Reese Witherspoon Reacts to Stanford Breaking "No Filming" Rule After Rejecting Legally Blonde

Two decades after Stanford University would not allow Legally Blonde to film there, Reese Witherspoon reacted to the school making an exception for another beloved project.

By Samantha Schnurr Oct 27, 2021 1:48 PMTags
Watch: "Legally Blonde" Turns 20: Live From E! Rewind

Remember how Elle Woods said she didn't need backups and was going to Harvard? Well, that wasn't exactly the case for the movie Legally Blonde itself. 

As the beloved film's leading star Reese Witherspoon reminded fans on Twitter Monday, Oct. 25: Harvard University wasn't exactly their first choice. 

The Oscar winner's message came as Insecure's creator and star, Issa Rae, gave a shout-out to her alma mater Stanford University "for breaking," she tweeted, "their 'no filming' rule for us!" Apparently they hadn't made such an exception two decades earlier. "This is major!" Witherspoon tweeted back. "Fun fact : They would not let us film Legally Blonde there. So we went to Harvard instead." What—like it's hard?

Since the movie was based on Amanda Brown's novel Legally Blonde—the author and the characters attended Stanford University—it makes sense that was the movie's initial destination. While Witherspoon also was a Stanford University student before leaving the school to act, it sounds like those ties didn't help her case all those years ago either. Regardless, she still has that school spirit. "Proud @Stanford alum here," the Morning Show star noted. "Fear the Tree!"

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25 Fascinating Facts About Reese Witherspoon

But that's only one of the many fascinating secrets behind the iconic rom-com—and all you gave to do is keep scrolling for me. Spoiler alert: This will be just like senior year—except for funner!

1. Inspiration struck for Legally Blonde author Amanda Brown in the middle of her torts lecture. "I wanted to do a parody of law school," she explained to Stanford Magazine in 2001, six years after she dropped out to pursue writing. She lifted most details straight from her own life, with several anecdotes making it into the 2001 comedy. So while Elle Woods' law school ambitions had to be swapped from Stanford to Harvard when Brown's alma mater refused to be associated with the film, the writer's love of pink paper and fuzzy pens remained as did her experience listening to a fellow law student pontificate on the need to change the term semester to ovester.

2. The toilet paper vote was also true to life, co-screenwriter Karen McCullah having a similar experience at Virginia's James Madison University when administrators denied her sorority's request to have Charmin instead of generic. Since they were all opposed to chafing, she recalled to the college's Montpelier Magazine, "I offered my sorority sisters activity points for stealing replacement rolls from the administration building."

3. Cast as Elle Woods just a year after she cut her own career at Stanford short, Reese Witherspoon conducted thorough research into life as a co-ed, sitting in on classes at Loyola Law School and dining with sorority sisters at the University of Southern California. "It's sort of like an anthropological study," she explained to Entertainment Weekly in 2001. "You learn what they eat, how they behave, how they take care of their young, that sort of thing."

Matthew Davis, meanwhile, loosely based his portrayal of Elle's soon-to-be ex Warner Huntington III (the aspiring senator on the hunt for a Jackie, not a Marilyn), on George W. Bush, studying up by reading the then-president's biography

4. Witherspoon took on the role just months after welcoming now-21-year-old daughter Ava Phillippe with then-husband Ryan Phillippe in September 1999. "Some nights Ava would wake up screaming because she had the flu and I would spend most of the night trying to rock her back to sleep and then have to be on the set at 7 in the morning for make-up!" she revealed to Cinema.com. "And then you throw in the fact that I'm supposed to be playing a very bubbly and energetic California preppy who is smiling all the time! I kept thinking, 'I'm going to kill myself! I'm never going to make it!'"

5. And, actually, we did come pretty close to seeing a different well-known blonde wearing last season's Prada shoes. With the script making its way to Christina Applegate just as she was finishing her decade-long run as Married... with Children's Kelly Bundy, "I got scared of kind of repeating myself," she explained to ETonline in 2015 of turning down the part. "What a stupid move that was, right?"

6. Luke Wilson, meanwhile, didn't even need to audition to play Elle's eventual love interest Emmett. "We spent a lot of time faxing the casting director, like 'Luke Wilson, Luke Wilson!'" co-screenwriter Kirsten Smith recently revealed to Insider. "And then finally after the table read where a different actor played Emmett, we were like 'Luke Wilson, Luke Wilson!' And he was like, 'That's a really good idea.' We were like, 'We've been telling you!'" 

7. Initially considered to play one of Elle's sorority sisters, Ali Larter really grabbed hold of the opportunity to audition for the part of Brooke Windham, the fitness phenom accused of murdering her much older husband.

As she was reading the lines from Brooke's jailhouse liposuction confession ("It's not like normal women can have this ass!") for director Robert Luketic, "I remember it being like, 'How can I really sell him and show him that I really want to do this part and that I can make this believable and fun," she recalled during the cast's October reunion. "And I just reached over and I grabbed my ass as hard as I could and just went for it. And he was like, 'All right, you got it girl. You committed.'"

8. Alanna Ubach had to get really creative to be recruited for the role of Elle's sorority sister Serena. Jessica Cauffiel—already cast as fellow Delta Nu Margot—remembers meeting Ubach in the bathroom at the chemistry read. "She's like, 'Hey, hey, are you in this movie?'" Cauffiel shared during the October reunion. Having already asked to borrow Cauffiel's red lipstick, Ubach then made a slightly larger request. Cauffiel recalled her begging for help booking the job, saying, "'I don't have any money, I need to make rent, will you help me make rent?' She was so funny and so ballsy, I said, 'Okay.'"

Telling casting directors she needed to make a quick call, Cauffiel instead returned to the bathroom to read with Ubach. "We choreographed simultaneous moves," Cauffiel said of their plan to show they were truly in sync. "I threw the whole audition to get her the job and she's been my best friend ever since."

9. Ubach's ingenuity came in handy on set, the actress nailing her and Cauffiel's manicure scene. While chatting with "this lovely Vietnamese background actress," she shared at the cast reunion, "I thought, 'How funny would it be if we frequent this nail salon so much that I've been immersed in Vietnamese and I've picked up the language?'"

After spending an hour practicing her lines—"She'll never get him back with those cuticles"—she asked director Luketic if she could try a thing. Joked Ubach, "He was like, 'Yeah, gosh you're weird. Just do your thing and we'll see if it works or not.'"

10. Actually, Luketic was very open to every wild idea. "He gave us a lot of freedom," Cauffiel shared of the first-time feature film director who also OK'd her plan for Margot to stumble off a pedestal during the bridal salon scene. "I said, 'Robert, you know, can I fall?'" she recalled. "And he was like, 'Get her a mattress! Get her a mattress!'"

11. Davis was equal parts scared and excited for his first major film role as Warner. "I was so out of my league," he recalled during the October reunion. "I literally was just off the back of the turnip truck out of Salt Lake City, Utah. I couldn't get out of Utah fast enough and I stumbled my way into this movie called Legally Blonde." Very green and harboring a bit of a thing for his costars ("I think he had a crush on everybody," Cauffiel recently told The New York Times), "I was crapping my pants every step of the way," he admitted. 

His very first scene saw him break up with Witherspoon. "I sat down and all of sudden Elle Woods was there," he shared, "and Elle Woods was so big and so full of life and I realized that all my choices were wrong."

12. Two decades later, he still gets crap for the callous way Warner dumped his college sweetheart mid-dinner date ("If I'm going to be a senator by the time I'm 30, I need to stop dicking around") before going on to propose to his "Jackie", fellow Harvard law student Vivian Kensington (Selma Blair).

Though he'd go on to roles on Damages, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals and now Legacies, "For years and years people would say 'You're that a--hole from Legally Blonde!'" he shared during the virtual get-together, prompting Witherspoon to come to his defense. "I'm here to tell people Matthew Davis is the nicest person!" she insisted. "He was just playing a character."

13. Shooting Elle's law school application video was actually harder than getting into Harvard Law. Okaaaaaay, fine. Not quite. But according to Witherspoon, it was "like, 400 degrees" in Pasadena on the day she and Cauffiel filmed the pool scene that saw Elle tout her ability to "recall hundreds of important details at the drop of a hat," like how Hope had been brainwashed by the evil Stefano on Days of Our Lives

Noting how tricky it was to have Margot effortlessly float in and out of the shot on her raft, Cauffiel joked, "Wasn't there a guy with, like, a stick who was pushing it?"

14. It was also awfully hot when Witherspoon filmed Elle's first day at law school, UCLA's campus standing in for Harvard. In an outfit that suggested a more fall in Boston vibe—a button down with a tie underneath a belted sweater—"I was sweating buckets," the actress revealed. The film's costume designer had to step in and remind her how necessary it was that Elle "totally looks the part," Witherspoon continued. "Sophie de Rakoff was like 'You are wearing this sweater. You are buttoning up the collar…it has to be this way.' And I was like 'OK!'"

15. It's only fair, then, that the Oscar winner got to keep every single one of the 60 outfits she wore in the film. "They're all finely preserved between tissue paper and in a special storage unit," she shared on Instagram. "I keep a close eye on them."

16. We were almost memorizing a bend-and-snap musical number. The cast actually spent a month working on a more song- and dance-focused version of the nail salon scene that saw Elle revealing the move that in her experience "has an 83 percent rate of return on a dinner invitation." Ultimately, though, explained Witherspoon, "It just felt odd because there was just one musical sequence."

17. As for the move itself that people still ask Witherspoon to demonstrate, it was invented at a Beverly Hills bar. Screenwriters McCullah and Smith where there between meetings trying to come up with a B-plot that could take place in the nail salon, "and we were working in weird directions," McCullah told Insider. "Like, maybe it gets robbed, all sorts of crazy stuff."

Once they realized they could just add a simpler storyline about Elle helping manicurist Paulette get her crush's attention, Smith "jumped off her barstool and was like, 'Like this?' And then she did that move," McCullah continued. The name was invented on the spot. Joked Smith, "There really should be a placard there, honestly."

18. The film's ending got a major makeover in post-production. Originally, McCullah and Smith shared with The New York Times, the film wrapped with Elle's big courthouse victory, she and Emmett sealing their romance with a kiss on the courtroom steps. They then "cut to a year later," McCullah detailed, "Elle and Vivian were good friends, and Vivian's now blonde. They had started the Blond Legal Defense Club and were handing out fliers in the quad." 

That was the ending of Smith's manuscript, McCullah noted, but then test audiences issued a strong verdict. "We screened the movie two or three times, and every time people didn't want to end it with a kiss," she explained. "They thought it wasn't a story about [Elle] getting a boyfriend, which was really cool to have people say that."

19. Still, putting together Elle's inspiring graduation day speech required a bit of ingenuity. Witherspoon's portion of the scene was filmed at London's Dulwich College near where she was working on The Importance of Being Earnest (other actors shot their parts back in California). Having changed her hair for her role in the Oscar Wilde adaption, Witherspoon had to wear a wig, as did Wilson, who'd shaved his head for The Royal Tenenbaums.

20. For Witherspoon, who left Stanford after her freshman year to pursue an acting career, "This is where I went to college," she gushed during October's cast reunion. "I didn't finish college but I finished Legally Blonde."

People often recite her infamous lines (the most repeated: "What? Like it's hard?), but her absolute favorite thing to hear are the many career success stories. "I don't think any of us knew what this film was going to turn out to be or how much it would inspire young women and young people across the world," Witherspoon shared. "The thing that actually really touches my heart is more people stop me and say, 'I went to law school because of Elle Woods.' Which is really amazing." 

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