didn't see a relationship coming. Certainly not with Jake Gyllenhaal
, her costar in the upcoming CIA thriller Rendition
and an acquaintance—he was an old workout buddy of her soon-to-be ex-husband, Ryan Phillippe
—four years her junior. The pair didn't have much screen time together while filming for eight weeks in Morocco. But during a reshoot in L.A., says a source close to both stars, "Jake went and reintroduced himself to Reese." And from there, what a friend of Witherspoon's calls "their little flirtation" just took its course. "Things slowly progressed, but it was never something she thought would happen from the start. She just kind of developed this little crush over time."
One that is looking a lot like a real romance—even when the duo are apart. While Witherspoon, 31, spent Easter Sunday with daughter Ava, 7, and son Deacon, 3, at her Episcopal church in Beverly Hills, Gyllenhaal, 26, strolled around Venice, Calif., with his parents. According to a source close to both him and Witherspoon, familial devotion is a big part of their connection: "Jake finds it attractive that she's such a great mom. He really loves kids and wants a family."
A month into the relationship, friends say Witherspoon is still healing from the end of her seven-year marriage to Phillippe five months ago. Still, she's enjoying spending time with a man who is as "intelligent and sensitive and aware as she is," says a family friend who has also known Gyllenhaal for years.
Indeed, the pair would seem to be a perfect match: Both enjoy good books, killer workouts—and Indian takeout. At dinner at L.A's Il Sole restaurant on March 23, says a witness, "there was definitely some canoodling going on!" They also recently shared a quiet dinner at La Ripaille, near Gyllenhaal's apartment in New York City. Whatever coast they are on, Witherspoon can count on Gyllenhaal to be a romantic. His bachelor pad in L.A. is now stocked with white tea and ginger root candles, says Lynne Leventen, owner of the Venice Floral Garden where he bought them last month: "I told him it was our life-changing aphrodisiac candle. He laughed and scooped them up for his house."
Still, their mutual determination to protect their privacy may be their strongest bond. Gyllenhaal's romance with Kirsten Dunst
ended a year ago in large part because, says a longtime friend of the actor's, "Kirsten wanted to go out and have fun and he wanted to stay in, watch a movie and cook dinner.... He's very into his work, health and family. Reese is perfect for him."
For a woman whose idea of a party is "to stay home with friends," the feeling is mutual, says Witherspoon's friend. "She was happy to meet someone in this town who shared those priorities." Gyllenhaal's pal agrees: "They're super together—this thing is for real."