Legally Blonde has officially turned 20, meaning it has been two decades since we first saw Reese Witherspoon star as Elle Woods, strutting into Harvard Law School and absolutely slaying it.
The iconic flick, directed by Robert Luketic, was released on July 13, 2001, in the US, before gracing the big screen in the UK in October of the same year – and followed the fashionable student turned wannabe lawyer as she enrolled in the most prestigious school around, in a bid to win stuffy ex-boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis) back.
Things didn’t pan out the way she expected, as she realised law school was definitely harder than she had first assumed, and the people on her course weren’t quite so great either, yes, we’re looking at you, Vivian Kensington (Selma Blair).
Refusing to bow out quite so easily, she got her head down and managed to smash law school without losing sight of herself for a second, inspiring young girls and women alike to pursue whatever dream they had without sacrificing their personality or their passion. A feminist icon we all need, want and deserve.
To celebrate the 20-year anniversary of, to be honest, one of the best films in cinematic history, Metro.co.uk took a trip down memory lane with screenwriters Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith, actress Jennifer Coolidge and cinematographer Anthony Richmond, to remember what made us all fall in love with Legally Blonde.
Talking about why people still return to the flick so much today, and have truly taken Elle Woods to their heart, Karen told us: ‘It has [aged well], especially with the whole #MeToo movement. I think because the character is someone that you don’t expect to be the underdog of the movie. It’s fun to discover that she’s a really good person that we like and are rooting for. The wealthy, beautiful girl is oftentimes the villain unfortunately, so to have one be the underdog… Because she was the unlikely underdog, I think that made it fun.
Reese Witherspoon totally stole the show as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (Picture: MGM)
‘When she came across adversaries she didn’t really back down. She just kept doing what she set out to do, realising her own value – which is something that we all need to do at times, realising that we’re capable of much more than we thought we were. She was underestimated all her life and so for her to realise, “Oh, I’ve been underestimating myself as well and I am capable of great things”, is always a revelation for us all to have.
‘It was very under the radar when we filmed it, it was just a fun little comedy and then it became this big thing, and it was just a very happy surprise. I loved it while we were shooting it and I thought other people would like it, but I didn’t know that it would become… 20 years later it’s something people are still talking about every day on Twitter.’
Kirsten agreed that it felt very much like an ‘underdog project’ at the time, but found that this helped everyone on set make the film even more authentic.
She also credited director Robert for helping to make this a possibility by keeping all the focus on Elle’s power and not her sex appeal.
‘It was a really free way to make the movie, there weren’t other screenwriters coming in, there wasn’t a lot of drama around it. Essentially we were able to just make what we wanted to make, with the producers and director, Reese and everybody,’ she said.
‘I feel like fans love the comedy of it, they love the message of the movie and obviously the character embodied by Reese was just something so electric for people. A lot of guys would come up to us after and say, “She’s just so funny!” I felt like women could really identify with her ethos and her true independent spirit, her ambition and goals, her intelligence and everything that she was. And she was also being really hilarious at the same time.
Can you believe Legally Blonde came out 20 years ago? (Picture: MGM)
‘Our director, the way that he shot Elle… Reese has so much beauty and she’s very sexy, but she’s never fetishised in any way. Even the scene when she jumps out of a hot tub in a bikini, through Robert’s lens, feels funny, it doesn’t feel like, “Ooh, look at her body” or anything like that.
‘That’s something I really appreciate about the way that he shot the movie, there was no male gaze involved really, I mean it was his gay male gaze but it gave this frothiness and this gorgeousness to to it. The way it was styled was very owned by that energy, the female energy of our costume designer, Sophie De Rakoff, the energy of our director, the energy of Reese, it felt really pure in that way. It wasn’t like a man’s vision of what a woman would wear to be very fashionable and sexy, it was totally hers.’
There is absolutely no denying that Reese nailed the leading part of Elle, with the role sending her star soaring in Hollywood. While she appeared in Election, Cruel Intentions, American Psycho and Fear beforehand, it was her take as the bubbly wannabe lawyer that had the world paying notice, with the actress going on to star in Walk The Line soon afterwards.
In true Elle Woods style, Karen explained that she actually called up MGM to put herself forward for the part when she heard of the script, with Kirsten agreeing: ‘She was really the first actor to receive the script for consideration. It was a short list, she was at the top of it. She jumped on and it was a pretty great, smooth process. We didn’t go out to any other people.
‘There were a few people on the list, but she’s the only person who any of us had a conversation with. Once she read it, It was hers,’ she added, remaining coy on who those other names were.
Jennifer lined up to heap praise on her co-star, celebrating her ‘gusto’ on set, telling us: ‘Reese was at the helm of that movie in many ways. It just has such a light, that movie.
Jennifer Coolidge played Paulette, Elle’s best pal (Picture: MGM)
‘Reese was really brilliant in it. When you’re acting with someone, you get an idea of how good their performance is and I remember thinking, “Wow, she was so believable”. The one thing I had going for me in getting this part is I’m much more a Paulette than an Elle. I really am, when you get the core of me. I’ve played other characters like Stiffler’s mum and things like that, but I feel much more vulnerable in life than someone like an Elle.
‘Reese Witherspoon, from the minute you meet her, she really does have this gusto and strength of knowing how to do things. When we did Legally Blonde one, she was young and knew everything, knew the shots, the technical aspect of filming, she had so many great ideas. I think she was old at a young age, very ahead of her time.’
Cinematographer Anthony Richmond, who served as Director of Photographer on the film, couldn’t help but agree.
‘The casting of Reese Witherspoon was just perfect because she took that character and she ran with it,’ he said. ‘She’s wonderful, Reese is wonderful, and I think she is solely the success of Legally Blonde in my mind.
‘She’s absolutely fabulous, she was just wonderful. The great thing about Reese, obviously she wasn’t a movie star until after the movie came out, but sometimes movie stars are a pain in the a**e. They turn up late and you still have to do the same amount of work, or they hang around in their trailer and don’t want to come to set for whatever reason.
‘Reese was always early, she was always on set, she was never late. A true professional. I think that’s something you carry with you when you become a star.’
Bruiser wasn’t too polite behind the scenes (Picture: MGM)
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses on the set, unfortunately, as one member of the cast wasn’t really up for playing around. Yes, we’re talking about Moonie the dog, who played Bruiser.
Karen admitted: ‘That dog was a bit of a diva. I always hate telling that story but that dog was not very… he didn’t really want to play with you. He was a professional dog. He was very motivated by his chicken snacks from his trainer every time he barked on cue, so whenever anyone tried to play with him, it was just, “B***h I’m working, get away from me!”’
Well, that’s disappointing.
Someone who fans totally took to their hearts was Paulette, who joined Elle in getting icon status, so much so that she made an appearance in Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next music video, with Jennifer more than happy to reprise her role.
‘I do think that’s one of the great things. Legally Blonde, more than any other movie, has paid off for me, as far as reaping the benefits,’ she laughed. ‘When I’m in an airport and I’m on standby, I’m trying to get on a flight, Legally Blonde has got me on flights, and things like that. It’s got me much positive luck.
‘Legally Blonde has really helped me get me out of terrible situations. It’s really cool. More than any other movie like given me some weird acts of generosity, where someone’s gone out of their way to sort of help me in a jam. I think sometimes they think I’m Paulette.’
One of Paulette’s most notable scenes came when she was trying to impress a UPS guy, aka Bruce Thomas, while working in the salon. Ever ready to lend a helping hand, Elle was there to encourage her new pal get her flirt on, and unveiled the instantly legendary ‘Bend and Snap’ move – in which you drop something on the floor, bend over to pick it up and snap right back.
Simple, right? And it works (almost) every time.
Spilling on how we were blessed with the move, Kirsten confessed that it was developed at the L’Ermitage hotel bar, in Beverly Hills. ‘Mark Platt [producer] said the script is going really well, we just need a big set piece in the second act. Karen and I had been banging our heads against the wall for two weeks, coming up with idea after idea… We were coming up with all kinds of crazy things and nothing was working.
‘Then one night we were out at a bar… I said to Karen, “Oh, what if she’s trying to get the UPS guy? If there’s a guy that she likes and she does a move like this, like the bend and snap? I did the move, and Karen was like, “Oh my God, I love that!”’
‘Then that evolved into this huge music number,’ Karen recalled. ‘We’d written the move, and then Robert saw it and said, let’s get all the girls to do it, let’s add a song. It became its own entity at that point.’
Jennifer didn’t have the best memories of the move, admitting that while she had a blast on set, filming that moment ‘went on for a very long time’. She revealed: ‘Some people learned the steps very quickly, Reese learned it in like five minutes, but I didn’t have that experience. I think Reese was a cheerleader or something, so she was very good at picking it all up and executing it really well.
Reese and Jennifer reprised their roles in the sequel (Picture: MGM)
‘When we shot the bend and snap, it just went on, and on, and on. I thought that would be four hours of the film. I thought it would be huge. I just remember it was very thoroughly performed. The choreographer, Toni Basil, was very frustrated with my abilities to do that. I didn’t really have to do much acting on that. There’s one person that’s much more awkward than everybody else and it’s me.’
It may have been a gruelling day of filming for some but it has blessed us all with the perfect way to approach someone we fancy, so swings and roundabouts, hey Jennifer?
As well as the move, there have been some iconic quotes in the pages of those scripts. If you honestly can’t recite Elle’s application video for Harvard Law School then you might need to have another watch or two… And who could forget the moment Elle totally shades Warner after working her bum off and getting herself into law school, simply shooting her ex-boyfriend down with four words: ‘What, like it’s hard?’
‘Don’t you stomp your little last season Prada shoes at me, honey,’ is a quote that Karen said fans – especially children – often recite back to her, as she admitted there were even more scenes that weren’t even in the final version of the scripts.
‘One of the ad libs was, and it’s honestly the biggest laugh in the movie every time I’ve seen it in theatres. This actor totally ad-libbed it on the day,’ she remembered. ‘When Luke Wilson is grilling Enrique on the stand and he says, “Your boyfriend’s name is?” And Enrique says, “Chuck”, and then, “Pardon me. I thought you said friend. Chuck is just a friend.”, and then Chuck stands up in the back and he’s like, “You b***h”, and he stomps out. The actor came up with that on the day during rehearsal, [and it was] so much funnier than what we had. Every time I see it in theatre, that line brought the house down. I hope that actor feels good about that because he really added a lot!’
Jennifer also has fans approaching her with questions on the film and recite quotes back to her, with ‘I’m takin’ the dog… dumbass,’ being a very popular one. But they mostly come back with her Fourth of July quip in the Legally Blonde sequel.
Saying the line ‘you look like the Fourth of July, makes me want a hot dog real bad,’ to us, she confessed that she sees imitations and fan videos of the moment on TikTok, vowing that ‘some people are so good’.
So if you’ve made a TikTok video of Jennifer Coolidge, she’s probably seen it!
Legally Blonde became an instant hit when it was released in cinemas, grossing around $141,774,679 (£102m) worldwide – not too shabby for an ‘underdog project’. But, despite the insane success, there is one thing Jennifer regrets – not secretly stashing props from the set.
‘There were so many things in that beauty salon that I should’ve taken, no one would have noticed,’ she giggled. ‘I could have robbed that thing blind and I should have. Little things I could have taken, parts of the set, I should have pulled them right off the wall.
‘At the time, you don’t know what the movie is going to be, you just never know, when you’re filming, what the final outcome is going to be. Even if it’s great, what you’re experiencing. I should’ve taken everything from that movie, I should’ve stolen it all.’
She may still get her chance as it was announced that Legally Blonde 3 is officially on the way – and we couldn’t imagine Elle Woods hitting the big screen once more without her best friend, and favourite manicurist, by her side.
When asked about what we can expect in the third outing, Jennifer admitted that she’s just as in the dark as the rest of us, adding: ‘Reese hasn’t mentioned anything about what the story is, nothing.
‘We’re all waiting in suspense here. I cannot tell you how many phone calls I get from people that just want to know what’s going on with Legally Blonde 3 and when it’s happening. I’m in the same boat, I really want to know something.’
You can find us rewatching Legally Blonde 1&2 until then. What, like it’s hard?