Renee Zellweger first charmed audiences as the young woman who wins over the heart of a self-absorbed Tom Cruise in the hit film Jerry Maguire. Now she’s back as the slightly pump British self-titled character of the much anticipated Bridget Jones Diary.
Born and raised just outside of Houston, Texas, Zellweger first caught the acting bug while taking a credit-course at the University of Texas. She immediately took to the craft and soon began auditioning for every small part that was being offered deep in the heart of Texas. Among the parts she accepted were roles in films such as Empire Records and Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the latter of which cast with another young Texas unknown, Matthew McConaughey.
Clearly, Chainsaw Massacre, a film re-released several years later to capitalize on the rising fame of bit players McConaughey and Zellweger, was merely done for the money, but it did lead her to another project, Love and a .45. McConaughey had already been cast in the film when he showed Zellweger the script. He eventually dropped out, but she auditioned, won the part, and earned raves as well as an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Debut performance.
Zellweger’ s next film, The Whole Wide World, was another independent effort, this time co-starring Vincent D’Onofrio. Once again, Zellweger earned solid reviews as the film itself won over audiences, critics, and industry insiders at the Sundance Film Festival.
One of those whom the film impressed was director Cameron Crowe, who was casting his sports agent drama Jerry Maguire at the time. He had already auditioned Zellweger for the part, but it was her performance in The Whole Wide World that convinced him that he had found the perfect actress to star as the love interest of the nation’s top box office leading man.
Zellweger followed up her huge box office success with a couple of smaller, independent features, including A Price Above Rubies. Her next film cast her alongside Meryl Streep in One True Thing casting the pair as mother and daughter, with Streep’s character battling cancer. She then enjoyed box office success with her next film, the Farrelly Brothers’ Me, Myself, and Irene, in which Jim Carrey starred as a man with two personalities — both of whom were in love with Zellweger. The diverse actress returns to comedy in the delightful adaptation of the hit novel Bridget Jones’ Diary, for which the actress gained weight and a convincing British accent for the role. Bridget Jones is the story of a young woman searching for love and other obsessions, whiles working in the literary world. The film co-stars Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. Zellweger talked to Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.
Question: Let’s get the controversy out of the way first —-
Answer: What controversy? Yes let’s, I’m VERY excited.
Question: At the time you were cast in this movie, there WAS controversy about your casting. Did you work harder on this character because she was SUCH a British icon?
Answer: Do you know something? I’ll tell you something I haven’t said yet, believe it or not. That is, I put so much pressure on myself, anyway, for everything that I do, that it could not possibly exceed what was already there. In THIS case, I felt a responsibility to both Helen Fielding, because she created it, not me, and I did not want to blasphemies this beautiful character that she created. And I LOVED her, so I didn’t want any of the stuff that I loved about her to get lost in the translation. So that’s where it came from, more than anything. I knew a little bit about that controversy, because I was told about it and I had to cut some clippings when I was in the publications office. But that was about 2 seconds and THEN it became about our little experience of filming and what that world is about.
Question: Which is?
Answer: It’s so small, immediately, that everything else becomes oblivious, or rather I became oblivious to everything else.
Question: What was the hardest part about getting into this Brit chick?
Answer: I moved to England, which was a big part of it. But I wouldn’t say ‘hard’ and that ANY of it was hard except being away from the home and loved ones and leaving the dog behind. That was hard. But the characterisation itself wasn’t hard. It was a process, you know, and so exciting to watch it happen, because some of the stuff was slow in coming, but it was WORKING. So it was exciting to watch it happen.
Question: How about gaining weight?
Answer: Part of the characterisation. An important part to me, because I wanted it to be legitimate.
Question: That wasn’t tough?
Answer: Nah, it was exciting and boringly technical.
Question: So you just didn’t eat everything you saw?
Answer: No it was much more a part of the job than that; it was a process for it, just like anything else. There was a method to it all. We’d say: Who IS she? We had a lot of talks about who she is, what she looks like and being American, did I understand her?
Question: Did people around you react differently because you were a bit plumper?
Answer: Oh no, because again the world was so small that I can’t tell you that I had any moments of sociological experimentation beyond what the experience itself was. And that was: Go to work, come home, get ready for work the next day, go to sleep, go to work. That was it.
Question: But everyone seems to be making such a big deal over the weight thing.
Answer: Yeah I know, I know. But it’s not about a weight issue; it’s not about that. It’s about a woman who has a self-image issue and it’s a big part of the theme of the film, which is weeding through other people’s society’s of projections of paradigms and definitions of what beauty and success are, for this generation of women, and finding your OWN happiness, defining it for yourself and determining your OWN self-worth. So hers is a struggle that is inclusive of those things and not specific to her, alone in the world. It’s about the theme of self-acceptance.
Question: In the movie, there are some funny sequences, during which you and Hugh Grant’s characters become very flirtatious via email. What are some of the greatest come-on lines guys ever used on you?
Answer: WHAT is YOUR name?
Question: That’s kind of easy.
Answer: And great. Isn’t that great?
Question: What about the sleaziest?
Answer: I can’t remember. I think on purpose, probably. There’s no room in my head to remember that; there’s too much goin’ on.
Question: Before you became an actor you had other jobs, so were you ever in a situation whereby your boss found you attractive and decide: Do I go out with him or not?
Answer: Oh yeah, that’s a drag when the chef kind of looks at you funny when you come back to eat your fries My boss wasn’t Hugh Grant, though, know what I mean?
Question: Was it easy to no, since he WASN’T Hugh Grant?
Answer: I don’t know if that’s a scenario I would like to have complicate my life in ANY case, frankly. No thank you. Life is complicated enough without that nice one tagged on.
Question: Bridget Jones’s Diary is a film about self-image. As an actress in the public eye, I imagine that self-image is part of that job. Did you draw on any of that for this film? Is that something you think about at all?
Answer: I don’t know. I think it depends on how you define yourself and how you define your job as an actor. That’s the fun part of it. It’s fun to be a girl and play with that, dress up and yourself pretty sometimes. Sometimes that’s the fun part of it. But I don’t want to ever rely on that, I don’t want that to be the core of what I depend on, in terms of my work experience. It frankly doesn’t interest me. My experiences with physicality revolve pretty much more around lifestyle. Like any girl I want to take care of myself and in every respect. But physicality for me is more about a reflection of lifestyle and trying to maintain a particular energy level when you have to sit in a room and talk for three days. You know what I mean?
Question: You seem to be good at doing this whole junket thing.
Answer: I’ve been an athlete my entire life. That is my outlet for all of my mental stuff. The gym is like my dumpster – that’s where I go and dump all my stuff. When I’m upset about something or need to think about something, I’ll go for a run. And it’s my alone time and my retreat. Am I self-deprecating? Absolutely! Do I have moments where I feel less comfortable about how I’m looking, physically, than at other times, absolutely. But that is more an issue of self-worth and where you’re at mentally in determining your own self-worth.
Question: Is there a difference do you think between the girl in Nurse Betty and Bridget?
Answer: I suppose that they’re both romantic and idealistic to a certain degree, in terms of what’s available in life, in terms of what you have to choose from, in terms of what represents happiness. Betty’s myth is perpetuated by television, and that’s her outlet, and I suppose to some degree, Bridget’s is the media as well or society’s protection of particular idea of what SHOULD make you happy.
Question: Let’s switch gears and talk about your dad. Being an Aussie, I was fascinated to learn that he worked as a lifeguard in the Sydney suburb of Cronulla, right?
Answer: Yeah, absolutely.
Question: Have you been?
Answer: Uh huh, and I believe his photo’s on the wall there in his little trunks.
Question: What brought him there?
Answer: His parents. I don’t know. I never really asked him if it had anything to do with the war or not, but that was something I reflected on recently, if it WAS the war that actually sent him to Australia, because he was a boy.
Question: When you go back are you going to make a point of visiting that surf club?
Answer: Are you KIDDING? ABSOLUTELY.
Question: Can you surf?
Answer: I have a shark issue, ok? It’s not about the surfing. The athletic appeal of it is beyond what I can express to you. But if there’s ONE in the seven seas, that’s enough, and I’m talking all oceans everywhere. It’s not on my list of things to do being a guy’s snack.
Question: What IS on your list then?
Answer: I want to know more.
Question: About what?
Answer: So many things. I want to be a lot more knowledgeable about politics, because I’m opinionated and uninformed, and that’s a dangerous combination. I want to know more about geography, because I’m an American public school student and I don’t know a lot, which is my own fault. I had this kind of need-to-know philosophy on education: If I didn’t need to know about it, then I kinda didn’t. I want to read more, so that my references aren’t limited to what I specifically sought studies in. I just want to know about life in general and I want to know more about the work that I do. I want to know more about different cultures and religions, just like anybody. I’m curious about what life has to offer, and I’m constantly learning about stuff every day.