An actress who has been seriously dedicated to her craft, Renee Zellweger has become known for many of her film roles throughout her career. Whether playing a lovable Brit looking for love or a murderous wife pleading innocence, this actress owns her character in the moment and completely charms her audience every time.
A native of Texas, Zellweger has kept that southern charm through the years, not needing fame to keep her happy. She has endured harsh rumors and managed to stand up for herself, while at the same time maintaining the privacy that she has made a priority in her life. While she has maintained a sense of herself, here’s how this star has developed and transformed throughout the years.
She didn’t discover her love of acting until college
Zellweger was born in Katy, Texas in 1969. As she described during an interview with Vogue, she grew up as a “conservative child,” and didn’t truly find her passion for acting until she was older, attending college in Austin.
In her early twenties, she had her first experience on a major film set. Zellweger played “Girl in Blue Truck (uncredited)” in the film Dazed and Confused. She spoke of this role and big moment in her life with People, sharing, “I felt really lucky to be a glorified extra on [Dazed and Confused]…. I learned so much about how a film set works and how it breaks down into different departments and what your responsibilities are as a performer when you are participating in a collaborative effort.”
Music played a big role in her teenage years
As the future actress reached her teen years, she discovered a distinct interest in music. As she told Vogue, “I’d spend hours learning songs from the lyrics written on the back of albums, playing records constantly until they scratched and jumped.”
And she wasn’t a snob to one genre — she liked all sorts of music. Zellweger explained, “I had older cousins in Norway who would bring records for me and my brother Drew to listen to when they visited…. The Beatles, Abba, the Stones…. Quite a mix!” This interest would later come in handy for Zellweger when she found herself in more musical roles on the big screen.
She had Cameron Crowe at “Hello”
While Zellweger’s acting career began in the 1990s with Dazed and Confused a few other small roles, one of her biggest roles to date came in 1996 in the film Jerry Maguire.
The 27-year-old actress took on the role of Dorothy in the film. Zellweger later reminisced about this time and life-changing role with Vanity Fair, saying, “It was a pivotal moment, not just professionally, but for me personally.”
At the time, Zellweger was trying to make it in Hollywood. This was a turning point for her. She continued to share during the interview, “When I got the job, I was living in a garage apartment in West Hollywood and I was very happy…. I remember that life felt like it was starting to gain momentum, in terms of maturing and growing up and different professional opportunities. My dog Dillon and I had finally found our way around Los Angeles, and we were pretty happy being here.”
Her fame was really hard on her parents
From the very beginning, Zellweger saw past the glitz and glam of fame. She reflected on the night of the Jerry Maguire premiere, sharing her memories on Chelsea Handler’s Netflix show, Chelsea (via Us Magazine). She wanted her parents to be at her big premiere night, but it wasn’t the magical event she originally imagined.
She shared, “I remember the night of the Jerry Maguire premiere. I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea what was about to happen…. My parents were there. They’re your most important people, so this big film ends and it’s really well-received, then you’re swept away and there’s no more contact with your mom and dad.”
She explained how hard that was, continuing: “They’re left there, and you’re moving around, shaking hands and taking pictures, signing things and saying hello. You have responsibilities that don’t include them. It’s like a distancing that they feel like they’re losing you in some way.” She called the shift to fame a “difficult transition,” and said that event made her “hyper-aware” in the future.
She’s had some high-profile relationships, but rarely talks about them
As reported in a profile piece by Marie Claire, Zellweger has been in some well-known romantic relationships. She dated Jim Carrey after working with him on the film Me, Myself & Irene in 2000 when the actress was 31 years old.
There were rumors about George Clooney, but Zellweger didn’t confirm or deny, only saying: “I have so much respect for him as a citizen and as an artist — I’m less inclined to whoopee-cushion my friends, though.”
Then in 2005, she met country singer Kenny Chesney at the Concert of Hope tsunami benefit. Romance swept up the couple, who married just five months later. Just four months after that, the 36-year-old had her marriage annulled, claiming fraud. As the magazine shared, this is a relationship Zellweger will not speak of, keeping that part of her life private.
Aging doesn’t scare her
And although Zellweger has always liked to keep her life private, she has definitely been open when it comes to discussing age and growing older.
She shared with Marie Claire a conversation she once had with someone who brought up her reaching the big 4-0. “A guy at the Toronto Film Festival said, ‘How do you feel about that? It’s coming uuuu-up.’ And I’m thinking, For who? It’s not on my mental timeline.“
She said that, growing up, she felt 40 felt very old, but times have changed. She continued on to say, “I don’t think of it that way at all anymore. Even friends in their late 50s feel like contemporaries. I’m glad of that; it makes possibility less of a finite thing.”
She knew when it was time to take a break from the industry
In 2010, at age 41, Zellweger did something almost unheard of by an A-list actor in Hollywood — she took a break from the industry.
She gave more insight into her decision to Vogue, sharing, “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.”
She continued, “As a creative person, saying no to that wonderful once-in-a-lifetime project is hard. But 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: it was time to go away and grow up a bit.”
She accomplished a lot during her six-year career break from Hollywood
So what did she spend that time off accomplishing? She wanted to to do it all.
She shared with Stylist, “I wanted to explore; promises I’d made to myself I wanted to keep, and things I was interested in that I wanted to discover whether or not I had aptitude for.”
Some part of her also just wanted to be available to see her family and friends. She said, “…then life fills in the blanks. Oh, dad’s having surgery — I’m going to go do that. Oh, my best friend’s having a baby — I’m going there.”
She also caught the travel bug during her break. She told with Vogue that she made her way through Asia with a friend — specifically mentioning her travels through Vietnam and Cambodia as special times away from the spotlight.
She describes herself as a very private person
In 2016, the 47-year-old made her way back to Hollywood and back in the familiar shoes of her character, Bridget Jones. While the star’s time away was what she wanted it to be, she came back still feeling the same way about her privacy. She didn’t want to share all of the moments of her life with the world.
She shared with the Los Angeles Times, “I’m a private person, so it’s difficult for me to talk to the whole world like we’re all best friends…. And I often find myself making up opinions about things that I’ve never thought of before, on the spot, because I feel like I ought to be accommodating…. I mean, I understand that you would interview politicians because you need to understand where they’re coming from and what their perspectives are because they’re going to shape a nation. But me? It’s very sweet. It’s very flattering. It’s just difficult.”
She addressed those plastic surgery rumors
She received very little privacy when it came to her changing looks over the years. Rumors of plastic surgery spread. And for a celebrity who wanted to keep her private life as private as possible, she was put in a tough position.
The actress decided to write an editorial article in The Huffington Post, which not only addressed the rumors, but also brought to light bigger matters. She wrote, “I’m writing because, to be fair to myself, I must make some claim on the truths of my life, and because witnessing the transmutation of tabloid fodder from speculation to truth is deeply troubling. The ‘eye surgery’ tabloid story itself did not matter, but it became the catalyst for my inclusion in subsequent legitimate news stories about self-acceptance and women succumbing to social pressure to look and age a certain way. In my opinion, that tabloid speculations become the subject of mainstream news reporting does matter.”
And just to truly put the matter to bed, Zellweger stated, “Not that it’s anyone’s business, but I did not make a decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes. This fact is of no true import to anyone at all, but that the possibility alone was discussed among respected journalists and became a public conversation is a disconcerting illustration of news/entertainment confusion and society’s fixation on physicality.”
She’s tapping into her love of writing
The Huffington Post piece is one clear example that shows this actress has a way with words. Writing is, in fact, one of the things Zellweger focused on most during her Hollywood hiatus — she took screenwriting classes at UCLA, and even co-wrote a pilot that got picked up by Lifetime.
She shared with The Hollywood Reporter, “Writing is something that has always been part of my life…. I’m tapping into it because it makes me happy. There are so many women now who are answering their creative calling — writing, producing, directing. I have a lot of girlfriends who would like to produce material that matters in some way.”
Zellweger is one for action and applauds those who take that step to learn a new skill. She continued, “It’s so boring when people talk about what they’re going to do, or what they might do, or the thing that they want to do…. It’s so much more interesting when you just do it and say, ‘Here it is.'”