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Renée Zellweger
Renée Zellweger Berlinale 2010 (cropped).jpg
Zellweger at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2010
BornRenée Kathleen Zellweger[1][2]
(1969-04-25) April 25, 1969 (age 49)
Katy, Texas, U.S.
EducationUniversity of Texas at Austin
OccupationActress, producer
Years active1992–present
Spouse(s)
Kenny Chesney
(m. 2005; annulled 2005)

Renée Kathleen Zellweger (/rəˈn 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 established herself as one of the highest-paid Hollywood actresses by 2007,[3] and was named Hasty Pudding's Woman of the Year in 2009.[4]

Zellweger had her first starring role in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994). She subsequently earned early acclaim with a brief but notable appearance in Empire Records (1995), and was introduced to mainstream audiences in Jerry Maguire (1996). For Nurse Betty (2000), she won her first Golden Globe Award, and for her portrayals of Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)—a role she reprised in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) and Bridget Jones's Baby (2016)— and Roxie Hart in Chicago (2002), she garnered two consecutive Academy Award nominations for Best Actress; she won her second Golden Globe for the latter.

Zellweger won the Oscar, the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress for her role of a farmer in the American Civil War context in Cold Mountain (2003). She played the wife of boxer James J. Braddock in Cinderella Man (2005) and author Beatrix Potter in Miss Potter (2006).[5] Roles in smaller scale films, such as Appaloosa (2008), My One and Only (2009) and Case 39 (2009), were followed by a six-year hiatus from the screen. Subsequent films include The Whole Truth (2016) and Same Kind of Different as Me (2017). She is set to portray Judy Garland in Judy (2019).

Early life[edit]

Zellweger was born on April 25, 1969, in Katy, Texas.[6][7] Her father, Emil Erich Zellweger, is from the Swiss town of Au, St. Gallen and descends from an Appenzell family,[8] and was a mechanical and electrical engineer who worked in the oil refining business.[9] Her mother, Kjellfrid Irene (née Andreassen),[9] is Norwegian.[10] Kjellfrid grew up in Ekkerøy near Vadsø,[11] and also Kirkenes, and was a nurse and midwife who moved to the United States to work as a governess for a Norwegian family in Texas.[12][13][14] Zellweger has described herself as being raised in a family of "lazy Catholics and Episcopalians".[14]

Zellweger attended Katy High School, where she was a cheerleader, gymnast, speech team member,[15] and drama club member. She also participated in soccer, basketball, baseball, and football.[14] 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.[16] After high school, she enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1991.[17] While at university, Zellweger took a drama course as an elective, which initially sparked her interest in acting.[12]

In Zellweger's junior year, her father lost his job and was unable to support her at college, so she took a job as a cocktail waitress in Austin, Texas.[12][18] 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."[12] Zellweger began getting small parts acting, and earned her Screen Actors Guild card for doing a Coors Light commercial.[19] 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."[19] Her first job after graduation was working in a beef commercial, while simultaneously auditioning for roles around Houston, Texas.[12]

Career[edit]

Beginnings (1992–1995)[edit]

While still in Texas, Zellweger appeared in several independent and low-budget films. One was A Taste for Killing (1992),[17] followed by a role in the ABC miniseries Murder in the Heartland (1993).[17] In 1994, she appeared in Reality Bites,[20] the directorial debut of Ben Stiller,[21] and in the biographical film 8 Seconds, directed by John G. Avildsen.[22] Her first main role in a movie came with the 1994 horror film Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, alongside Matthew McConaughey, playing 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.[12] While the film went unnoticed,[23] Joe Leydon for Variety magazine lauded Zellweger, calling her "the most formidable scream queen since Jamie Lee Curtis went legit."[24]

In her next film, the crime comedy Love and a .45 (1994), Zellweger played a woman who plans a robbery with her boyfriend. Despite the film received a limited release in theaters,[25] 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".[26] The part earned her an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance. Zellweger subsequently relocated to Los Angeles, a move she had postponed several; times because she believed she lacked the talent and experience to be a competitive actor in that city. She would next appear in the coming-of-age drama Empire Records (1995).[12] 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."[27]

Breakthrough (1996–2000)[edit]

Zellweger became widely known to audiences with Jerry Maguire (1996), in which she played a single mother and the romantic interest of a glossy sports agent (Tom Cruise). The film received unanimous critical acclaim and grossed over US$273 million worldwide.[28][29] It was Cruise who chose her to play his love interest and later credited her with "revealing the core humanity of the movie".[30] 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."[31] She was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role.[12]

In the religious drama A Price Above Rubies (1998), Zellweger starred as a young woman who finds it difficult to conform to the restrictions imposed on her by the community.[32] The film flopped at the box office,[33][34] but Zellweger was applauded by some critics such as Ebert, who once again impressed by her, stated that she gave a "ferociously strong performance".[35] Zellweger also starred in the 1998 drama One True Thing, opposite William Hurt and Meryl Streep, as a woman 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$23 million in the US,[36] but had a positive critical response;[37][38] 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."[39]

After playing the female lead opposite Chris O'Donnell in the little-seen romantic comedy The Bachelor (1999),[40][41] Zellweger starred in the Farrelly brothers comedy Me, Myself & Irene (2000), with Jim Carrey,[42] as a woman in the run for what she believes is a false accusation set up by her mob-connected ex-boyfriend. The film was a commercial success,[43] grossing US$149 million worldwide.[44]

In Nurse Betty (also 2000), a black comedy directed by Neil LaBute and alongside Morgan Freeman,[12] Zellweger played a Kansas waitress who suffers a nervous breakdown after witnessing her husband's murder.[45][46] San Francisco Chronicle found the actress to be "a performer who emanates kindness and a pure heart",[47] 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".[48] 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.[12] Zellweger later protested: "I had lipstick on my teeth!"[49]

Critical achievements (2001–2007)[edit]

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 and did not smoke.[12] During casting, Zellweger was told she was too thin to play the chubby, chain-smoking Bridget, so she quickly embarked on gaining the required weight (20 pounds) and learning an English accent while she smoked herbal cigarettes.[50] Besides receiving voice coaching to fine-tune her 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.[12][51] 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."[50] 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.[12] Bridget Jones's Diary was a major commercial success, earning US$281 million worldwide.[52]

Zellweger at the world premiere of Miss Potter in London on December 3, 2006

Zellweger took on the role of a former actress serving as a foster mother, alongside Michelle Pfeiffer, in the drama White Oleander, for which she received a Satellite Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress – Drama.[53] She also portrayed Roxie Hart in the 2002 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.[54][55] Writing for The Daily Telegraph, Tim Robey labeled Chicago as the "best screen musical [since 1972's Cabaret]",[56] and the San Francisco Chronicle commented, "Zellweger is a joy to watch, with marvelous comic timing and, in her stage numbers, a commanding presence".[57] 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.

In 2003, following the success of Chicago, Zellweger starred with Ewan McGregor in the little-seen[58] romantic comedy Down with Love, as a woman advocating female independence in the 1950s and early 1960s,[59][60] and appeared in Anthony Minghella's war drama Cold Mountain, opposite Nicole Kidman and Jude Law, playing a woman who helps a farmer following 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.[61][62][63][64][65]

In 2004, Zellweger provided her voice for the DreamWorks animated feature Shark Tale,[66][67] and reprised her title role in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which made US$262 million around the globe[68] and earned her a fourth Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy nomination.[69] In 2005, she played the wife of world heavyweight boxing champion James J. Braddock in Ron Howard's drama Cinderella Man, opposite Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti.[70][71] In his review for the film, David Ansen of Newsweek, wrote that the actress "has an uncanny ability to make us swallow even the most movie-ish moments".[72][73] On May 24, 2005, Zellweger received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[74][75]

Zellweger portrayed acclaimed author Beatrix Potter in the biographical comedy Miss Potter, with Emily Watson and Ewan McGregor. She also served as an executive producer as she wanted to get more involved in the production.[76] William Arnold, of Seattle Post-Intelligencer concluded that Renée "strikes just the right chord of inspiration, eccentricity and uncompromising artistic drive,"[77] For her portrayal, she earned her sixth nomination for the Golden Globe Award (and her fifth one in the category of Best Actress – Musical or Comedy).[5] In 2007, she landed her voice in the animated family comedy Bee Movie and was awarded the Women in Film Crystal award.[78]

Career decline and hiatus (2008–2015)[edit]

With George Clooney in his directorial venture, the period comedy Leatherheads (2008), about the early years of professional American football, Zellweger portrayed a Chicago Tribune newspaper reporter.[79][80] The film received largely mixed reviews and made US$13.5 million in its opening weekend, described as "disappointing" by website Box Office Mojo.[81][82] MTV.com praised the actress for "displaying an unexpected gift for drawling sarcasm",[83] 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".[84] In the western Appaloosa (2008), Zellweger appeared opposite Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, played a beguiling widow. The film earned critical acclaim but grossed a modest US$20 million at the North American box office.[85][86][87] 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.[88]

Her next film was the 2009 comedy New in Town, in which 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$16 million in its domestic theatrical run.[89][90] 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".[91] In 2009, she also provided her voice for a supporting character in DreamWorks' computer-animated 3D feature film Monsters vs. Aliens,[92] and starred as the mother of actor George Hamilton in the comedy My One and Only,[93] which despite being distributed for a limited release to certain parts of the United States only,[94] was acclaimed by critics.[95] Bill Gray, of Entertainment Weekly felt that she played her part "to her strengths",[96] and reviewer Mick LaSalle found her performance to be a "standout".[97]

Zellweger at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival

In Case 39, a supernatural thriller Zellweger filmed in 2006, she took on the role of a social worker assigned to take care of a mysterious girl. The film had a lengthy post-production and was not released in theaters in the United States until 2010.[98][99] It was universally panned by critics and only earned US$5.3 million in its opening weekend,[100][101] 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".[102] The road drama My Own Love Song, in which she played a former singer suffering from paralysis, was screened at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival,[103] and released for DVD.[104][105][106][107]

After My Own Love Song was released, Zellweger took a six-year hiatus from screen acting,[104] 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".[108][109] 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.[110][111]

Return to acting (2016–present)[edit]

Following her six-year withdrawal from acting, Zellweger made her career comeback opposite Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey in the romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Baby (2016), the third part in the Bridget Jones franchise, portraying Jones in her forties and single as she discovers that she is pregnant and must work out who the father is. It was met with a highly positive response by critics and grossed US$211.9 million worldwide.[112][113] Village Voice found the movie to be "the warmest and most satisfying of the series" and concluded that Zellweger's "wise, light-hearted performance anchors this happy reunion, a surprising and refreshing gift from a creative well that seemed to have run dry".[114]

In the crime drama 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.[115][116][117][117] 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.[118] Variety remarked: "Truth be told, [Reeves and Zellweger] deserve better than this predictable courtroom drama".[119]

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.[120][121] The film received mixed reviews from critics and was a moderate commercial success. The Wrap, nevertheless, 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".[122] She played the friend of a New York City singer who gets a life-changing medical diagnosis in the independent drama Here and Now (2018), opposite Sarah Jessica Parker.[123]

Zellweger stars as Judy Garland in the upcoming biopic film Judy, directed by Rupert Goold.[124]

Public image[edit]

Zellweger's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

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,[125] and in subsequent years, the list has grown to include Vogue, Detour, Allure and Harper's Bazaar.[125] Zellweger often attracts attention for her style on awards shows and red carpet events,[126][127] specifically for her frequent use of dresses designed by Carolina Herrera,[128][129][130][131] a close friend who has worked with the actress for over 15 years after they met at a Costume Institute gala.[132] She also is a frequent guest star at New York Fashion Week, among other fashion events.[133][134][135]

In April 1997, Vanity Fair named her part of "Hollywood's Next Wave of Stars".[136] 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.[137] She also ranked number 72 in the "Top 100 Celebrities" list made by Forbes in 2006,[138] and the following year, she was placed at 20 among "the 20 richest women in entertainment", by the magazine.[139]

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.[140][141] Zellweger responded, "Perhaps I look different. Who doesn't as they get older?! Ha. But I am different. I'm happy."[142]

Personal life[edit]

Relationships[edit]

From 1999 to 2000, Zellweger was engaged to Jim Carrey.[143] In 2003, she had a brief relationship with musician Jack White.[144] In May 2005, Zellweger married singer Kenny Chesney.[145] Four months later the couple obtained an annulment.[146]

In 2009, she started dating Bradley Cooper, after having met on the set of Case 39 in 2009.[147] They separated in 2011.[148][149]

Since 2012, she has been in a relationship with musician/songwriter/producer Doyle Bramhall II.[150][151]

Activism[edit]

Zellweger took part in the 2005 HIV prevention campaign of the Swiss federal health department.[152]

Zellweger is one of the patrons for gender equality foundation The GREAT Initiative; in 2011 she visited Liberia with the charity.[153][154] In April 2011, she collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger to design a handbag to raise money and awareness for the Breast Health Institute.[155] "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.[156]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Association Win(s) Nomination(s)
Academy Awards
1 3
Golden Globe Awards
3 6
BAFTA Awards
1 3
SAG Awards
3 5

In 2004, Zellweger won the Academy Award, the Golden Globe, the BAFTA Award and the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress for Cold Mountain.[157] 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.

Filmography[edit]

Film
Year Title Role Notes
1993 Dazed and Confused Girl in blue pickup truck Uncredited
My Boyfriend's Back N/A Scenes cut
1994 Reality Bites Tami
Shake, Rattle and Rock! Susanne
8 Seconds Prescott Buckle Bunny Cameo
Love and a .45 Starlene Cheatham
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation Jenny
1995 Empire Records Gina
The Low Life Poet
1996 The Whole Wide World Novalyne Price
Jerry Maguire Dorothy Boyd
1997 Deceiver Elizabeth
1998 A Price Above Rubies Sonia Horowitz
One True Thing Ellen Gulden
1999 The Bachelor Anne Arden
2000 Me, Myself & Irene Irene P. Waters
Nurse Betty Betty Sizemore
2001 Bridget Jones's Diary Bridget Jones
2002 White Oleander Claire Richards
Chicago Roxie Hart
2003 Down with Love Barbara Novak
Cold Mountain Ruby Thewes
2004 Shark Tale Angie (voice)
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason Bridget Jones
2005 Cinderella Man Mae Braddock
2006 Miss Potter Beatrix Potter Also executive producer
2007 Bee Movie Vanessa Bloome (voice)
2008 Leatherheads Lexi Littleton
Appaloosa Allie French
2009 New in Town Lucy Hill
Monsters vs. Aliens Katie (voice)
My One and Only Anne Deveraux
Case 39 Emily Jenkins
2010 My Own Love Song Jane
2016 The Whole Truth Loretta
Bridget Jones's Baby Bridget Jones
2017 Same Kind of Different as Me Deborah Hall
2018 Here and Now Tessa
2019 Judy Judy Garland Post-production
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1992 A Taste for Killing Mary Lou Television film
1993 Murder in the Heartland Barbara Von Busch Miniseries
Uncredited
1994 Shake, Rattle and Rock! Susan Doyle Television film
2001 King of the Hill Tammy Duvall (voice) Episode: "Ho, Yeah!"
2008 Living Proof N/A Executive producer
TBA What/If Anne Main cast

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