Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde has become iconic for so many reasons. But in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the 43-year-old reveals that she almost didn’t land the role because studio executives didn’t think she was sexy enough.
Prior to Legally Blonde, Witherspoon starred in the 1999 dark comedy Election, in which she portrayed Tracy Flick, and overachieving senior running for class president. Though she was clearly playing a character (hello, that’s what acting is!), studio heads were apparently unable to remove Witherspoon from her Election persona, questioning whether she’d be right as peppy sorority girl Elle Woods.
“They thought I was a shrew,” Witherspoon told The Hollywood Reporter. “My manager finally called and said, ‘You’ve got to go meet with the studio head because he will not approve you. He thinks you really are your character from Election and that you’re repellent.’ And then I was told to dress sexy.”
At the time, it wasn’t that outlandish of a thing to hear from Hollywood executives. Plus, Witherspoon says she didn’t feel like she could walk away from the job. “And you’re 23, you have a baby at home, you need the money and you’re being told that by people who know what they’re doing,” she continues. “It’s funny to think of all the things we were told to do back then because now you’re thinking, ‘Oh God, if somebody told my daughter to do that, she’d be like, I really hope you’re joking.'”
In the era of #MeToo, more and more entertainers are sharing their stories of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and we are no doubt seeing a shift, even if it’s still small in scale, in the industry’s culture.
The actress explained that she went on to do multiple rounds of auditions, some even in character with a full-on Southern California accent. “I remember a room full of men who were asking me questions about being a coed and being in a sorority,” she said, “even though I had dropped out of college four years earlier and I have never been inside a sorority house.”
It’s absurd that Witherspoon had to go through all of that to prove she was deserving of the role, but her dedication was clearly paid off. Not only did Legally Blonde go on to earn $142 million worldwide, it also launched Witherspoon into super stardom. Now, she has a slew of hit films and an Academy Award under her belt. Her hit show, Big Little Lies, was also just nominated for a SAG award for best ensemble in a drama series category. Not to mention, she’s starring alongside Jennifer Aniston in Apple TV+’s The Morning Show.
Earlier this year, Witherspoon also divulged that a third Legally Blonde film is in the works, which would follow Elle Woods into her 40s. “I mean it’s sort of about women being underestimated,” she teased on The Ellen DeGeneres Showback in May .”Things have changed, but not that much has changed.”