Fifteen years ago today, the world met Elle Woods: faithful sorority sister, mother to Chihuahua Bruiser and star student at Harvard Law School. More than a decade later, the legacy of Legally Blonde and its pink-clad character is as strong as ever, having spawned a sequel, a hit musical and its own vocabulary (when in doubt, just “bend and snap”). To celebrate the movie’s 15th anniversary, Instagram spoke with actress Reese Witherspoon (@reesewitherspoon) about her memories on set and what playing Elle Woods meant to her.
It’s been 15 years since Legally Blonde came out. What do you remember most about making the film?
When we filmed it, my daughter was a year old. I remember her visiting the set and how much she loved all of the costumes and all the pink clothes and the dog. It was a really fun cast and everybody was excited about creating something that wasn’t just confection. It actually had a meaningful story that we had no idea would resonate so strongly with so many people. And it was about female empowerment. It wasn’t necessarily about the girl getting the guy.
You’ve said in the past that you got to keep all the outfits. Did you end up wearing any of them again?[Laughs] No they’re all very finely preserved between tissue paper and in a special storage unit. I keep a close eye on them. I have a couple of costumes that I feel really special about throughout my career, and those are definitely some of them.
One of the film’s most iconic moments is the “bend and snap” scene. Do you have any memories about shooting it?
It was actually a full-length musical number and it ended up getting shortened. That’s why when you see it in the movie, everybody is dancing. But it was a fully choreographed number by Toni Basil, and she was awesome. She did the whole dance. I remember just reading it and thinking it was the most hysterical thing ever. That is still the most asked request I get from people. Even this past year, when I have been giving speeches or talking about whatever, they always ask me, “Will you do the bend and snap?” I have a feeling I will be doing the bend and snap until I am 95.
Have you rewatched Legally Blonde recently?
No, but a girlfriend of mine sent a video to me recently of her kid watching it for the first time. And her son, who is 7, said, “I liked that Elle was the woman that she wanted to become and she didn’t need a man to do it.” It was so cute that a 7-year-old boy said that. I’ve also had people send me essays their daughters have written to get into school or camp where they’ve said Elle Woods was their hero. And I have had so many women say to me, “I went to law school because of Legally Blonde.”
I think it was a pivotal moment in feminism only because it was like, Oh wait, you don’t have to be learned and boring. You can embrace your femininity, you can love to get your hair and nails done, you can love fashion, but also be incredibly intelligent. And I don’t know why those were two separate ideas at the time. Now it seems crazy to think that people thought that. It was kind of a lightning rod moment. Which was crazy that was 2001!
You addressed this a little already, but what does the Elle Woods character mean to you personally, 15 years later?
Well it’s a big piece of my life, a big piece of my career. I owe so much to the creation of that character. She’s a big part of who I am as a person. I put a lot of myself into that — a positive person who is trying not to let other attitudes bring her down. I am really proud of what we created. And it was an incredible effort. It was just a really special moment that I will never forget. It makes me so proud that people watch it and it’s still relevant and it reaches so many people all over the world. It’s very rare you create a character that people know that well.