The Untold Truth Of Renee Zellweger

Millions watched Renée Zellweger walk onstage at Hollywood's Dolby Theater at the 2020 Academy Awards to accept a best actress Oscar for Judy. In a tough field of competitors that included fellow Oscar winner Charlize Theron, actress Scarlett Johansson, red-hot newcomer Cynthia Erivo, and Little Women's Saoirse Ronan, Zellweger's jaw-dropping transformation into tragic Hollywood icon Judy Garland placed a second Oscar on her shelf, following her 2004 best supporting actress win for Cold Mountain

For the Texas native, Zellweger's rise to Hollywood stardom has been both meteoric and unpredictable, full of outside-the-box choices, some seriously big hits, and the occasional iconic line (Jerry Maguire's "You had me at 'hello,'" springs to mind).

Since bursting onto the film scene as part of the ensemble cast of Texas-set high school comedy Dazed and Confused in the early 1990s, Renée Zellweger can boast a show business career characterized by risky gambles that usually paid off, such as her controversial casting as the quintessentially British heroine of Bridget Jones's Diary. Yet there's much that even her most ardent fans can still discover about the fascinating life and extraordinary career of the Oscar winner by uncovering the untold truth of Renée Zellweger.

Before finding fame, Renee Zellweger worked as a waitress in a strip club

While attending the University of Texas, Renée Zellweger put herself through school by working "as a cocktail waitress in a strip club," as the actress told AARP Magazine. As she recalled, "One gentleman would tip me $100 every time he came in, because I think he felt sorry for me. He saw me as a poor student."

However, Zellweger herself never felt that way. "Financing my own way through college was a defining marker for me," she said, explaining how that experience is why she now has a tendency to tip her servers very well. "I know the difference that can make in someone's day," she said.

In a 2003 interview with 60 Minutes, Zellweger admitted she's "not embarrassed" about having waited tables at the topless club, Sugar's — but pointed out she always worked fully clothed. "There are certain things about myself that I know to be sure. And taking my clothes off and dancing or doing things that I felt were compromising my convictions, that's not an option," she added, declaring that she got an "education" working as a waitress, just as she got an education from college.

Renee Zellweger once starred in a horrible horror sequel with this Hollywood A-lister

Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey both appeared in director Richard Linklater's 1993 coming-of-age comedy Dazed and Confused. However, that's not the only movie that the Texas-born stars acted in together. 

In 1995, the pair were cast as the leads in the low-budget sequel to cult-hit horror movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, titled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. In the film, Zellweger plays a young woman named Jenny, who is involved in an unfortunate car accident near the home of Vilmer, played by McConaughey, and his deranged family of cannibalistic killers.

The slasher sequel did little for their careers, given that it was seen by practically nobody. While IMDb estimated the film's budget at just $600,000, the film still managed to lose money; according to Box Office Mojo, the movie reportedly brought in a little over $185,000. That shouldn't be surprising, given the rotten reviews, with Entertainment Weekly describing the flick as "luridly abysmal." Interestingly enough, a review in Variety singled out Zellweger's performance for praise, describing her as "the most formidable scream queen since Jamie Lee Curtis went legit."

Renee Zellweger made it clear she hasn't forgotten her roots

Born and raised in Katy, Texas, a small community just outside Houston, Renée Zellweger has never forgotten where she came from. In fact, in 2016, the Daily Mail reported that she paid a visit to her old school, reconnecting with teachers and former classmates.

According to the Mail, Zellweger took a break from filming Bridget Jones's Baby in order to make a surprise appearance at the retirement party for her fifth-grade teacher and school librarian Ron Mattson. "Nobody knew she was coming! It was a surprise," the school's new librarian, Mandie Koch, told the Mail, recalling how Mattson was in the middle of making a speech when Zellweger showed up unannounced. "She didn't tell anyone she was coming because she didn't want to take away from his day," added Koch.

Former classmate Edward Ortega recalled Zellweger as a cheerleader and athlete who was voted "Dream Date" by her male classmates during her senior year. He told the Mail, "She didn't have a bad reputation at all of the stereotypical cheerleader — wasn't just a bubble head. She was an intellect."

Why Renee Zellweger chooses to stay off social media

While celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Selena Gomez can boast millions of followers on social media, that's not the case for Renée Zellweger. There's a simple reason for that: Zellweger isn't on social media at all, with no presence on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

As she explained to AARP Magazine, Zellweger stays away from social media as a way to shut off the "noise" of "people commenting on your every move, on how you look." She shared, "My secret is ignorance!"

Another reason for her avoidance of social media is a generational one, telling Los Angeles Times in a roundtable interview with her fellow 2020 best actress Oscar nominees that she wants to keep her life private. "And so it's a peculiar thing when it doesn't occur to the younger generation that it's not weird at all to pull out your phone and take a picture of somebody a foot from their face without saying hello," she said, "because that's just the nature of things these days."

Renee Zellweger receives a gift for her birthday every year from this famous actor

Jerry Maguire proved to be a defining movie for stars Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger, garnering Cruise his second Oscar nomination and propelling Zellweger's career to a whole new level. "It was a pivotal moment for me, not just professionally, but for me personally," Zellweger told Vanity Fair of the iconic 1996 hit, revealing that when she landed the role, she "was living in a garage apartment in West Hollywood."

She also gushed about her co-star, who was already an established Hollywood heavyweight when she was still in high school. Recalling how delighted she was to discover that "someone that [she'd] admired for so long" was "so genuine and warm and kind," Zellweger revealed that Cruise still sends her a gift each year on her birthday. "He never forgets my birthday," she marveled when speaking with Vanity Fair. While Zellweger declined to reveal what kind of gifts Cruise has given her, she did share that "he's always so thoughtful and generous." She noted, "It's sweet that he always remembers, because I'm sure he has quite a bit on his plate."

Why Renee Zellweger's casting as Bridget Jones was controversial

In 2000, Renée Zellweger was cast in a career-defining role that would arguably become her most famous: self-described "singleton" Bridget Jones in the film adaptation of bestselling novel Bridget Jones's Diary.

While it's since become impossible to picture anyone other than Zellweger portraying the neurotic, romance-challenged PR maven, news of her casting was met with major backlash from those who felt it was heresy to cast an American — and a Texan, no less — as a character who had become downright iconic in the U.K. for her brazen Britishness. It didn't help that Bridget Jones author Helen Fielding had distanced herself from the film, offering a rather lukewarm assessment of Zellweger. "I've never met Renée," said Fielding, "but I'm told she's very funny and learning to speak English with an English rather than Texas accent."

Zellweger's co-star Hugh Grant was significantly more gracious. "I've met Renée a couple of times, and she is bang-on," he told Entertainment Weekly. "She's very funny, and she's been living in England a long time now, mastering the accent. It'll be a triumph. I know it will."

The interesting way Renee Zellweger prepared for Bridget Jones's Diary

Being cast as Bridget Jones presented some significant challenges for Renée Zellweger, who not only had to convincingly master a British accent, but also had to gain 17 pounds (a diet regimen, she told The Guardian, that involved lots of pizza). 

In addition to those efforts, Zellweger also prepared for playing a publicist by actually working as one. In a 2001 piece for The Guardian, publicist Camilla Ellworthy recalled sharing her office with Zellweger for three weeks while the actress went "incognito" to work for Picador, publisher of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones novels. "Office life has never been so entertaining — or so weird," wrote Ellworthy of teaching a major Hollywood star the PR ropes.

Told by a producer to give Zellweger "lots of work to do" because she "wants to blend into the background," the actress did just that, and surprisingly effectively. According to Ellworthy, Zellweger was "so convincing" in her role that, after making some solid contributions in a meeting, the imprint's deputy publisher "remarked on how impressive she was and said that we should try to find a job for her if she was serious about getting into publishing."

Renee Zellweger had never done a musical before being cast in Chicago

When casting a film version of one of Broadway's most iconic stage musicals, why on Earth would anyone seek out an actress who had never before done any singing and dancing on stage? Yet that was precisely what happened when Renée Zellweger was cast as Roxie Hart in 2002's Chicago.

In an interview with Playbill, Zellweger admitted her prior musical experience was non-existent. "I tried out for Hair in college, and I watched Hair from the audience and enjoyed it very much," she said, noting that she also "sang in the shower a lot."

According to Zellweger, it was director Rob Marshall who convinced her she was perfect to play the showgirl accused of murder. "[Rob], for some reason, had in his mind that it would work, and that there would be singing and there would be dancing, and it would all just be fine," recalled Zellweger, "and I bought into it." In order to pull it off, Zellweger took vocal lessons. "I didn't know how to sing properly. I didn't know how to enunciate. I thought singing was hitting the tunes," she explained, adding, "I didn't know, so I learned."

This Renee Zellweger project was partly based on her own life

In 2011, Renée Zellweger partnered with the Lifetime network to develop a new TV drama series, Cinnamon Girl. As Multichannel News reported, the show, which Zellweger co-created with writer Anthony Tambakis, followed the coming-of-age adventures of four young women living in Los Angeles during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

According to Deadline, the quasi-autobiographical story shared many elements with Zellweger's own life, combining Zellweger's "real-life journey from small-town Texas to Hollywood stardom" and Tambakis' "lifelong fascination with the Laurel Canyon music scene." When the deal was first announced, Lifetime Networks president Nancy Dubuc described the project as "a game changer for our network" and "exactly the type of show we want to deliver."

Cinnamon Girl, reported Deadline, was a sought-after project that sparked a bidding war. A pilot was shot at a reported cost of nearly $6 million. Ultimately, however, Lifetime decided against bringing Cinnamon Girl to series.

How Renee Zellweger responded to plastic surgery rumors

Renée Zellweger became the subject of headlines after photos from a 2014 event captured the actress looking like, well, not quite herself. As E! News reported at the time, people who encountered Zellweger at 2014's Women in Hollywood Awards began to wonder whether she'd had some work done. E! News bluntly asked, "What happened to her face?"

Zellweger, then 45, had been absent from the screen for a while, and she hadn't appeared in a movie since 2010's My Own Love Song. In an interview with People, Zellweger brushed off obsession with her face as "silly," and sidestepped whispers of plastic surgery. According to the actress, if her visage looked any different, it was due to the contentment she was experiencing in her life. "I'm glad folks think I look different! I'm living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows," she told the magazine. 

By 2016, the lingering speculation had not died down. In response, she addressed the rumors head-on in a blistering op-ed for HuffPost. "Not that it's anyone's business," she wrote, "but I did not make a decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes."

Renee Zellweger ended a four-month marriage to this country music star because of "fraud"

In May 2005, Renée Zellweger married country music star Kenny Chesney. Four months later, reported People, she filed papers in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking to have the marriage annulled on grounds of "fraud."

The brevity of the marriage and the eyebrow-raising reason behind its dissolution sent tongues wagging, with many assuming that the "fraud" in question regarded Chesney's sexuality. As rumors swirled that Chesney was gay, Zellweger quickly released a statement to "clarify that the term 'fraud' as listed in the documentation is simply legal language and not a reflection of Kenny's character." Zellweger also asked the media to refrain "from drawing derogatory, hurtful, sensationalized or untrue conclusions," expressing her hopes that she and Chesney could "experience this transition as privately as possible."

Chesney followed up with his own statement, noting it was an "incredibly sad time" while echoing Zellweger's requests for privacy — which were apparently so ineffective that a third statement was released. This third statement declared that "the miscommunication of the objective of their marriage at the start is the only reason for this annulment," blaming these "different objectives" for the marriage's end.

How Renee Zellweger responded to the Harvey Weinstein scandal

Ronan Farrow's 2017 exposé in The New Yorker reported the bombshell allegations of women claiming that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was a sexual predator, opening the floodgates as dozens of women came forward to share their own accusations against Weinstein while kicking off the #MeToo movement. Renée Zellweger found herself drawn into the fray, HuffPost reported, when a 2017 lawsuit filed by actress Melissa Sagemiller alleged Weinstein had bragged that Zellweger and Charlize Theron were among the actresses who gave him "sexual favors" in exchange for movie roles.

"Mr. Weinstein vehemently denies these accusations and has never stated he slept with any of them," a rep for Weinstein told Us Weekly. "It's ridiculous that anyone would believe these talented women, Academy Award winners, provided sexual favors in exchange for roles they earned based on their talent and brilliant work. It's simply not true."

Zellweger's rep also issued a statement, and a far more succinct one at that. "If Harvey said that," the rep told Us Weekly, "he's full of s**t."

The surprising reason Renee Zellweger disappeared from the big screen

As a quick look at Renée Zellweger's IMDb page verifies, there's a six-year gap between her 2010 feature My Own Love Song and her next film, 2016's The Whole Truth, when the actress decided to take a break from acting.

Discussing her decision to step away from Hollywood, she later told E! News' Marc Malkin that part of the reason had to do with the stress she was experiencing due to "imposter syndrome," going to work each day "certain that this is the time you're going to be figured out." Recalling the feeling, she shared, "This is the time you're going to get fired, for sure. They're going to know this time." 

In an interview with American Way, Zellweger laid out another reason why she walked away. "When I stopped making films, it was because it became more depleting than rewarding," she said while promoting her return to the Bridget Jones franchise in 2016's Bridget Jones's Baby. "It was because of the way I was living my life, and I don't think you can be good in a creative medium if you aren't grateful for the opportunity to participate."

How Judy Garland cemented Renee Zellweger's return to Hollywood

After a years-long hiatus from Hollywood, Renée Zellweger returned with a vengeance, culminating in winning her second Oscar for her devastating portrayal of Judy Garland in 2019's Judy.

Discussing the role with the Irish Times, Zellweger admitted she didn't think she was the right person to play Garland, given that, when she was approached for the role by director Rupert Goold, he insisted there would be no lip-syncing and that she would do all the singing live. "At first, I didn't understand why they thought of me for it," Zellweger said.

When she signed on, Zellweger immediately began taking lessons with a singing coach, and she met with a choreographer and a costumer to capture Garland's distinctive posture. She also read biographies, watched videos, and dove into even more research about the singer. Even with all this work, there was no guarantee that Zellweger would be able to pull it off — something Goold used to his advantage. "I told Renée, 'I'm going to structure the script so that it's not only building up to 'Can Judy Garland deliver what she needs to in this moment?' but also, 'Can Renée Zellweger?'"