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Getting to Know: Renée Zellweger

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Two-time Oscar winner Renée Zellweger celebrates her birthday on 25 April. It's also 30 years since she made her screen debut. So, Cinema Paradiso feels it's high time to get to know her better.

As we shall see below, Renée Zellweger belongs to an exclusive club along with some of the biggest names in Hollywood history. Yet she's never spoken of with quite the same reverence, particularly in the tabloid press, which resents her refusal to divulge details of her private life or provide them with free titbits on social media.

She hasn't always made the wisest choices. To quote Bridget Jones, 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.' But Zellweger has never been one to be daunted by the odd setback.

A Shipboard Romance

Renée Kathleen Zellweger was born in Katy, Texas on 25 April 1969. Father Emil was a Swiss engineer who worked in the oil-refining industry, while mother Irene was a Norwegian nurse and midwife. They met on a ferry between Denmark and Norway, when each was living in England. Irene was a governess and cook in Surrey, while Emil lived in Ealing, where his daughter would later shoot parts of the Bridget Jones trilogy at the famous old studios.

Having married in 1963, the couple relocated to the United States, where Renée and older brother Drew were born. 'I very much feel my Texan roots,' Zellweger told one reporter, 'but there's no denying that I'm a child of European people.' She has also joked that she was raised in a family of 'lazy Catholics and Episcopalians'.

A still from Jerry Maguire (1996) With Renée Zellweger
A still from Jerry Maguire (1996) With Renée Zellweger

She and Drew were more interested in music than movies. 'I'm so ignorant about film,' she would later confess, in explaining that her parents didn't come from countries with strong cinematic traditions. 'My mom would drop us off occasionally to see Pippi Longstocking or Escape to Witch Mountain... .But after I was nine and we moved further out into the country, we only saw one movie as a family until Jerry Maguire, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I was so young, I had no idea what was going on.'

At Katy High School, Zellweger was a gymnast and cheerleader. She was also a member of the drama club and the debating team and hoped to become a journalist after coming third in the Houston Post High School Natural Science Essay competition with her submission, 'The Karankawas and Their Roots'. 'When the Easter bunny was coming,' she would reminisce, 'I would always wish for the same thing - I loved a tablet of fresh-ruled paper and sharp pencils. There's nothing better - stories, poetry, the possibilities were endless.'

Leaving home after being voted 'Dream Date' by her male classmates, Zellweger enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin to read English Literature. During her junior year. Emil lost his job and, in order to remain on her course, she found work as a cocktail waitress at the Sugar's strip club. 'One gentleman would tip me $100 every time he came in,' she remembered, 'because I think he felt sorry for me. He saw me as a poor student.'

Looking back, Zellweger has only positive memories of the experience. 'I learned a lot. As much as I did in my classes that that club paid for...I learned not to judge people, [and] that things are not black and white.' One of the elective classes that Zellweger could now afford was drama and this sparked an interest in acting. Indeed, by the time she graduated in 1992, she had decided, 'Rather than continue on to get my journalism degree, I finished up quickly with my lit degree, just to see where [acting] would go. I figured I could always go back and get a master's, and finally submit to the Daily Texan!'

Beer, Beef, and Bit Parts

While still studying, Zellweger earned her Screen Actors Guild card by doing a Coors Light commercial. As she told Tom Hanks during a chat for Variety's Actors on Actors series, she had to rollerblade downhill in a bikini with a six-pack on her back. While auditioning for parts in Houston, Zellweger also landed a role in a beef advert and was cast as a girl in the beauty shop in Bob Balaban's My Boyfriend's Back (1992). However, her scene ended up on the cutting-room floor, although Philip Seymour Hoffman and Matthew McConaughey did snag early credits in a zombie comedy that sees Andrew Lowery rises from the grave to find longtime crush, Traci Lords.

A couple of small-screen assignments kept Zellweger's hopes up, although neither is currently available on disc. In Lou Antonio's A Taste For Killing (1992), she plays Mary Lou, one of the girls whom college students Jason Bateman and Henry Thomas leave behind when they get summer jobs aboard an off-shore oil rig. Next came the uncredited role of Barbara von Busch in Robert Markowitz's Murder in the Heartland (1993), an acclaimed mini-series recreation of the late-50s killing spree carried out by Charles Starkweather (Tim Roth).

Vaguely knowing McConaughey from campus, Zellweger followed him into the cast of Richard Linklater's slacker classic, Dazed and Confused (1993). She had hoped to land the role of Daria, but Linklater felt she lacked the zany energy that Parker Posey provided and offered her a consolatory bit as Nesi White, the girl near the blue pick-up during an outdoor party scene.

Ben Stiller spotted her to play Tani, a one-night stand for Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites (1993), another Generation X ensemble offering that centres on aspiring videographer Winona Ryder and her friends in Houston. Once again, it was a blink'n'miss kind of appearance. But Zellweger got to headline Alan Arkush's Shake, Rattle and Rock! (1994). This fun tele-throwback to the golden age of American International Pictures recycles the title of Edward L. Cahn's Shake, Rattle and Rock! (1956), as it sees disenfranchised teens Susanne (Renee Zellweger), Cookie (Patricia Childress), and Tony (Max Perlich) form a band called The Eggrolls, only for Susanne's prudish mother (Nora Dunn) and the town librarian (Mary Woronov) to try and stop their debut gig.

A still from Love and a. 45 (1994)
A still from Love and a. 45 (1994)

In 8 Seconds, John G. Avildsen's biopic of tragic rodeo star Lane Frost, Zellweger is on screen for a matter of seconds, as the 'buckle bunny', who wheedles her way into Luke Perry's motel room. However, she's much more front and centre in C.M. Talkington's Love and a. 45 (both 1994), an indie crime comedy that follows misfit lovers Watty Watts (Gil Bellows) and Starlene Cheatham (Zellweger) as they head for Mexico after a bungled store robbery. Bending the rules slightly, the Independent Spirit Awards recognised her for Best Debut Performance, although several critics made comparisons with Juliette Lewis's turn as Mallory Knox in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1993), which had been scripted by Quentin Tarantino.

A reunion with Matthew McConaughey followed in The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1994), which was directed with macabre wit by Kim Henkel, who had co-scripted Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). The pair play Jenny and Vilmer, who are heading to the school prom with Heather (Lisa Marie Newmeyer) and Sean (John Harrison) when they run smack into Leatherface (Robert Jacks) after a car crash. Opening scenes of Jenny and her sinister stepfather (David Lawrence) were cut when Columbia re-cut the picture and reissued it as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1997), in order to cash in on the success that Zellweger and McConaughey had subsequently enjoyed. However, the gambit backfired and the film bombed after Entertainment Weekly branded it 'luridly abysmal'. Nevertheless, Variety's Joe Leydon proclaimed Zellweger 'the most formidable scream queen since Jamie Lee Curtis went legit' - which is exactly what she was about to do.

Lipstick on My Teeth

Despite her growing reputation in Texas, Zellweger had postponed a move to Hollywood because she was uncertain she had the talent to sustain a career. On arriving, however, she landed the role of Gina in Allan Moyle's Empire Records (1995), the story of an indie vinyl store in Delaware's bid to fight off competition from a new Music Town franchise. Gina is best friends with Corey (Liv Tyler) and goads her into sleeping with Manning (Maxwell Caulfield). She also initiates a rooftop concert, but Cinema Paradiso prefers the one in Peter Jackson's The Beatles: Get Back (2021).

A still from The Whole Wide World (1996)
A still from The Whole Wide World (1996)

Having played a poet in The Low Life (1995), George Hickenlooper's study of the sacrifices that aspiring screenwriter Rory Cochrane has to make on arriving in Los Angeles, Zellweger shot up the cast list to co-star with Vincent D'Onofrio in The Whole Wide World (1996), Dan Ireland's biopic of Conan the Barbarian creator, Robert E. Howard. She got the part of 1930s Texas teacher Novalyne Price Ellis because Olivia d'Abo became pregnant. However, Zellweger made the most of her opportunity, as she not only received a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award, but she also won Best Actress at the Mar del Plata Film Festival. Moreover, her agent used a tape of the drama to convince Cameron Crowe that Zellweger could play a single mother in his next picture.

This was Jerry Maguire (1996) and Cameron Diaz, Winona Ryder, Bridget Fonda, Patricia Arquette, Kate Beckinsale, Marisa Tomei, Uma Thurman, Jennifer Lopez, Janeane Garofalo, and Mira Sorvino had all been linked with the part of Dorothy Boyd. But Tom Cruise, who was to star as the eponymous sports agent, persuaded Crowe to plump for Zellweger over Connie Britton and their 'You had me at "hello",' encounter has gone down in romcom history. Cruise won a Golden Globe and drew an Oscar nomination for showing us the money, while Cuba Gooding, Jr. won Best Supporting Actor as America footballer, Rod Tidwell. As for Zellweger, she was notably nominated by her peers for Outstanding Performance By a Female Actor in a Supporting Role at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Suddenly thrust into the spotlight, Zellweger had gushed, 'Doesn't suck, huh?...Am I lucky, or what?' when badgered by the press. Secretly, however, she couldn't believe what was happening to her and later admitted, 'I never believed I had the role until the day that the movie came out.' Indeed, she prioritised a pay cheque over publicity, as she missed the glitzy premiere because she was in New York playing Sonia Horowitz, a Hasidic housewife who struggles to conform to arranged husband Glenn Fitzgerald's strict lifestyle in Boaz Yakin's A Price Above Rubies (1998).

This was actually her second feature after being cast as Dorothy, as she had also played Elizabeth, a prostitute whose murdered corpse is cut in two in Josh and Jonas Pate's thriller, Liar (aka Deceiver, 1997). Tim Roth starred as the heavy drinking dissembler suspected of the crime, but Zellweger clearly didn't hold a grudge for her character's brutal treatment, as she dated Josh Pate for a while.

During this period, she turned down projects that didn't allow her to bring her beloved dog, Dylan, on to the set. Clearly, Carl Franklin imposed no such restrictions, as Zellweger got to play Meryl Streep's daughter, Ellen Gulden, in One True Thing, a drama adapted from Anna Quindlen's semi-autobiographical novel about a rising writer who puts her career on hold when her adored father (William Hurt) asks her to come home and nurse her dying mother. Streep received a Best Actress nomination for her work, but lost out to Gwyneth Paltrow in John Madden's Shakespeare in Love (both 1998).

For her next assignment, Zellweger reprised a role taken by Ruth Dwyer in Buster Keaton's Seven Chances (1925). In Gary Sinyor's The Bachelor (1999), Anne Arden has doubts about marrying fiancé Jimmie Shannon (Chris O'Donnell) after she discovers the conditions under which he will inherit $100 million from his grandfather (Peter Ustinov). Not a patch on the original, this romcom adapted from a century-old stage play by Roi Cooper Megrue, represented something of a backward step. But Zellweger was very much on the front foot in her next two pictures.

A still from Me, Myself and Irene (2000)
A still from Me, Myself and Irene (2000)

As Irene P. Waters in Bobby and Peter Farrelly's Me, Myself & Irene (2000), she got to exhibit a mean side, as she is escorted by Rhode Island state trooper Charlie Baileygates (Jim Carrey) to face traffic and embezzlement charges in Massena, Nevada. Irene insists she's been framed. But, while Charlie is sympathetic, his macho alter ego, Hank Evans, is more problematic, especially when they realise the FBI, two crooked cops, and Charlie's three biracial sons are on their tails.

Despite mixed reviews, the raucous comedy made money and led to Zellweger and Carrey becoming engaged. However, the relationship didn't last and Zellweger moved on with her career. Having been discomfited by Neil LaBute's controversial treatise on toxic masculinity, In the Company of Men (1997), she had doubts about accepting the title role in Nurse Betty (2000). But she rose to the comic challenges posed by Betty Sizemore, a waitress from Fair Oaks, Kansas who becomes obsessed by soap star George McCord (Greg Kinnear) after seeing her cheating husband (Aaron Eckhart) bumped off by hitmen Charlie (Morgan Freeman) and Wesley (Chris Rock).

LaBute took the Best Screenplay prize at the Cannes Film Festival. But Zellwegger's victory at the Golden Globes made more headlines. Hugh Grant was in the process of accepting the award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy on her behalf, when Zellwegger hurried back into the hall having been in the bathroom. As she explained to the amused crowd, 'I had lipstick on my teeth!'

Becoming Bridget

A still from Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) With Renée Zellweger
A still from Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) With Renée Zellweger

Grant and Zellweger were already well acquainted before their Globe moment, as they had co-starred in an adaptation of a bestseller that had been inspired by Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Author Helen Fielding sparked rumours that she was unhappy with Zellweger's casting in Sharon Maguire's Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), when she told reporters, 'I've never met Renée, but I'm told she's very funny and learning to speak English with an English rather than Texas accent.'

Any misgivings proved hugely unfounded, as Zellweger threw herself into the role of the single thirtysomething more interested in demanding boss, Daniel Cleaver (Grant) than barrister Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), an old childhood acquaintance who overcomes his initial impression that Bridget is 'a verbally incontinent spinster who smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish, and dresses like her mother'.

In order to prepare for the role, Zellweger had to 'pack it on and pork it up' to gain 20lbs. She shared the secrets of her 'Method Eating' diet with Vanity Fair magazine: 'Breakfast: cheese omelette with sausage or bacon, two slices of toast with a tablespoon of butter, one grapefruit, tea with whole milk. Mid-morning snack: chocolate milkshake (large), with protein powder. Lunch: one pizza (large), salad with extra dressing, cheesecake, whole milk. Afternoon snack: chocolate candy bar. Dinner: whole roasted chicken, mashed potatoes with butter, sauteed carrots with butter, pint of Guinness, creme caramel. Bedtime snack: fruit pie, ice cream, water (two litres). '

While refining her accent with a voice coach, Zellweger also had to endure the sniping of the British tabloids, who failed to see why an American had been cast as Britain's favourite singleton. 'Of all the clunking, Hollywood idiocy,' fumed the London Evening Standard. 'The only funny thing about Bridget Jones is that she's not young and perfect - casting her as a young and perfect thing is like remaking The Elephant Man with Jude Law.' Ironically, in getting a handle on working in a publishing house, Zellweger spent a couple of weeks on 'work experience' at Picador under the name Bridget Cavendish. Among her duties was to take press clippings relating to clients like Helen Fielding. 'So every now and then,' she later recalled, 'something would pop up and I would see "Crap American Comedian Playing English Icon," and I'd have to cut it out and go put it in the file.'

By all accounts, Zellweger became so proficient that a manager oblivious to her real identity considered offering her a full-time job. By the time the picture raked in $281 million worldwide, everyone knew Renée Zellweger, especially as she followed a second Golden Globe nod with BAFTA and Oscar nominations.

In the interim, however, she had returned to character parts, by joining the ensemble for Peter Kosminsky's adaptation of the Janet Fitch novel, White Oleander (2002). Alison Lohmann stars as Astrid Magnusson, who is placed in foster care after her mother, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), is jailed for poisoning her father. Zellweger plays actress Claire Richards, who welcomes Astrid into the home she shares with her producer husband, Mark (Noah Wyle). Claire's insecurities soon rise to the surface, however, as Ingrid interferes in her daughter's life.

Fresh from receiving a Satellite Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama, Zellweger got a call from her manager urging her to read a screenplay. 'I did,' she later revealed, 'and I didn't understand it - at all. And I thought I should stay away.' However, director Rob Marshall eventually convinced her that she was right for the role of Roxie Hart in Chicago (2002), a musicalisation of William A. Wellman's 1942 Ginger Rogers vehicle, Roxie Hart.

Despite once auditioning for a stage version of Hair, Zellweger's experience was limited to singing in the shower. But she chose not to see the stage show in case it clouded her judgement and put herself through 10 months of vocal coaching and dance training in order to do justice to John Kander and Fred Ebb's toe-tapping numbers. Catherine Zeta Jones waltzed off with the Best Supporting Oscar for her turn as Roxie's Jazz Age cellmate, Velma Kelly, while Zellweger followed a second Golden Globe win and a Screen Actors Guild victory with further BAFTA and Oscar nominations, as Chicago took Best Picture.

A still from Down with Love (2003)
A still from Down with Love (2003)

Zellweger remained in the past for Peyton Reed's Down With Love (2003), which pastiched the brand of screwball romantic comedy that Doris Day had patented in the 1960s. As Barbara Novak, an aspiring author whose first book urges women to forget about love and seek pleasure elsewhere, Zellweger spars drolly with Ewan McGregor, as the playboy New York columnist who thinks her ideas are man-hating nonsense.

Going further back in time, Zellweger took the role of Ruby Thewes in Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Charles Frazier's Civil War novel, Cold Mountain (2003). Much of the early action centres on the burgeoning relationship between preacher's daughter Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) and carpenter W.P. Inman (Jude Law). However, Zellweger comes into her own, as she helps Kidman run Black Cove farm and resist the intrusion of Confederate renegades. Having already won the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild awards, she received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and thanked those who had made her dream bigger than she had ever dared to do.

Following a brief liaison with co-star Jack White, Zellweger ventured into the realm of animation to voice Angie, the pink angelfish best friend of Oscar (Will Smith), a Bluestreak cleaner wrase who falls foul of Southside Reef mobster, Don Lino (Robert De Niro) in Vicky Jenson, Bibo Bergeron, and Rob Letterman's Shark Tale (2004). The same year saw the release of Beeban Kidron's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, in which our loved-up heroine moved into television after accepting a job on Daniel Cleaver's new travel show. Some critics were underwhelmed, but audiences rejoiced to the tune of $262 million. Moreover, Zellweger scooped her fourth Golden Globe for Best Actress and seemed set for more success.

And Then...

In May 2005, Zellweger married country singer Kenny Chesney, only to obtain an annulment for 'fraud' just four months later. The press had a field day, but the pair refused to respond to the speculation. Instead, Zellweger enjoyed receiving her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and shuffled off to co-star with Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man (2005), Ron Howard's biopic of 1930s world heavyweight boxing champion, James J. Braddock.

She remained in period garb to reunite with Ewan McGregor on Chris Noonan's Miss Potter (2006), which she also executive produced. Chatting happily to animated versions of the animals she drew for her children's stories, Zellweger produced another impeccable English accent for the Edwardian author-cum-artist, Beatrix Potter, as she forges a bond with her devoted publisher, Norman Warne.

A fifth Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress duly followed, although this weepie could hardly be deemed a Musical or Comedy. The tone was considerably lighter in Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner's Bee Movie (2007), which saw Zellweger voice Vanessa Bloome, the friendly New York florist who informs the indignant Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) that humans make money from honey. She also cropped up in the clips assembled for two documentaries, Jeff McQueen's Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006) and Mark McLaughlin's Hollywood Singing and Dancing: A Musical History (both 2008).

When George Clooney signed up to make his directorial debut with Leatherheads, he hired Zellweger to play Lexie Littleton, a Chicago Tribune reporter who winds up covering the early days of American football after being assigned to discover whether star player Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) is a bona fide Great War hero. Once again, she followed a period piece with one set further back in time, as she travelled to 1880s New Mexico for Ed Harris's Appaloosa (both 2008), a Western that sees widow Allie French become attracted to lawmen Virgil Cole (Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) after they are summoned to tame murderous rancher, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons).

A still from My One and Only (2009)
A still from My One and Only (2009)

A busy year ended with Zellweger producing Dan Ireland's Living Proof, a teleplay about Dr Denny Slamon's efforts to find a cure for breast cancer. Harry Connick, Jr. played the pioneering scientist, while Logan Lerman starred as George Devereaux in Richard Loncraine's My One and Only (2009), which was inspired by actor George Hamilton's experiences of living out of a suitcase in the early 1950s, while his mother, Anne (Zellweger), seeks a new man after walking out on his bandleader father, Danny (Kevin Bacon).

This film à clef was barely seen, but positively reviewed and is well worth ordering from Cinema Paradiso on high-quality DVD or Blu-ray. Also meriting a click is Jonas Elmer's New in Town, which is much better than the somewhat sniping reviews would have you believe. Zellweger reunites with Harry Connick to play Lucy Hill, a high-flying consultant who finds herself up against union official Ted Mitchell when she is sent to Ulm, Minnesota to restructure a food processing plant. One unkind UK critic complained that the actress's 'rabbity, dimply pout - surely the strangest facial expression in Hollywood - simpers and twitches out of the screen'. The words would soon come to seem even crueller.

In the meantime, Zellweger returned to the dubbing studio to voice Katie, a resident of Modesto, California, whose date with Cuthbert (John Krasinski) is interrupted by a robot belonging to the evil overlord Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) in Conrad Vernon and Rob Letterman's DreamWorks 3-D offering, Monsters vs Aliens. She also embarked upon a post-shoot romance with Bradley Cooper, after they co-starred in Christian Alvart's Case 39 (both 2009), as Emily Jenkins and Douglas J. Ames, the social worker and psychiatrist seeking to determine whether a10 year-old Oregon girl has been abused by her parents.

Finally released in 2010 after sitting on the shelf for four years, this supernatural chiller was slated by the critics, with one website ungallantly warning Zellweger that she had better get used to such feeble fare now that she had passed 40, when 'an unforgiving industry' stopped doling out juicy roles. She actually found one in Olivier Dahan's My Own Love Song (2010), in which she played Jane, a paralysed singer who travels from Maryville, Kansas to New Orleans with her wayward, angel-obsessed friend Joey (Forest Whitaker) for his daughter's First Communion. But the film was barely seen and Zellweger decided to take a break.

As she later told Vogue, 'I was fatigued and wasn't taking the time I needed to recover between projects, and it caught up with me...I got sick of the sound of my own voice.' However, Zellweger also confided in one showbiz reporter that she was suffering from the stress caused by imposter syndrome, as she kept worrying that each new project would lead to someone realising that she didn't deserve to be a star.

Hoping that the hiatus would enable her to 'go away and grow up a bit', Zellweger travelled and did some charity work in Thailand, Cambodia, and Liberia. She also took classes in public policy and international law at UCLA and began a seven-year romance with musician Doyle Bramhall II. Looking back on her sabbatical, she revealed, 'I found anonymity, so I could have exchanges with people on a human level and be seen and heard, not be defined by this image that precedes me when I walk into a room. You cannot be a good storyteller if you don't have life experiences, and you can't relate to people.'

A still from New in Town (2009) With Renée Zellweger
A still from New in Town (2009) With Renée Zellweger

In 2013, she channelled some of her new energy into Cinnamon Girl, a TV series about four young women trying to find their niche in Hollywood and Laurel Canyon during the late 1960s and early 70s. Unfortunately, Lifetime opted not to develop the show, while Zellweger also lost out to Andrea Riseborough for the role of Karen Weston in John Wells's August: Osage County (2013). However, the British actress was forced to withdraw and Juliette Lewis stepped in alongside Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Ewan McGregor.

Now 45, Zellweger returned to the limelight in October 2014 after attending the 21st Elle Women in Hollywood Awards. Stories soon spread in the press and online that she looked so unlike her former self that she must have had cosmetic surgery. 'Perhaps I look different,' Zellweger countered. 'Who doesn't as they get older?! Ha. But I am different. I'm happy.'

The gossips refused to take her word, however, and she felt compelled to publish an essay on the Huffington Post website, entitled 'We Can Do Better'. In berating the media for subjecting those in the public eye to unfounded and hurtful tittle-tattle, Zellweger wrote: 'Not that it's anyone's business, but I did not make a decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes.'

Despite her frankness, the story refused to go away, as Zellweger retreated from view once more. Speculation began to grow that she was finished. In fact, she was about to enjoy a Renée-ssance.

Being Judy

After a five-year intermission, Zellweger returned to acting in 2014, alongside Keanu Reeves in Courtney Hunt's courtroom drama, The Whole Truth. She played Loretta Lassiter, a New Orleans woman whose teenage son is charged with murdering his wealthy father. However, the picture remained in the vault for two years, which meant that Zellweger made her much-anticipated screen return in a familiar guise.

Written by Helen Fielding, Dan Mazar, and Emma Thompson, and directed by Sharon Maguire, Bridget Jones's Baby (2016) saw the 43 year-old television producer bump into the now married Darcy shortly before having a music festival fling with mathematician Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey). The title gives away the consequences, but who is the father?

Despite Hugh Grant's decision not to return, business was brisk on the back of encouraging reviews, although Zellweger accused critics who focussed on her face rather than her performance of being sexist. Fielding has since hinted that a fourth film will eventually emerge, using her 2013 novel,

Mad About the Boy, as its basis.

A still from Bridget Jones's Baby (2016)
A still from Bridget Jones's Baby (2016)

Having guested in Queen Mimi (2016), Yaniv Rokah's documentary about Santa Monica laundromat resident, Marie Haist, Zellweger took the role of Deborah Hall in Michael Carney's feature debut, Same Kind of Different As Me (2017). Adapted from a memoir co-authored by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, the well-meaning drama centred on the friendship that develops between a homeless man (Djimon Hounsou) and an art dealer (Greg Kinnear) and his dying wife.

An incurable condition also afflicts Vivienne (Sarah Jessica Parker) in Fabien Constant's Here and Now (2018), which pays tribute to Agnès Varda's Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962), as it follows the singer on a stroll around New York after receiving a brain tumour diagnosis. Zellweger cameos as her old friend, Tessa, with whom she has a brief converation about how their lives have panned out. This walk-on was followed by the more substantial role of San Francisco venture capitalist Anne Montgomery in Mike Kelley's 10-part neo-noir series, What/If (2019).

Critics weren't entirely convinced by a conceit that chronicled the consequences of immoral actions. But Zellweger was singled out for praise for a performance that was inspired by Anne Bancroft's Mrs Robinson in Mike Nichols's The Graduate (1967). She was feted more, however, for her display as Judy Garland in Judy (2019), Rupert Goold's adaptation of Peter Quilter's Olivier- and Tony-nominated play, End of the Rainbow. Charting the last year of Garland's life, it centres on her ill-fated engagement at London's Talk of the Town, when she was often too strung out to sing.

To prepare for the part, Zellweger read several biographies and watched hours of footage. She also took singing lessons and worked closely with a choreographer and a costumier to ensure she captured Garland's distinctive movements and look. Liza Minnelli was unimpressed, but the critics and Zellweger's peers most definitely were. In addition to winning Best Actress at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Oscars, she was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

In securing her second Academy Award, Zellweger became only the seventh woman to win in the Best Actress and Best Supporting categories. The others to achieve the feat are Helen Hayes (The Sin of Madelon Claudet, 1931-32 & Airport, 1970); Ingrid Bergman ( Gaslight, 1944, Anastasia, 1956 & Murder on the Orient Express, 1974); Maggie Smith ( The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1969 & California Suite, 1978); Meryl Streep ( Sophie's Choice, 1982, The Iron Lady, 2011 & Kramer vs Kramer, 1979); Jessica Lange ( Blue Sky, 1994 & Tootsie, 1982); and Cate Blanchett ( Blue Jasmine, 2013 & The Aviator, 2004).

While driving to the vet where her dog was being treated, Zellweger discovered a podcast about murderer Pam Hupp that prompted her to take the lead in the 2019 mini-series, The Thing About Pam. She was denounced for wearing face and body prosthetics to play the Missourian whose testimony had led to Russell Faria's conviction for the 2011 killing of his wife, Betsy. The show's darkly comic tone was also criticised, while opinion was divided as to whether Zellweger's performance was acute or cartoonish.

Sadly, this is one of a number of recent outings to have not been released on disc in the UK. So, it looks like we'll have to wait for the next Bridget Jones to see Zellweger again. But, as we have demonstrated, she is quite capable of springing surprises.

Love and a. 45 (1994)

When Billy Mack Black (Rory Cochrane) kills the sheriff's daughter during a robbery, accomplice Watty Watts (Gil Bellows) high tails it across Texas with girlfriend Starlene Cheatham (Renée Zellweger). A visit to stoner parents (Peter Fonda and Anne Wedgeworth) is a wonderfully weird highlight of this Tarantinoesque lovers on the lam caper.

Jerry Maguire (1996)

Unable to remain with Sports Management International after a mission statement is greeted with a deafening silence, Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) sets up his own agency with loyal assistant Dorothy Boyd (Zellweger). His sole client is Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who demands a $10 million contract.

Me, Myself and Irene (2000)

Left to raise biracial triplets by his unfaithful wife, Rhode Island state trooper Charlie Baileygates (Jim Carrey) has enough on his hands without an increasingly distemperate alter ego named Hank Evans. But his problems escalate when he is ordered to escort Irene P. Waters (Zellweger) to a police hearing after she's framed by her crook boyfriend.

Nurse Betty (2000)

Unaware that her car salesman husband has a drug-dealing sideline, small-town waitress Betty Sizemore (Zellweger) is so nonplussed by his brutal murder by henchmen Charlie (Morgan Freeman) and Wesley (Chris Rock) that she decides to head to Hollywood to meet George McCord (Greg Kinnear), who plays Dr David Ravell on her favourite soap opera, A Reason to Love.

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

Following a nightmare New Year party, 32 year-old publishing assistant Bridget Jones (Zellweger) makes a resolution to keep a diary, live more healthily, and meet Mr Right. Much to her surprise, she discovers that both demanding boss Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) and uptight lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) are vying for her affections.

Chicago (2002)

Having gunned down her lover, wannabe Windy City chorus girl Roxie Hart (Zellweger) finds herself on Death Row with 1920s vaudevillian Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones), who has bumped off her adulterous spouse and duplicitous sister. However, they hope to beat the rap by hiring ace lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who is a master of the sob story.

Cold Mountain (2003)

While W.P. Inman (Jude Law) makes his tortuous way back to North Carolina after the Civil War, sweetheart Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) turns to country girl Ruby Thewes (Zellweger) to help run the family farm that is coveted by Captain Teague (Ray Winstone), the leader of a Confederate Home Guard posse rounding up deserters.

Miss Potter (2006)

Beatrix Potter (Zellweger) is thrilled when her first book is entrusted to Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor) by his sceptical publisher brothers. His spinster sister, Millie (Emily Watson), is also eager to befriend Beatrix. But her pompous parents, Rupert (Bill Patterson), and Helen (Barbara Flynn), disapprove of their daughter consorting with a tradesman.

My One and Only (2009)

Tired of her bandleader husband's philandering, ex-socialite Anne Devereaux (Zellweger) hits the mid-1950s road with sons Robbie (Mark Rendall) and George (Logan Lerman) with the express intention of finding them a new stepfather. After drawing blanks in Boston, Pittsburgh, and St Louis, the trio head to Hollywood, where they find work as movie extras.

Judy (2019)

Leaving children Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd) in Los Angeles with their father, Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell), Judy Garland (Zellweger) accepts an engagement at the Talk of the Town from Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon). While in London, she meets charmer Mickey Deans (Finn Whittrock), who promises to protect her from the cruel world.

A still from Blue Jasmine (2013)
A still from Blue Jasmine (2013)
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