By Shirley Li
March 25, 2019 at 03:28 PM EDT
Everett Collection

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the 18th-century French novel that inspired Cruel Intentions, ends unhappily for all its players, but filmmaker Roger Kumble didn’t want to wrap up his take with a downer. So, after killing off Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe), he gifted Annette (Reese Witherspoon) with a win: She destroys Kathryn’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) reputation, then drives off in her late lover’s treasured Jaguar with a smile on her face as “Bitter Sweet Symphony” blares over the final shots.

“I always wanted some life affirmations from it,” Kumble tells EW as part of our oral history marking the film’s 20th anniversary. “You knew that even though he had died, she would go on. There had to be something triumphant.”

Triumphant, sure, but with one critical behind-the-scenes mistake, thanks to Cruel filming mostly on the West Coast: Look closely at the background during Annette’s grand escape from New York, and… “You see the tumbleweeds of L.A.!” Kumble says, laughing. “There’s burnt-out grass as she’s driving by, and then we cut to Manhattan. We never got called on it. It’s a huge thing, and no one cares. They’re not looking out [her] window.”

Besides, Witherspoon wouldn’t have wanted to get back behind the wheel to reshoot. “I was terrified because the car was rattling,” she admits. “I was driving this rickety Jaguar. It was a cool shot, and I was glad we did it! But I just remember getting out and going, ‘I’m never doing that again.’”

To read more from our oral history of Cruel Intentions, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands now, or buy one — or all 12 — of our special Veep covers. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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