LOS ANGELES -- Reese Witherspoon's professional image is so squeaky clean that she got laughs on a late-night show earlier this year for pretending to buy bottles of cognac and tequila.
Her recent arrest and admission that she "clearly had one drink too many" could be more damaging to her brand than it might be for someone with a less-wholesome image, experts say, but because she apologized quickly and sincerely, her career is likely to fare just fine.
"Reese Witherspoon has become successful by positioning herself as America's sweetheart -- a likable, friendly, nonthreatening star -- and this fundamentally disrupts that image," said branding expert Dorie Clark, author of "Reinventing You." "It's far worse for Reese Witherspoon to be arrested (image-wise) than it would be for Lindsay Lohan. ... I think (Witherspoon) understands the severity of the situation and that's why she issued the apology so quickly."
The 37-year-old Oscar winner was arrested in Atlanta after a state trooper said she wouldn't stay in the car while her husband, Hollywood agent Jim Toth, was arrested and accused of driving under the influence of alcohol.
"Do you know my name?" Witherspoon is quoted as saying in the trooper's report of the early Friday incident. She also said: "You're about to find out who I am" and "You're about to be on national news," according to Trooper First Class J. Pyland.
Witherspoon apologized shortly after news of the arrests broke Sunday and attended a New York screening of her new film, "Mud," that night as scheduled.
"I clearly had one drink too many and I am deeply embarrassed about the things I said," she said in a statement. "It was definitely a scary situation and I was frightened for my husband, but that is no excuse. I was disrespectful to the officer who was just doing his job. The words I used that night definitely do not reflect who I am. I have nothing but respect for the police and I'm very sorry for my behavior."
Her publicist, Meredith O'Sullivan Wasson, declined to comment Monday.
Longtime Hollywood publicist Michael Levine said Witherspoon's timely apology helps mitigate any lasting damage to her image, saying she, "quickly removed the poison from her system."
Veteran publicist and vice chairman of Reputation.com Howard Bragman agreed.
"This is a speed bump, not a sinkhole," he said. "She made a mistake, she apologized. She didn't even have the DUI; it was her husband. Is it embarrassing? Yeah, a little bit. But it's not a game changer in terms of her career."
Witherspoon won an Academy Award for playing June Carter Cash in 2005's "Walk the Line." She married Toth, an agent at CAA, in 2011. They have a baby son, Tennessee, who was born in September of 2012.
Bragman suspects the municipal charges against the actress will be dropped. She has a court date set for May 22. Toth's case is set to be heard May 23.