Reese Witherspoon's 'Cruel Intentions' Role Started Her "Mission" To Improve Female Representation In Film

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Cruel Intentions might not be Reese Witherspoon's most iconic or award-winning role, but her career might not be the same had it not been for the 1999 film about teens behaving badly. An Entertainment Weekly article celebrating the cult classic's twentieth anniversary recently revealed that Witherspoon helped rewrite the Cruel Intensions script to ensure that her character, Annette, was as fully-formed as possible.

The Oscar winner spoke with EW as part of their oral history celebrating the film and its legacy. Auring her conversation, Witherspoon revealed that she was hesitant to sign onto the project because she didn't connect with Annette, the good girl who gets seduced by Ryan Phillipe's scheming bad boy, Sebastian (the actors were dating at the time). "She loved the movie for me, but it wasn’t a great part at the time for her," Phillipe told the magazine about teaming up with writer and director Roger Kumble to convince Witherspoon to make the movie. "She helped Roger turn it into one."

"I remember finding Annette too demure and too much of a woman influenced by a guy’s manipulations," Witherspoon explained. In order to help correct that, the actress worked with Kumble to rewrite her dialogue and ensure that Annette was a more well-rounded character. "I was starting what I guess became my bigger mission in life — of questioning why women were written certain ways on film."

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According to Kumble, Witherspoon's rewrites are part of the reason why Cruel Intentions managed to connect so strongly with audiences everywhere. "It’s true, she came and sat with me for a week, and we worked on the dialogue together," the director explained, adding, "Annette was the character most removed from me. There’s no way the movie would have its success if it weren’t for [Reese’s] talent as a writer."

In the decades since her experience on Cruel Intentions, Witherspoon's quest to improve the ways that female stories are told, both onscreen and off, has only increased. In 2016, the Oscar winner founded her own media company, Hello Sunshine, which aims "to change the narrative for women," and produced the Emmy-winning Big Little Lies for HBO. She's also been working to celebrate female authors with her book club, and has optioned several of her past picks, including Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, which she is adapting into a series for Hulu.

"It was getting laughable how bad the parts were, particularly for women over 35," Witherspoon told Fast Company in May about her quest to showcase the stories of women on the big screen. "And that, of course, is when you become really interesting as a woman."

It's thanks to the work of Witherspoon and other women in Hollywood that the industry is beginning to change, which even the Oscar winner herself admitted was exciting. "I can’t believe people are actually listening now. It’s also a relief not to have to spend the first 15 minutes of every meeting talking about the lack of content for women. Now it’s, 'Yeah, got it,'" Witherspoon told Fast Company. However, she added, "a lot of us are having to step up into leadership positions that we didn’t know we were capable of. I definitely feel that in my life."

Witherspoon's desire to make changes in Hollywood has been evident since the earliest days of her career, and her willingness to rewrite her Cruel Intentions character in order to make her more well-rounded proves that she's never been afraid to stand up for women and their representation.