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Kerry Washington Shares How She Stumbled into a Surprise Friendship with Reese Witherspoon (Exclusive)

The 'Little Fires Everywhere' star tells PEOPLE she approached Witherspoon in a way "nobody ever done," striking up a years-long relationship

<p>Rachel Murray/Getty</p> Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington pose at the Hulu Panel in 2020.

Rachel Murray/Getty

Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington pose at the Hulu Panel in 2020.

Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon are work friends in every sense of the word.

Washington, 46, told PEOPLE at The Hollywood Reporter’s Annual Women in Entertainment Gala on Thursday that she first reached out to her Little Fires Everywhere producer and costar, 47, for strictly professional purposes.

“I remember when I was first starting my production company, I realized, Oh, Reese Witherspoon has had three production companies. I bet she has some wisdom to share about what has worked and what hasn't. And I called her.”

She continues, “Reese and I didn't even know each other. I called her and I said, ‘I'm going to start my production company. Can you tell me about some pitfalls to avoid?’ And she was like, ‘Nobody has ever done that.’”

Related: Kerry Washington ‘Will Be There’ if Shonda Rhimes Makes a Scandal Movie

<p>V E Anderson/WireImage</p> Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon on the Little Fires Everywhere set in 2019.

V E Anderson/WireImage

Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon on the Little Fires Everywhere set in 2019.

It planted the seed for a longstanding relationship between the women — both as mentors and friends to one another.

“It was the beginning of our friendship,” Washington affirmed. “And so I think having mentors, whether they're peers or elders, is so vitally important. And then being willing to pass that information on so that people who are coming behind you through the door is also so rewarding and important.”

Washington noted, “I think sometimes mentorships are more formal in the context of today, and sometimes they're more casual and personal, but having people who have extra wisdom and experience to go to and say, ‘Tell me how you did this,’ that has been so vital in my career.”

She added, "And then being willing to pass that information on so that people who are coming behind you through the door is also so rewarding and important."

Among those people the actress is mentoring — but also learning from — are her children. Washington and husband Nnamdi Asomugha share daughter Isabelle, 9, and son Caleb, 7. The Scandal star is also stepmom to Asomugha's teenage daughter from a previous relationship.

"I think in a lot of ways, my daughters are my mentors because I'm really just always trying to lean into their wisdom and be guided by their intuitive strength and insight," she told PEOPLE.

Related: Kerry Washington Mentions JLo and Gwyneth Paltrow While Discussing Her Body Image in the '90s

<p>Amanda Edwards/Getty</p>

Amanda Edwards/Getty

Washington launched her Simpson Street production company in 2016, four years before sharing the screen with Witherspoon in Little Fires Everywhereg.

The women's on- and off-screen friendship has even featured some hilarious moments of support, including Washington’s recreation of Witherspoon’s Legally Blonde Harvard admissions tape for the Hello Sunshine founder’s 46th birthday.

"Deleted scenes from #LittleFiresEverywhere 🔥😱😳 JK!!!!! 😂 Just me channeling my inner Elle Woods in honor of the birthday girl and the biggest ray of sunshine @reesewitherspoon,” she wrote, adding, “I love you to the moon and back RW!!!!"

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Washington’s latest venture was her September memoir Thicker Than Water, which explored her complex family history, surprising revelations from her past, vulnerable truths about her self-image and memories of her professional successes.

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