Renée Kathleen Zellweger (/ˈzɛlwɛɡər/; born April 25, 1969) is an American actress and producer. She has received critical acclaim and numerous accolades, including an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, three Golden Globe Awards, and three Screen Actors Guild Awards. She was also named Hasty Pudding's Woman of the Year in 2009, and established herself as one of the highest-paid Hollywood actresses in 2007.
Zellweger's first major film role came in the horror sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), which she followed with a critically acclaimed appearance in Empire Records (1995). She later gained widespread attention for her roles in the dramedy sports film Jerry Maguire (1996) and the comedy Nurse Betty (2000), for which she won her first Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. She subsequently starred in the romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), obtaining nominations for the Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Leading Actress. Her role in the musical Chicago (2002) earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and won her a Golden Globe Award.
She won the Academy Award, the BAFTA Award, the Golden Globe Award, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress for the epic war drama Cold Mountain (2003). She later reprised her title role in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004), starred in Cinderella Man (2005), and played author Beatrix Potter in the biopic Miss Potter (2006). She had several starring roles in limited release films, such as Appaloosa (2008), My One and Only (2009), Case 39 (2009), and My Own Love Song (2010), which were followed by a six-year hiatus from acting work. Zellweger returned to the screen for the third Bridget Jones film, Bridget Jones's Baby (2016).
Zellweger was born on April 25, 1969, in Katy, Texas. Her father, Emil Erich Zellweger, is from the Swiss town of Au, St. Gallen and descends from a noble Appenzell family, and was a mechanical and electrical engineer who worked in the oil refining business. Her mother, Kjellfrid Irene (née Andreassen), is Norwegian with some Sami roots. Kjellfrid grew up in Kirkenes and Ekkerøy, and was a nurse and midwife who moved to the United States to work as a governess for a Norwegian family in Texas.Zellweger has described herself as being raised in a family of "lazy Catholics and Episcopalians".
Zellweger attended Katy High School, where she was a cheerleader, gymnast, speech team member, and drama club member. She also participated in soccer, basketball, baseball, and football. In 1986, her academic paper, "The Karankawas and Their Roots", won third place in the first ever Houston Post High School Natural Science Essay Contest. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, where she graduated with a B.A. in English in 1991. While at university, Zellweger took a drama course as an elective, which initially sparked her interest in acting.
In her junior year, Zellweger's father lost his job and was unable to support her at college, so she took a job as a cocktail waitress in Austin, Texas.Zellweger said of the job, "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."Zellweger began getting small parts acting, and earned her Screen Actors Guild card for doing a Coors Light commercial. Also while in college, she did "a bit part ... as a local hire" in the Austin-filmed horror-comedy film My Boyfriend's Back, playing "the girl in the beauty shop, maybe two lines. But the beauty shop [scene] got cut." Her first job after graduation was working in a beef commercial, while simultaneously auditioning for roles around Houston, Texas.
1992–1995: Early acting work
While still in Texas, Zellweger appeared in several indie and low budget films. One was A Taste for Killing (1992), followed by a role in the ABC miniseries Murder in the Heartland (1993). The following year, she appeared in Reality Bites, the directorial debut of Ben Stiller, and in the biographical film 8 Seconds, directed by John G. Avildsen.Zellweger's first main role in a movie came with the 1994 horror film Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, alongside Matthew McConaughey. She played Jenny, a teenager who leaves a prom early with three friends who get into a car accident, which leads to their meeting a murderous family, led by the iconic Leatherface. The movie received a limited theatrical release, to a general negative reaction. However, Janet Maslin of The New York Times, praised her and co-star McConaughey, remarking that both "do show signs of what would soon make them famous. Ms. Zellweger, sweet and sprightly and a natural-born ditz, may be the only actress who could point a gun bravely at a killer, then simply shriek and drop it and scamper away". Joe Leydon for Variety magazine also lauded Zellweger, calling her "the most formidable scream queen since Jamie Lee Curtis went legit".
Her next film was Love and a .45 (1994), in which she played the role of Starlene Cheatham, a woman who plans a robbery with her boyfriend. It received a release in selected theaters, garnering mostly favorable comments from critics. Marc Savlov of Austin Chronicle applauded the main cast saying they were "all excellent in their roles" and noted that "Zellweger's character – all squeals and caged sexuality – seems a bit too close to Juliette Lewis' Mallory Knox (of Natural Born Killers) to be as fresh as it should be". The part earned her an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance. She subsequently moved to Los Angeles, and appeared as a supporting role in the coming-of-age drama Empire Records (1995). The movie had a negative critical reception but Zellweger was considered a stand out among the cast members; Rotten Tomatoes' consensus was: "Despite a terrific soundtrack and a strong early performance from Renee Zellweger, Empire Records is mostly a silly and predictable teen dramedy."
Zellweger became widely known to audiences with Jerry Maguire (1996), in which she played a 26-year-old single mother and the romantic interest of glossy sports agent (Tom Cruise). The film marked the actress' big break on screen as it received unanimous critical acclaim and grossed over US3 million worldwide. It was Cruise who chose her to play his love interest and later credited her with "revealing the core humanity of the movie".Roger Ebert, showing approval of Zellweger and Cruise's chemistry in it, wrote: "The film is often a delight, especially when Cruise and Zellweger are together on the screen. He plays Maguire with the earnestness of a man who wants to find greatness and happiness in an occupation where only success really counts. She plays a woman who believes in this guy she loves, and reminds us that true love is about idealism." She was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role.
She starred in the religious drama A Price Above Rubies (1998), where she played Sonia Horowitz, a young woman who finds it difficult to conform to the restrictions imposed on her by the community. The picture was a box office bomb, and earned mixed reviews.Zellweger, however, was applauded by some critics such as Ebert, who once again impressed by her, stated that she gave a "ferociously strong performance". During an interview, Zellweger was reportedly asked the question of why an actress would "bother" working in a "small" film after the blockbuster success of Jerry McGuire, to which she responded that "she loved the idea of showing the public a more personal aspect of life" through roles like the one she played in the movie, according to entertainment website Pajiba.
Also in 1998, Zellweger portrayed the character of Ellen in One True Thing opposite William Hurt and Meryl Streep. The movie tells the story of a woman (played by Renée) who is forced to put her life on hold in order to care for her mother who is dying of cancer. One True Thing took in a modest US million in the US, but received extremely positive reviews from writers;Variety magazine's Todd McCarthy stated about Zellweger: "Projecting gravity and impatience that she hasn't shown before, Zellweger is outstanding as the smart young woman who resents the interruption to her life’s momentum but ends up growing in ways she never would have expected." For her work in both A Price Above Rubies and One True Thing, she tied with Central Station's Fernanda Montenegro as runners-up for the Best Actress prize at the 64th New York Film Critics Circle Awards, but they lost to Cameron Diaz for There's Something About Mary.
Zellweger starred opposite Chris O'Donnell in the romantic comedy The Bachelor (1999), a box office failure widely panned by critics. She next appeared as Irene Waters in the Farrelly brothers comedy Me, Myself & Irene, co-starring Jim Carrey. It revolves around a Rhode Island state trooper with split-personality disorder named Charlie, played by Carrey, who is assigned to escort Irene from Rhode Island to Massena, New York, to face what she believes is a false hit-and-run accusation set up by her mob-connected ex-boyfriend. The film, released in 2000, was a commercial success, grossing US9 million worldwide.
Her work in Me, Myself and Irene was followed by her role of Betty Sizemore in Neil LaBute's Nurse Betty (also in 2000), a dark comedy co-starring Morgan Freeman, in which she played a Kansas waitress who suffers a nervous breakdown after witnessing her husband's murder, and starts obsessively pursuing her favorite soap actor. Renée garnered unanimously positive comments from film reviewers.San Francisco Chronicle found the actress to be "a performer who emanates kindness and a pure heart", and Variety remarked: "Few actresses can convey the kind of honesty and humanity that Zellweger does here — it’s hard to imagine the film without her dominant, thoroughly credible performance". She won her first Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, but she was in the bathroom when future co-star Hugh Grant announced her name.Zellweger later protested: "I had lipstick on my teeth!"
2001–2007: Critical achievements
In 2001, Zellweger gained the prized lead role of Bridget Jones, opposite Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, in the British romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Diary, based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Helen Fielding. The choice came amid much controversy since she was neither British nor overweight. During casting, Zellweger was told she was too skinny to play the chubby Bridget, so she quickly embarked on gaining the required weight (20 pounds) and learning an English accent. Besides receiving voice coaching to fine-tune her English accent, part of Zellweger's preparations involved spending three weeks working undercover in a "work experience placement" for British publishing firm Picador in Victoria, London. Her performance as Bridget received praise from critics with Stephen Holden of The New York Times commenting, "Ms. Zellweger accomplishes the small miracle of making Bridget both entirely endearing and utterly real." This role won her a second Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and her first Academy Award and BAFTA Award nominations for Best Leading Actress.Bridget Jones's Diary was a major commercial success, earning US1 million worldwide.Zellweger at the world premiere of Miss Potter in London on December 3, 2006
She starred alongside Michelle Pfeiffer in the drama White Oleander, which premiered at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival and received a US theatrical release in October of the same year. For her role, she received a Satellite Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress – Drama. Also in 2002, she portrayed Roxie Hart in the musical film Chicago, directed by Rob Marshall and co-starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, and John C. Reilly. The movie garnered wide critical acclaim and won the Best Picture award at the 75th Academy Awards. Writing for The Daily Telegraph, Tim Robey labeled Chicago as the "best screen musical [since 1972's Cabaret]", and the San Francisco Chronicle commented, "Zellweger is a joy to watch, with marvelous comic timing and, in her stage numbers, a commanding presence". She earned her second Academy Award and BAFTA Award nominations for Best Leading Actress, winning her second Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role.
Following the success of Chicago, she starred with Ewan McGregor in the highly stylized romantic comedy Down with Love (2003), in which she played a woman who advocates female independence in the patriarchal and male chauvinist society of the 1950s and early 1960s. The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle wrote the film is "very smart, very shrewd" and that Zellweger is "an actress at that lovely stage where she is unable to make a false move: She finds the truth in farce and the farcical in the truthful, and is very funny". The film received mixed reviews and proved to be a commercial bomb. Later in 2003, she appeared in Anthony Minghella's war drama Cold Mountain, opposite Nicole Kidman and Jude Law, playing Ruby Thewes, a woman who helps Kidman's character work on her farm after her father's presumed death. The film garnered several award nominations and wins for its actors; Zellweger won the award for Best Supporting Actress at the 76th Academy Awards, the 61st Golden Globe Awards, the 10th Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the 57th British Academy Film Awards.
In 2004, she provided her voice for the DreamWorks animated feature Shark Tale, and reprised her title role in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which as its predecessor, was a box office success, grossing US2 million around the globe.Zellweger received her fourth Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy nomination for her part in the picture. She subsequently was cast in Ron Howard drama Cinderella Man opposite Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti. The movie was released in May 2005, to a positive reception.Empire magazine felt Zellweger did a "good work" in her "tricky supporting role", and David Ansen wrote for Newsweek that the actress "has an uncanny ability to make us swallow even the most movie-ish moments". On May 24, 2005, Zellweger received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She played the title role in the biopic drama Miss Potter, co-starring Emily Watson and Ewan McGregor. The movie was based on the life story of acclaimed author Beatrix Potter. Zellweger also served as an executive producer as she was dissatisfied with the script and wanted to get more involved in the production.Miss Potter had its world premiere in December 2006, garnering a positive feedback among critics; William Arnold, of Seattle Post-Intelligencer concluded that Renée "strikes just the right chord of inspiration, eccentricity and uncompromising artistic drive", For this portrayal, she earned her sixth nomination for the Golden Globe Award (and her fifth one in the category of Best Actress – Musical or Comedy). The following year, she landed her voice in the animated family comedy Bee Movie and was awarded the Women in Film Crystal award.
2008–2015: Career setbacks and hiatus
None of Zellweger's live-action films released between 2008 and 2010—Leatherheads, Appaloosa, New in Town, My One and Only, Case 39, or My Own Love Song—performed particularly well at the box office.Zellweger appeared alongside George Clooney in his directorial venture Leatherheads (2008), a period comedy about the early years of professional American football. She portrayed Lexie Littleton, a Chicago Tribune newspaper reporter. The film received largely mixed reviews and made US.5 million in its opening weekend, described as "disappointing" by website Box Office Mojo.MTV.com praised the actress for "displaying an unexpected gift for drawling sarcasm", but Kevin Williamson for website Jam! criticized her role, remarking that she, "as the kind of lippy heroine epitomized by Rosalind Russell, is miscast in a role that demands snark, not sleepy-eyed sweetness".
In the western Appaloosa (2008), she appeared opposite Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, playing Allison French, a beguiling widow and the love interest of Harris' character. The film earned critical acclaim but grossed a modest million at the North American box office.Zellweger produced the made-for-television feature Living Proof, starring Harry Connick Jr., about the true story of Dr. Denny Slamon. It was co-produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, and premiered in October 2008 on Lifetime Television.
Her first film release in 2009 was New in Town, a comedy where she played a Miami high-powered consultant adjusting to her new life in a small Minnesota town. The movie rated poorly with reviewers and made a lackluster US million in its domestic theatrical run.Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian stated that her "rabbity, dimply pout – surely the strangest facial expression in Hollywood – simpers and twitches out of the screen in this moderate girly flick that adheres with almost religious fanaticism to the feelgood romcom handbook". Following her appearance in the movie, she provided her voice for a supporting character in DreamWorks' computer-animated 3-D feature film Monsters vs. Aliens.
Afterwards in 2009, she starred as George Hamilton's mother, opposite Chris Noth and Kevin Bacon in My One and Only, a comedy loosely based on Hamilton's early life on the road with his mother and brother. Distributed for a limited release to certain parts of the United States only, the film was acclaimed by critics, with Zellweger gaining an equally positive response; Bill Gray, of Entertainment Weekly felt she played her part "to her strengths", and reviewer Mick LaSalle found her performance to be a "standout".
In Case 39, she took on the role of a social worker assigned to take care of a mysterious girl. Filmed in 2006, the supernatural thriller had a lengthy post-production and was not released in theaters in the United States until 2010. The film was universally panned by critics and only earned US.3 million in its opening weekend, leading Indiewire to write that Zellweger "faces an [u]ncertain [f]uture" as she was in "an unforgiving industry that doles out few juicy roles for women over 40". She then played a former singer suffering from paralysis in the road drama My Own Love Song. The little-seen film was screened at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, and went directly-to-video.
After My Own Love Song was released, Zellweger took a six-year hiatus from screen acting, as she found the time to "go away and grow up a bit". Reflecting on this period of time in a July 2016 interview with British Vogue magazine, she explained: "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". In 2013, Zellweger co-created and executive produced Cinnamon Girl, an original drama series set in the Hollywood movie and music scenes of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but the Lifetime network passed on the pilot.
2016–present: Return to acting
Following her six-year withdrawal from acting, Zellweger made her career comeback in the romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Baby (2016), the third part in the Bridget Jones franchise. In the film, co-starring Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey, she portrayed her part in her forties and single, struggling with the trials of life as she discovers that she is pregnant and must work out who the father is. Bridget Jones's Baby, released on September 16, 2016, was met with a highly positive response by critics and grossed US1.9 million worldwide.Village Voice found the movie to be "the warmest and most satisfying of the series" and concluded that her "wise, light-hearted performance anchors this happy reunion, a surprising and refreshing gift from a creative well that seemed to have run dry".
In the dramatic thriller The Whole Truth (2016), directed by Courtney Hunt and opposite, Keanu Reeves, Zellweger took the role of Loretta Lassiter, the mother of a teenager suspected of murdering his wealthy father. Filmed in New Orleans in July 2014, The Whole Truth was released on October 21, 2016, for selected theaters and video-on-demand, receiving average reviews.Variety remarked: "Truth be told, [Reeves and Zellweger] deserve better than this predictable courtroom drama".
In Same Kind of Different as Me (2017), a film adaptation of the autobiographical book by the same name, Zellweger starred with Djimon Hounsou, Olivia Holt and Jon Voight, as the wife of an art dealer whose struggling relationship is changed for the better by a homeless man. The film saw modest box office receipts in its semi-wide release in theaters and received mixed reviews from critics; Variety noted that Zellweger "isn’t given much of a character arc", and The Wrap remarked: "Zellweger, in fact, delivers a gentle, thoughtful, yet headstrong performance as the wife who digs in her heels to get human decency out of the people she cares for the most". She played the friend of a New York City singer who gets a life-changing medical diagnosis in the independent drama Blue Night (2018), opposite Sarah Jessica Parker, Simon Baker, and Jacqueline Bisset. The film premiered at the 17th Tribeca Film Festival.
Zellweger stars as Judy Garland in the upcoming biopic film Judy, directed by Rupert Goold.
Zellweger has appeared on the covers and photo sessions of several magazines throughout her career; she appeared on the September 1997 cover of Vanity Fair, and in subsequent years, the list has grown to include Vogue, Detour, Allure and Harper's Bazaar.Zellweger often attracts attention for her style on awards shows and red carpet events, specifically for her frequent use of dresses designed by Carolina Herrera, a close friend who has worked with the actress for over 15 years after they met at a Costume Institute gala. She also is a frequent guest star at New York Fashion Week, among other fashion events.
In April 1997, Vanity Fair named her part of "Hollywood's Next Wave of Stars". She was placed on E!'s "Top 20 Entertainers of 2001" list and was chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world in 2003. She also ranked number 72 in the "Top 100 Celebrities" list made by Forbes in 2006, and the following year, she was placed at 20 among "the 20 richest women in entertainment", by the magazine.
After Zellweger's appearance at the 21st-annual Elle magazine Women in Hollywood Awards in October 2014, there was media and social commentary that she was hardly recognizable, which resulted in speculation that she had undertaken substantial cosmetic surgery.Zellweger responded, "Perhaps I look different. Who doesn't as they get older?! Ha. But I am different. I'm happy."
From 1999 to 2000, Zellweger was engaged to Jim Carrey. In 2003, she had a brief relationship with musician Jack White. In May 2005, Zellweger married singer Kenny Chesney. Four months later the couple obtained an annulment.
In 2009, she started dating Bradley Cooper, after having met on the set of Case 39 in 2006. They separated in 2011.
Since 2012, she has been in a relationship with musician/songwriter/producer Doyle Bramhall II.
Activism and charity work
Zellweger took part in the 2005 HIV prevention campaign of the Swiss federal health department.
Zellweger is one of the patrons for gender equality foundation The GREAT Initiative; in 2011 she visited Liberia with the charity. In April 2011, she collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger to design a handbag to raise money and awareness for the Breast Health Institute. "Because of the experiences of close friends and family members who have had to endure and battle the challenges of breast cancer, I am a passionate supporter of breast health education and charitable causes," Zellweger stated about joining the campaign.
Awards and nominations
Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Renée Zellweger
In 2004, Zellweger won the Academy Award, the Golden Globe, the BAFTA Award and the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress for Cold Mountain. She received six Golden Globe Award nominations, winning three for her performances in Nurse Betty (2000), Chicago (2002), and Cold Mountain (2003). She was awarded Germany's Golden Camera Award for Best International Actress in 2010.
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