friends have been up to since Melanie left. She also works at the bank Melanie and Jake once blew up in their childhood, which she likes to remind Melanie of.

Rajskub got her start as a comedic actress in “Mr. Show,” and she also appeared in “Gilmore Girls,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” and “NewsRadio.” She got her big break one year after “Sweet Home Alabama” when she was cast as expert hacker and Jack Bauer confidante Chloe O’Brian in “24.”

Rajskub pops up in sitcoms frequently, including “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

Rajskub, 49, mainly appears in comedies outside of “24,” which she was part of until 2014 when the story concluded with “24: Live Another Day.”

It’s always a good sign when she pops up, whether it’s as Gail the Snail in “It’s Always Sunny,” Genevieve in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Bebe in “2 Broke Girls,” or Heartfire in “Arrested Development.”

Most recently, she appeared in the 2020 black comedy “Dinner in America” alongside Kyle Gallner, Emily Skeggs, Brittany Sheets, and Lea Thompson.

Rhona Mitra played Tabatha, one of Melanie’s best friends in New York and one of her models.

Tabatha is one of Melanie’s models for her label, and one of her closest friends. She and Frederick are the two that fly down after Melanie announces she wants to hold the wedding in her hometown.

“Sweet Home Alabama” was one of her first film roles, though Mitra had gained exposure for her recurring role on “Party of Five.” She had also appeared in the 1999 adaptation of “Beowolf.”

Mitra frequently appears in action films and TV shows.

Mitra, 44, has appeared in the “Underworld” franchise, the British spy drama “Strike Back,” the sci-fi action film “Doomsday,” as an assassin in “Game Over, Man!,” and as a terrorist/ex-girlfriend of Lex Luther in “Supergirl.”

Nathan Lee Graham played Frederick Montana, Melanie’s fashion mentor and friend.

Frederick is one of Melanie’s friends who shows up to support her at her fashion show. He also flies down to Alabama with Tabatha to help plan Melanie’s wedding – it’s later implied that Bobby Ray and Frederick will get together.

The year prior, Graham made his film debut in “Zoolander” as Todd, Mugatu’s assistant. He then appeared in “Hitch,” “The Comeback,” and “Scrubs” in the early 2000s.

Graham starred in the recently cancelled “Katy Keene.”

In addition to his thriving theatre career, Graham, 52, has continued to act on screen as well. He’s had multiple starring roles in the last few years, though the shows haven’t lasted long. He starred in the short-lived Fox sitcom “LA to Vegas” as one of the flight attendants, Bernard, and played Francois, one of Katy’s bosses in the “Riverdale” spin-off “Katy Keene.” He additionally appeared in an episode of the Hulu series “Woke.”

Graham also reprised his role of Todd in “Zoolander 2.”

Sean Bridgers played Eldon, another of the Pigeon Creek locals.

Eldon is one of Jake’s friends who continues to hang out with their high school friends. He and Clint, another one of their friends, frequently used to smush Melanie between them in a “Melanie sandwich,” which she vocally despised.

Before the film, Bridgers appeared in the direct-to-video sequel of Courtney Gains’ film, “Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice.” He also starred and co-wrote the film “Paradise Falls” with his mother in 1997.

Bridgers appears in Western shows.

Bridgers, 52, has appeared in “Deadwood,” “Justified,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Arkansas Traveller,” and “Midnight, Texas,” to name a few of his Western exploits.

He also stars in the Epix series “Get Shorty,” and starred in the 2015 movie “Room” as the kidnapper, Old Nick. Bridgers appeared in critically acclaimed series “Rectify,” as well.

Kevin Sussman played Barry Lowenstein, one of Kate’s employees who poses as a reporter to dig up dirt on Melanie.

When Kate doesn’t believe Melanie is who she says she is, she sends Barry to Alabama to pose as a journalist who wants to profile the Carmichael family, which leads to Melanie and Bobby Ray’s reconciliation as they work together to fool him.

Sussman had appeared in other films like “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Almost Famous” before appearing in “Sweet Home Alabama.” Soon after, he starred in the first season of “Ugly Betty.”

Sussman is well-known for his role on “The Big Bang Theory.”

Sussman, 49, began playing Stuart, the owner of the comic book store that the gang frequents during season two of “The Big Bang Theory” and remained on the show until the end.

He reprised his role as Steve in the 2015 sequel “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” and he has also appeared in “The Mentalist,” “Weeds,” and “Childrens Hospital.”

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