Renée Zellweger had three Oscar nominations, one win, and a bevy of box-office hits to her name when she stepped away from acting in 2010. It was never clear during her long hiatus if or when she’d return to the craft she excelled at. So it’s a beautiful thing to find the Texas-born actress, now 47, back on the big screen this fall.
The comeback began with September’s threequel Bridget Jones’s Baby, which found Zellweger reprising the iconic role. Now, the actress is appearing in the courtroom thriller The Whole Truth; she plays Loretta, the grieving Louisiana mother who watches as Keanu Reeves’s attorney defends her teenage son in a murder case against his father and her husband.
In our new episode of Role Recall (watch above), Zellweger looks back at some of her most memorable film experiences, from her humble start as a scream queen in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) and having us at hello in Jerry Maguire (1996) to playing against type as a murderess in Chicago (2002) and a farmhand in Cold Mountain (2003). Some highlights:
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Though Zellweger’s star was on the rise after lauded early roles in films like Reality Bites (1994) and Empire Records (1995), it was her role as the effervescently sweet Dorothy in Cameron Crowe’s crowd-pleaser that truly won America over. The actress remembered how excited she was driving to the film’s audition: “I was laughing to myself the whole way. That was just hilarious to me, because Tom Cruise was down at Sony waiting for me.” She lets out a hearty laugh. “I mean, that’s funny, you know?”
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
The actress says she was mostly unaware of the controversy surrounding her casting as the titular heroine of Helen Fielding’s novels, with some fans upset that she was neither British nor full-figured enough to pull off the part. That’s because she was working “undercover” at Picador publishing in London to prepare for the role. However, she did note that one of her tasks included pulling newspaper clippings of Picador’s clients, which included Fielding. “So every now and then something would pop up and I would see, ‘Crap American Comedian Playing English Icon.’ Zellweger landed her first Oscar nomination for the performance as said English icon.
Though Zellweger had no formal dance or musical training, she beat out a laundry list of actresses for the role of Roxie Hart, the housewife with dreams of being a star, in this Best Picture winner (which also netted her an Oscar nom). She recalled an audition she didn’t realize she was on with director Rob Marshall. “I had never done anything like that before, and I didn’t quite understand where his faith came from, but I was so desperate to make him proud.”
Cold Mountain (2003)
Zellweger’s tough-talkin’ Ruby Thewes is a fiery force from the moment she shows up in this Civil War romance directed by the late Anthony Minghella, and Zellweger finally won the Academy Award after her third consecutive nomination. “I think about the mud, and the cold, and how real it was,” the actress said before noting she and costar Nicole Kidman constructed an actual fence while making the film. “For two or three days we carried logs and build that fence in freezing temperatures. It was a very authentic experience.”
The Whole Truth is now in select theaters and on video-on-demand.