It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Elle Woods, but Reese Witherspoon says she had to work a little extra to convince people that she’d be right for the bubbly, secretly genius sorority girl. Specifically, she needed to convince casting directors she could be a hottie.
While Witherspoon herself was initially wary of the role, she recently told The Hollywood Reporter that her incredible performance as the dowdy, grade-grubbing Tracy Flick in Election had changed how casting directors saw her. “They thought I was a shrew,” she says. After losing out on roles her manager called her 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 was also told to “dress sexy” on auditions, a move she says that in retrospect was not something she’d recommend to her daughter today, saying, “if somebody told my daughter to do that, she’d be like, I really hope you’re joking.” She did multiple rounds of auditions for Elle, even meeting with executives in character at one point. “I remember a room full of men who were asking me questions about being a coed and being in a sorority,” she says, even though Witherspoon had never even been in a sorority house and had dropped out of college.
The thing about Woods is that while Witherspoon is perfect for the role and *frat bro voice* a babe, she feels extremely accessible and human, even though she has a lot in common with your average Barbie doll. It’s a role that could easily fall apart if you cast someone based on looks alone, which makes studio executives emphasis on casting based on “sexiness” in the role super stupid. A lot of actresses can be conventionally sorority-girl hot with the right flat-iron and eyeshadow palette, but not everyone can be Elle Woods.