Renée Kathleen Zellweger (/rəˈneɪ ˈzɛl.wɛ.ɡər/ born April 25, 1969) is an American actress, producer and voice artist. She first gained widespread attention for her role in the film Jerry Maguire (1996), and subsequently received two nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her roles as Bridget Jones in the comedy Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), and as Roxie Hart in the musical Chicago (2002). Zellweger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the drama Cold Mountain (2003).
She has won an Academy Award, three Golden Globe Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and a BAFTA Award; 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.
Renée Zellweger was born on April 25, 1969 in Katy, Texas. Her father, Emil Erich Zellweger, is from Au, a small town in the canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland, and is a mechanical and electrical engineer who worked in the oil refining business. Her mother, Kjellfrid Irene (née Andreassen), a native of Norway, has Norwegian, Kven (Finnish), Swedish, and possible Sami, ancestry; Kjellfrid grew up in Kirkenes and Ekkerøy, and is 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. After high school, she went to the University of Texas at Austin to major in English language. At the beginning, she took a drama class because she needed a fine arts credit to complete her degree, but the experience made her appreciate how much she loved acting. During this time, she supported herself by taking jobs as a waitress in Austin, Texas. She said that she earned her Screen Actors Guild card doing a Coors Light beer commercial while in college. 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."
Zellweger graduated from college in 1991 with a BA degree in English. Her first job after graduation was working in a beef commercial, while simultaneously auditioning for roles around Houston.
Early work: 1992-2000:
While still in Texas, Zellweger appeared in several 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 part in a movie came with the 1994 horror story 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. Her next movie was Love and a .45 (1994), in which she played the role of Starlene Cheatham, a woman who plans a robbery with her boyfriend. The performance earned her an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance. She subsequently moved to Los Angeles, winning roles in the films Empire Records (1995) and The Whole Wide World (1996). Zellweger first became widely known to audiences around the world with Jerry Maguire (1996), in which she played the romantic interest of Jerry, Tom Cruise's character.
Zellweger later won acclaim in One True Thing (1998) opposite William Hurt and Meryl Streep, and in Neil LaBute's Nurse Betty opposite Morgan Freeman. The role garnered the actress her first of three Golden Globe Awards, 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 2000, Zellweger starred with Jim Carrey in the comedy Me, Myself and Irene, directed by the Farrelly brothers. The film is about a Rhode Island state trooper with split-personality disorder named Charlie, played by Carrey, who is assigned to escort Irene Waters, played by Zellweger, 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.
Critical success: 2001-2006:
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. 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 Best Actress Academy Award nomination. Along with 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. In 2002, she starred with Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander. 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 Academy Award nomination as Best Actress, as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award and Golden Globe Award.
In 2004, Zellweger received her first Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress in Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain opposite Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. Zellweger has since starred in the sequel to Bridget Jones's Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, lent her voice to the DreamWorks animated features Shark Tale and Bee Movie, and starred in the 2005 Ron Howard film Cinderella Man opposite Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti. On May 24, 2005, Zellweger received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She produced and appeared in Miss Potter, based on the life story of acclaimed author Beatrix Potter, with Emily Watson and Ewan McGregor, released in December 2006. Zellweger was awarded the Women in Film Crystal award in 2007.
Recent roles: 2008-present:
In 2008, Zellweger starred in the western Appaloosa with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen and the period comedy Leatherheads with George Clooney. The same year, Zellweger produced a film, Living Proof, starring Harry Connick Jr., about the true story of Dr. Denny Slamon. The film, produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, premiered in October 2008 on Lifetime Television. In next year, she starred alongside Chris Noth and Kevin Bacon in the feature film My One and Only, as well as in the film New in Town, and a cameo role in the animated film Monsters vs. Aliens. She appeared as a social worker in the psychological horror film Case 39. In 2010, she played a former singer suffering from paralysis in the road movie My Own Love Song.
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 '60s/early '70s, but the Lifetime network passed on the pilot.
Zellweger dated The White Stripes singer Jack White from 2002 to 2004. In addition, Zellweger had a much-publicized, short-lived romance with her Me, Myself and Irene co-star Jim Carrey, to whom she was engaged from 1999 to 2000.
On May 9, 2005, Zellweger married singer Kenny Chesney in a ceremony at the island of St. John. On September 15, 2005, they announced their plans for an annulment. Zellweger cited "fraud" as the reason in the related papers. After media scrutiny of her use of the word "fraud", she qualified the use of the term, stating it was "simply legal language and not a reflection of Kenny's character."
In September 2010, it was reported that Zellweger and actor Bradley Cooper had been in a relationship for over a year. On March 18, 2011, People Magazine announced that the two had broken off their relationship.
Zellweger took part in the 2005 HIV prevention campaign of the Swiss federal health department.
Zellweger is one of the patrons for gender equality foundation The GREAT Initiative; in 2011 she visited Liberia with the charity. In April 2011 Zellweger collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger to design a handbag to raise money and awareness for the Breast Health Institute.
Taste for Killing, AA Taste for Killing
Murder in the Heartland
Barbara Von Busch
My Boyfriend's Back
Dazed and Confused
Prescott Buckle Bunny
Love and a .45
Shake, Rattle and Rock!
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
Low Life, TheThe Low Life
Whole Wide World, TheThe Whole Wide World
Price Above Rubies, AA Price Above Rubies
One True Thing
Bachelor, TheThe Bachelor
Me, Myself & Irene
Irene P. Waters
Bridget Jones's Diary
Down with Love
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Also executive producer
New in Town
Monsters vs. Aliens
My One and Only
My Own Love Song
The Whole Truth
Awards and nominations: