‘Legally Blonde’: Reese Witherspoon Studied For the Part By Hanging Out With Sorority Girls

It’s usually fairly easy to predict how movies will perform at the theater. Anything by Marvel is sure to impress, and Star Wars films bring people to the theater in droves. Minions, animated talking pets, and dinosaurs are sure-fire summer blockbusters. 

Once in a while, though, a dark horse comes along that surprises both critics and audiences. Legally Blonde was one of those surprises. No one guessed that a seemingly ditzy sorority-girl-turned-lawyer would impress many people, let alone audiences far and wide. Reese Witherspoon delivered a stunning performance — probably because she put a lot of effort into researching her character before filming.

‘Legally Blonde’: A surprise hit that no one saw coming

Reese Witherspoon
Reese Witherspoon | AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool

Legally Blonde was one of the first big hits of the 21st century. The Reese Witherspoon-led comedy hit the big screen in the summer of 2001. Much to everyone’s surprise, the movie was a smash success. 

The film was based on the novel by Amanda Brown, which detailed her experiences as a fashion-obsessed blonde at Stanford Law School. The film follows Reese Witherspoon’s character–Elle–as she attends Harvard Law School in an attempt to win back the snooty ex-boyfriend who ruthlessly dumped her because she wasn’t smart enough.

Elle proves him wrong, using her self-confidence and fashion expertise to become an incredibly talented lawyer.

The film had an $18 million budget, and made $141 million worldwide. The sequel, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde, was released in 2003 and followed Elle to Washington D.C. as she tried to ban animal testing. A third installment of the series, Legally Blondes, went straight to DVD and aired on ABC Family and Disney Channel.

Reese Witherspoon will reprise her role as Elle in Legally Blonde 3, which MGM has slated for release in May 2022. 

Witherspoon hung out with sorority girls to get inside tips

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Witherspoon was dedicated to delivering a realistic portrayal of her character. According to Mental Floss, she spent a lot of time preparing for the role by hanging out with students from sororities on USC and Stanford. She’d join them for lunches, shopping, and even hang out in their homes to learn everything there was to know about being a sorority girl.

Fraternities also received a realistic portrayal during the film, as an actual, real-life fraternity initiation took place in the background of one scene. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice a game called “Grease Frosh” happening in the background–two teams are racing to see who can carry a grease-covered freshman over the finish line faster. 

Want some other interesting facts about the film? Reese Witherspoon actually got to keep all of the outfits she wore during filming–it was even stated in her contract. The graduation scene at the end was added in after test audiences didn’t love the original ending, and it required both Witherspoon and Wilson to wear wigs, as they had already started filming other movies. 

The movie was so successful, they turned it into a musical

Legally Blonde was a sleeper hit for MGM studios, and it’s still popular to this day. Apparently, fans couldn’t get enough of the film on the big or small screens, and it was adapted into a musical for the stage. 

The show premiered at Golden Gate Theatre in 2007, and then opened on Broadway two months later. There were 595 performances on Broadway before the show closed in 2008. That wasn’t the end of it, however, as a national tour had started right before it closed on Broadway. The tour ran for two years, and was followed by a nine month non-equity tour.

In the UK, the show premiered at the Savoy Theatre in 2010. It ran for 974 performances, and was one of the most popular shows in the West End. The UK tour ran for a little over a year, and the show also had several other international productions.