Legally Blonde Reese Witherspoon
Credit: MGM

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In 2001, Legally Blonde premiered, and audiences fell in love with the story of Elle Woods, the sorority girl who chased a boy all the way to Harvard Law School before realizing that she was far too good for him. Along the way, she made new friends, she taught others how to bend and snap, and she even found love with a new man. By the film’s end, she proudly stood in front of the peers who once scoffed at her bright pink outfits and tiny dog — love you, Bruiser! — and gave a graduation speech worthy of a standing ovation.

But that ending wasn’t always the plan. “Originally it ended at the courthouse right after the trial,” co-writer Karen McCullah tells EW. “Everyone was congratulating Elle, and Emmett came up and gave her a big kiss. Then there was a tag where it was a year in the future and she and Vivian, who was now blond, had started the Blonde Legal Defense Fund and they were in the quad handing out pamphlets.”

But when a test-screening audience didn’t love the ending, McCullah and her co-writer, Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, found themselves rethinking things. “The test-screening audience didn’t feel like it was an exciting enough ending for her, success-wise. The kiss made it seem like it was a rom-com,” McCullah says, with Smith adding, “They knew that this was not a movie about a girl getting a guy.”

So together with the film’s director, Robert Luketic, and producer Marc Platt, the writers sat down in the movie-theater lobby after the test screening and came up with the graduation speech. “The whole movie is painstakingly written over many drafts in two years and then the ending is quick,” Smith says with a laugh. And yet, filming the new ending would present a challenge.

“At that point [Reese] was in England shooting The Importance of Being Earnest,” McCullah says. “She’d cut off her hair because it had gotten damaged from all the hot rollers, so they put her in a wig.” Fans will first notice the shift in the scene where Elle tells Warner off outside the courtroom — suddenly Elle has freckles, and her hair almost appears more red than blond. That scene however, was in both endings. No matter what happened, Elle needed closure with Warner. “This to me was the most important part, so when we decided to redo the ending I’m like, ‘She still needs to be able to tell Warner off,'” McCullah says.

From there, the film jumps ahead two years to see Elle, in her graduation cap, giving a speech as Warner, Emmett, Vivian, and others look on from the crowd. “Luke [Wilson] had on a wig because he’d shaved his head for The Royal Tenenbaums,” McCullah says. “The whole graduation scene is shot in London, but all the reaction shots were in Burbank in a soundstage. If you look really closely, you’ll notice the lighting’s a little bit different. But the new ending was way more satisfying.”

In other words, they did it!

Legally Blonde
  • Movie
  • 95 minutes