- Renée Kathleen Zellweger
April 25, 1969 (age 52)
- Actor, Voice Actor, Film Producer, Television Producer
- Kenny Chesney (2005; annulled)
- Kjellfrid Irene Andreassen, Emil Erich Zellweger
Renée Kathleen Zellweger (born April 25, 1969) is an American actress and producer. She has received critical acclaim and many accolades, including an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, three Golden Globe Awards, and three Screen Actors Guild Awards. She was named Hasty Pudding's Woman of the Year in 2009; and established herself as one of the highest-paid Hollywood actresses as of 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 comedy-drama sports film Jerry Maguire (1996) and for Nurse Betty (2000), for which she won her first Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. She subsequently received two nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress, the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, the 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 for her performances in the romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), and in the musical Chicago (2002), winning the two latter for Chicago.
She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role for the epic war drama Cold Mountain (2003). She reprised her title role in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004), which earned her her fifth Golden Globe Award nomination. She then starred in Cinderella Man (2005), where her part was applauded by critics, and later played author Beatrix Potter in the biopic Miss Potter (2006), which earned the actress her sixth Golden Globe Award nomination. Several movie parts in low-key and limited release features such as Appaloosa (2008), My One and Only (2009), Case 39 (2009) and My Own Love Song (2010) led to a 5-year hiatus from acting work. Zellweger will return to the screen in the thriller The Whole Truth (2016), the third Bridget Jones movie, Bridget Jones's Baby (2016) and the drama Same Kind of Different as Me (2017).
Early life and education
Zellweger was born on April 25, 1969, in Katy, Texas. She is of Swiss, Norwegian, Kven (Finnish), and Sami ancestry. Her father, Emil Erich Zellweger, is from Au, a small town in the canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland, and was a mechanical and electrical engineer who worked in the oil refining business. Her mother, Kjellfrid Irene (née Andreassen), is a native of Norway. 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".
While in junior high school, Zellweger participated in several sports, including soccer, basketball, baseball, and football. She attended Katy High School, where she was a cheerleader, gymnast, speech team member, and drama club member. 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. "I learned a lot," said Zellweger of the job. "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 doing a Coors Light beer commercial. Also while in college, she did "a bit part ... as a local hire" in the Austin-filmed horror-comedy 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.
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 (1994), 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 opened in a limited theatrical release, to generally negative reviews. However, Zellweger's portrayal had a better reception among writers; Janet Maslin of The New York Times, praised her and co-star McConaughey, stating it was clear that the two actors "were going places". She also remarked that both leads "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; website 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."
Jerry Maguire and breakthrough
Zellweger became widely known to audiences around the world with Jerry Maguire (1996), in which she played the romantic interest of Jerry, Tom Cruise' character. The film, receiving critical and popular acclaim, marked the actress' big break on screen. It was Cruise who chose her to play his love interest and later credited her with "revealing the core humanity of the movie". Montreal Film Journal found her performance "fantastic", adding that she was "good looking, funny and moving, too". Roger Ebert, showing approval of Zellweger and Cruise's chemistry in the picture, 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 1998's religious drama A Price Above Rubies, where she played Sonia Horowitz, a young woman who finds it difficult to conform to the restrictions imposed on her by the community. Opening at limited release, the picture gained mixed reviews, with Zellweger being applauded by some critics such as Ebert, who once again impressed by her, stated 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.
The same year, 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. Although it was not a box office success, the picture gained an extremely positive critical reaction with Renée being once again acclaimed for her part; Robin Clifford, for Reeling Reviews noted that she gives "a solid, almost dour, performance as a serious young woman who grew up idolizing her father and denigrating Kate and her housewifely ways. Ellen undergoes a dramatic metamorphosis as she takes on the burden of helping her steadily declining mom over the months spanning the holidays". On a similar note, 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.
She played the lead in The Bachelor (1999), a romantic comedy in which Chris O'Donnell co-starred. The movie received mainly negative reviews and grossed $36 million, well below its budget $51 million. Zellweger next appeared as Irene Waters in the Farrelly brothers comedy Me, Myself and Irene, which was theatrically released in 2000. Co-starring Jim Carrey, the movie is about 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 was a success commercially, premiering at number one at the box office charts on its opening weekend. It went on to gross $149,270,999 worldwide.
Her work in Me, Myself and Irene was followed by her role of Betty Sizemore in Neil LaBute's Nurse Betty , 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. Urban Cinefile's Richard Kuipers asserted: "Renée Zellweger's ability to make us believe in what she's doing on screen is the big plus of this uneven entry. Fresh from winning our hearts in Bridget Jones's Diary (although this was made well before it), Zellweger gives this comedy-drama a strong emotional centre that smooths over clumsy side-detail and an uncertain tone". The San Francisco Chronicle called the actress "skillful" and concluded that she, as "a performer who emanates kindness and a pure heart", is "worth celebrating". 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!".
In 2001, Zellweger gained the prized lead role as Bridget Jones, playing alongside Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, in the British romantic comedy film Bridget Jones's Diary, based on the 1996 novel Bridget Jones's Diary 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 first Academy Award for Best Actress, BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role nomination and her second Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy nominations. The movie was also an international hit, earning $281 million worldwide.
She starred with Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander, which first premiered at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival and was later theatrically released in October that year. Along with Pfeiffer and Alison Lohman, Zellweger garnered a significant amount of critical acclaim; while The New York Times praised the cast, Entertainment Weekly pointed out the actress for summoning "such lovely, tremulous warmth" as her character. For her role, she received a Satellite Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress – Drama. The same year, she appeared as Roxie Hart in the critically acclaimed musical film Chicago, directed by Rob Marshall, co-starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, and John C. Reilly. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Zellweger received positive reviews. The San Francisco Chronicle's website SFGate commented, "Zellweger is a joy to watch, with marvelous comic timing and, in her stage numbers, a commanding presence." The Washington Post noted that even though Zellweger couldn't dance well in real life, the audience "wouldn't know it from this movie, in which she dances up a storm." She earned her second nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress and for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, 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.
She was cast in Anthony Minghella's war drama Cold Mountain, appearing, opposite Nicole Kidman and Jude Law, as 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. She then provided her voice for the DreamWorks animated feature Shark Tale which, despite mixed reviews, made $367 million worldwide against its $75 million budget. Renée reprised her title role in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004), that was also a box office success, grossing more than $262 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 2005's Ron Howard film Cinderella Man opposite Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti. The movie opened to generally positive reviews but was not a commercial success. As for the film, critical reception towards Zellweger was mostly favorable; While Empire magazine felt she did a "good work" in her "tricky supporting role", 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.
Zellweger has been married once, divorced once, and has no children. From 1999 to 2000, she was engaged to Jim Carrey. In 2003, she had a brief relationship with musician Jack White. On May 9, 2005, Zellweger married singer Kenny Chesney, However, four months later the couple obtained an annulment. In the annulment papers Zellweger cited "fraud" as the reason. Under media scrutiny she explained that the word "fraud" was simply "legal language" and "not a reflection of Kenny's character." 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 blues musician Doyle Bramhall II.