Renee Zellweger for “Leatherheads”

Looking beautiful in a black Louis Vuitton dress, Renee Zellweger has a natural charm when doing views that exemplifies her southern roots. As hugely successful as she is, the star of the George Clooney-directed Leatherheads, says that retaining a normal perspective is her toughest challenge, given the scrutiny that today’s media imposes upon the celebrity culture.

“I have the most difficult time with the days that people don’t see you or hear you or communicate with you, but who they perceive you to be before they meet you,” the actress explains. “I have a hard time with that, and I work every day to try to negotiate it to sort of neutralize it, and just be the person that’s standing there.”

And that, she says, in a lengthy response, becomes more difficult with her increased fame, “because I’m older now, and the things that I really crave are the hardest things to come by because of that, such as the exchanges that I have. As an actress, you draw on the truth of the experiences, and I can’t draw on the truth of experiences from 20 years ago because that was the last real exchange that I had with a person. You know, I want to have real conversations and I want to be a fly on a wall in a room. I want to be able to watch and people watch, and just have different sorts of sociological experiences that are becoming rarer. I know it sounds so crazy, but boy I cherish it when somebody’s mean because they’re just having a bad day, and they don’t recognize that you know Tom Cruise and so they alter their behaviour in some way. I love it when the stewardess is just nasty and I just shrink when she comes back and apologizes because she didn’t realize.”

Yet asked if the reverse is true and if it is it harder for her to be mean when having a bad day, because she knows it’ll be perceived as a celebrity being mean or recorded and put on the internet, she laughs. “That never happens! What are you, kidding me? They write articles about the bad day they think you’re having, when they see you from across the room. ‘Her body language definitely indicated that she’s clearly upset with this person.’ Seriously! I mean, I’ve read that! But I just don’t temper myself anyway, because I have no Interest in paying twice for the yucky thing that happened and also it’s not in my nature. I don’t like conflict so much. It doesn’t interest me and I have absolutely no interest in being the reason why somebody has a worse day than they already were having.”

Zellweger has evolved since the world first discovered her in 1996’s Jerry Maguire, often playing period roles in a contemporary way, such as an ambitious 1920s reporter trying to uncover the truth behind a war hero-turned-football star in the George Clooney-directed screwball comedy Leatherheads. She enjoys the period parts, the actress says smilingly, “because I find in my personal experience that the further removed the character’s reality is from my own, the more fun it is and the easier it is to dipper within that alternate reality. I just really enjoy it and in fact, I’m so much more comfortable in a corset or the ’20s sort of drop waist dresses and the way of delivering that dialogue than just being the girl who kind of looks like me and who might have the same clothes in her wardrobe as I do. I don’t feel safe playing the girl who looks like me, because there’s not enough to hide behind.”

She also had Clooney to work off against, whose mention brings a smile to her face. “He’s my hero. I’d like to learn to have such grace in this business. I’m doing my best.” She sympathised with Clooney who was doing double duty as lead actor and director. “That’s a really tough gig to have, because you have to be in completely the polar opposite place simultaneously in order to achieve what you’re trying to do, in that you have to be cognizant of what’s happening as the director watching, and you have to disappear and not pay attention in order to be part of this alternate reality you’re trying to create. But he did a great job, because he’s focused and good at what he does. He’s prepared, he knows what he’s trying to achieve so he doesn’t waste time. He’s not indulgent or insecure about it so we have to try everything 600,000 different ways in order to cover whatever it might be that he’s forgetting. I don’t know that I’d be able to separate one from the other.”

While many Americans prepare to vacation during the summer and head for the beach, the perpetually busy actress is getting ready to work, she says laughingly. “We’re going to Baltimore. I have another job to do, so there’s no getting ready for the beach.” The movie in question is My One and Only, to be directed by Richard Loncraine. And it’s another period piece. “This time it’s 1950s’ New York. I really think it’s a story about the boys, but I’m going to play a woman whose had enough of her philandering husband, she’s, so she packs up and leaves to go find a better life. She’s not really equipped to do much or make much of a contribution, because he’s just raised to be charming, beautiful, and a good wife. She’s making her way and getting to know her sons along the way.”

Zellweger says she has no ambition to direct, but is involved in the production side of the business. “I have produced some projects, and I’m doing something as we speak. It’s interesting to me because I like the planning parts of it, pulling the pieces together, and the chess game of it all where you’re trying to make it work out, and make all of the components come together. I’ve never felt the need to direct. I don’t feel like it’s a natural progression from being an actor to just going on to direct, unless there’s a story that you want to tell and you have such a clear vision about it that you don’t think it can be interpreted in the way that you hope it might turn out.”

Zellweger is currently producing a film for Lifetime television. “It’s a story about Dr. Dennis Slamon who discovered the cancer treatment Herceptin. We just closed it with Harry Connick, Jr. yesterday, so I’m very excited about that. The Lifetime network is going to make a massive contribution to his research centre at UCLA, and it’ll be released during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and so it’ll be revolving around that, which is a charity that I’ve been supporting for a very long time.”