Interview Renee Zellweger

Delroy’s pregnant wife has been found dead in a pool of blood and he is brought in as the chief suspect. He is interrogated by D.S. Karn, a witty, psychotic racist and his violent sidekick D.C. Wilby. Both high on the prospect of a Conservative landslide victory they try to lure him into a quick confession. Callous humiliation gives way to a barrage of sinister violence, leading to a devastating conclusion.

Renee Zellweger is one of the most curious Hollywood stars out there. On one hand, she’s cute and kooky, and enormously successful, thanks largely to three Oscar-nominated performances – in Chicago, Cold Mountain (for which she won, in 2004) and, in the role this diminutive Texan somehow made her own, Bridget Jones Diary. Oh, and let’s not forget that stylish heartbreaker that launched her back in 1996, Jerry Maguire. On the other, Renee Zellweger is that skewered and overcooked chick with the quirked-up face that has misfooted through a bunch of box-office duds (A Price Above Rubies, Nurse Betty, Down With Love, Miss Potter), some awkward celebrities romances (with the likes of Jim Carrey, Jack White and George Clooney), and one very unfortunate, very short-lived marriage – to country singer Kenny Chesney, two years ago.

That Zellweger can look old school movie star stunning one minute and plain ol’ dog rough the next adds another layer of uncertainty about this strange, sometimes strained, creature. In London to talk about her latest film, Leatherheads, perhaps tellingly, Zellweger’s people are a little on edge. Some disagreeable questions from those rascals at T4 has sent Renee’s publicist, Nancy, storming off to complain. Zellweger’s one of those stars that people are never quite sure about. Hence the heavy-handed publicist, always ready to pounce. Best start off nice and easy, then.

Incredibly busy of late, Zellweger not only has Bee Movie recently been buzzing around our multiplexes, but she’s also just finished shooting Ed Harris’ western, Appaloosa, in Miami (“I literally went from the set to the airport, and here I am”), has the Ring-esque horror flick Case 39 long in the bag, and romantic comedy Chilled In Miami (co-starring Harry Connick Jr.) ready to roll.

Oh, and then there’s the little matter of playing the luscious, laconic and just a tad leggy Lexi in the 1920s-set comedy Leatherheads. That her co-star – and director – George Clooney wrote the part with Zellweger in mind means it mustn’t have been all that difficult a role to play, right? “Actually, it was both flattering and frightening when George told me he’d written a part especially for me,” says Zellweger. “I began to think, well, what is it that he sees in me that would inspire him to write a role? Will I be able to deliver on that me-ness that he’s looking for? “Thankfully, once the script arrived, I could see Lexi straight away. I then proceeded to push at the edges, so that I might actually surprise George a little.”

That Leatherheads has Clooney behind the camera again, after his Oscar-nominated debut as a director, Good Night, And Good Luck in 2005, and the wild and wacky Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind in 2002, meant Zellweger was in good hands. “How can you not feel you’re in good hands when it comes to George Clooney?” she smiles. “I can’t think of any other man women out there would happily give over all control to. He’s just the consumate gentleman.” And something of a film buff, having given Zellweger 100 movies from 1964 to 1976 for her 38th birthday last April. He has also said of his latest co-star, “Most actors or actresses tend to be fairly contemporary. The minute you put them in a period piece, they stand out. Renee has great old-fashioned movie-star qualities. There are times in the film when she looks like a young Ginger Rogers”.

“Isn’t he just the sweetest?” Zellweger quips in her best golly-gee voice. “And to have all these wonderful movies to watch, it’s a real education, and a real delight. George is far, far more than just a very handsome face. He has integrity, he’s got style, compassion, a conscience, and he cares deeply about the work he does.”
Even when it’s a Nespresso commercial. “Yeah, even when it’s a Nespresso commercial,” laughs Zellweger. “Hey, he’s got to pay the bills somehow. This guy keeps working for nothing.”

Renee Zellweger certainly doesn’t work for nothing. The Hollywood Reporter recently put together its rich list, and young Renee hit the no.5 spot, with a current asking price of between $10million and $15million a film. Which, when you consider Renee Zellweger makes, on average, two films a year, well, it wouldn’t be hard to retire quite comfortably on that kind of money. For about 300 years or so. It’s a thought that must have crossed Zellweger’s mind recently when she enjoyed an unexpected break in the summer when the Appaloosa shoot was delayed for a few weeks. Zellweger headed off to spend some time with friends on Long Island, where she partied with, amongst others, Sir Paul McCartney (rumours of their dating are, she assures me, “tragically exaggerated”).Given her recent statement that her proudest achievement so far is “that I’ve been able to stay out of the psychiatric wards despite the really bizarre exchanges I have on a daily basis”, kicking back in the summer sun with an ex-Beatle must have Zellweger considering stepping off the merry-go-round?“Oh, yeah, sure,” she nods, “sometimes I think, what am I doing this for? I could be holidaying all the time instead.”

Let’s not forget too, we’re dealing a smalltown girl, Renee Zellweger hailing from Katy, Texas, where the population has yet to hit the 12,000 mark. Such an upbringing can hardly prepare someone for the nuthouse that is Hollywood. Zellweger doesn’t disagree. “Oh, you know, there are days that are hard, like any profession. It’s never not interesting, and as long as it doesn’t compromise me in any way, in terms of my integrity, in terms of my, you know, health, I suppose, I think I can continue to, you know, be spoilt rotten by getting to do what I love to do for a living. I love what I do. And you just learn as you go…”

Our time is almost up, so, I squeeze in two short, sharp questions. Such as, is it true that, despite co-starring in his first big feature film, Renee Zellweger has never actually seen an episode of Seinfeld?

“I’ve seen it, I’ve just never seen one from beginning to end. I think I might have some kind of ADD, or maybe it’s just my schedule, I don’t know. But I think it’s wonderful, love it. There’s just always some distraction that pulls me away from the television. I’m not a good TV watcher.”

And what about that middle name – Renee Kathleen Zellweger. Begorrah, I do believe that sounds a tad Irish.

“Yeah, I was named after my grandmother,” smiles Zellweger. “It was her middle name.”

So, there’s some Irish blood in the mix?

“I don’t know. That’s interesting. There could be some in there, in the mix.”

We do get around a bit…

“That’s what I hear.”

Words : Paul Byrne

Leatherheads hits Irish cinemas April 11th