Reese Witherspoon had to 'prove' she was sexy enough to play Elle Woods in Legally Blonde
Legally Blonde has a subversively empowering message for women. On the surface, it looks like a movie about a vapid blonde, but it secretly tells women that they can do anything, even if they like pink. However, one of the stories behind the movie isn't as empowering. In fact, it's downright sexist and holds up the cliché that even an actress playing as nun has to come off as bangable in some way.
Reese Witherspoon opened up to the Hollywood Reporter about her audition process for Legally Blonde. She had just come off of Election where she played overachiever Tracy Flick, and Witherspoon said casting directors thought she "was a shrew." She risked being typecast as horror of all horrors – an unsexy Type-A overachiever. "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,'" Witherspoon told the Hollywood Reporter. "And then I was told to dress 'sexy.' "
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Witherspoon went with it, not questioning it at the time. "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 said.
Witherspoon also revealed that the audition itself was also kind of weird. "I remember a room full of men who were asking me questions about being a coed and being in a sorority, even though I had dropped out of college four years earlier and I have never been inside a sorority house," she said. Witherspoon had dropped out of Stanford.
Thankfully, times have changed and Witherspoon says her reaction would be different nowadays. "It's funny to think of all the things we were told to do back then," she continued. "Now you're thinking, 'Oh God, if somebody told my daughter to do that, she'd be like, I really hope you're joking.'"
Witherspoon's experiences were part of a broader theme in her Hollywood Reporter interview. Even though Witherspoon has the skills, knowledge, and moxie to back up her ambition, she found herself continuously underestimated, indicative of the challenges many women face.
"I was in this position where I was making studios a lot of money, and I had for years and years, and they didn't take me seriously as a filmmaker. Somehow, they didn't think that 25 years of experience could add up to some inherent knowledge of what movies work and how to keep them on budget," Witherspoon said of her forays into producing "And you think about the kind of guys who come out of Sundance and get gigantic jobs off of one, like, 'Oh, I see the potential.' "
Women are continuously being made to prove themselves, which can make achievement feel like an uphill battle. However, there's an advantage. When you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself, you end up getting twice as good.