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Renee Zellweger Biography

Home > Actresses > Z > Zellweger, Renee > Biography

Birth Name: Renee Zellweger
Born: 04/25/1969
Birth Place: Houston, Texas, USA

Renee Zellweger was born on April 25, 1969, and raised in the Houston, TX suburb of Katy. Zellweger's was not the typical rural Texas upbringing, however, with a Norwegian-born nurse for a mother and Swiss-born engineer for a father - complete with kippers on the table instead of fried chicken. Growing up, Zellweger idolized her older brother Drew and took after him as an avid soccer and baseball player. Her father encouraged self-reliance in the young tomboy, teaching her auto repair and recruiting her to help in the building of a new family home when she was just nine years old. In high school, Zellweger became a cheerleader, appeared in several school plays, and was voted "Best Looking" before graduating in 1987 and heading to the University of Texas in Austin.

While working towards an English degree, Zellweger took a drama class to fulfill an arts requirement and truly fell in love with the stage. She was relatively untrained, but she was a natural. While still in school, she landed her first job in a commercial. When graduation rolled around, the honors student decided to fully devote herself to acting, no matter the financial outcome.

At the time, Austin was experiencing a boom in film production and Zellweger had plenty of opportunities to test the waters. Her first roles were of the "don't blink or you'll miss it" variety, including the ABC miniseries "Murder in the Heartland" (ABC, 1993); Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused" (1993); and Ben Stiller's directorial debut, "Reality Bites" (1994). Her first significant role was opposite fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey in the low-budget sequel "The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1994), which quickly disappeared from view until 1997 (under the title "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation") when it was re-released to capitalize on both stars' rising profiles. Her final film in Texas was her biggest, playing the trailer trash gun moll Starlene in "Love and a .45" (1994), a low rent if clever variation of "Bonnie and Clyde" and a satire on the slew of crime spree couple films around at the time.

Zellweger had built up considerable momentum in only a few years and a move to Hollywood seemed like a safe bet. She had earned some critical attention - including an Independent Spirit Award nomination for "Love and a .45" - and continued to build a reputation as part of the ensemble of "Empire Records" (1995) and as a prim Texas schoolteacher who falls in love with pulp fiction author Robert E. Howard (Vincent D'Onofrio) in the biopic "The Whole Wide World" (1996), screened at Sundance. But in 1996, director Cameron Crowe essentially launched Zellweger's career when he chose her over Winona Ryder, Bridget Fonda, Mira Sorvino and Marisa Tomei to play single mother and assistant-turned-love interest to Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire." The delightful romantic comedy was one of the year's favorites and Zellweger unwittingly made movie-quoting history with her tearful, emotionally restrained utterance of "You had me at 'Hello" to the groveling Cruise.

Having finally scored a hit film in which she truly sparkled, Zellweger found she had her pick of Hollywood projects. Instead of playing variations on her nice girl screen persona or filling in any number of vacancies for leading man "girlfriend" roles, the actress remained true to her calling by playing substantial, three-dimensional, characters. If some of the results were questionable, she nonetheless consistently delivered strong, fascinating performances, as in her starring role as an unhappily married Hasidic wife in Boaz Yakin's "A Price Above Rubies" (1998), which drew controversy from some religious groups which objected to the casting of the non-Jewish actress. This would not be the last time her casting was called into question. She more than held her own against her real-life idol Meryl Streep (as her terminally ill mother) and William Hurt (as her remote but adored father) by playing a strong-willed journalist forced to cope with familial duties in the tearjerker "One True Thing" (1998). Although she was more or less reduced to window dressing in "The Bachelor" (1999) and was overshadowed by Jim Carrey's manic antics in "Me, Myself & Irene" (2000), Zellweger truly came into her own as a star in the title role of "Nurse Betty" (2000). First screened at Cannes - where it picked up the award for best screenplay - "Nurse Betty" cast the actress as a sweet-natured Kansas waitress who enters a fugue state after witnessing a crime and taking off to California to be with the man of her dreams - a soap opera character. Zellweger ably captured the character's naiveté without condescending to her and also steered clear of making the character cloying or off-putting.

But the best was yet to come. In another controversial casting decision, she won the coveted role of Bridget Jones, a character who was seen as representative of a segment of British society, in the film adaptation of "Bridget Jones's Diary" (2001). Although there was an initial brouhaha from the Brits for landing the role of a beloved English heroine, her impeccable accent and strong interpretation of the role silenced the opposition and brought home a SAG award for Best Actress and an Oscar nomination for the same. In fact, "Bridget Jones" would become the film by which all others would be measured by her fans.

Faced with topping the career high of "Jones," Zellweger first opted for a supporting role as a foster mother in the film adaptation of "White Oleander," in which her performance was singled out as a positive amid an overall lackluster film. To the surprise of audiences, she was next seen singing and dancing in the film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical "Chicago" (2002). Cast as Roxie Hart, a woman who murders her lover and then dreams of a career as a vaudeville headliner, the actress again proved her detractors wrong, offering a surprising, razor-sharp performance and demonstrating a breathy but pleasant singing voice. Once again she snared a wealth of awards buzz, including Oscar and BAFTA nominations and a Golden Globe win.

Seemingly the actress who could do anything and do it well, her next role was as a modern Doris Day opposite Ewan McGregor in the romantic comedy "Down With Love" (2003), which despite many plaudits did not attract much of an audience. She followed up this box office disappointment by a serious turn alongside Jude Law and Nicole Kidman in "Cold Mountain" for director Anthony Minghella. Although some critics and audience members rolled their eyes at her blaringly folksy and cornpone character Ruby - a performance that multiple critics compared to Day's hyperbolic turn in "Calamity Jane" - who teaches Ada (Nicole Kidman) to stand on her own two feet, Zellweger swept awards season with her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (her third Oscar nom in as many years) and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture as well as a Screen Actors Guild award. While shooting, Zellweger also met a new paramour, rocker Jack White of the White Stripes, whom she would date on and off for several years. Her most serious romance prior to black, had been a lengthy relationship with "Me, Myself and Irene" co-star, funnyman Jim Carrey.

Onto lighter fare, Zellweger provided the voice of Angie, the fish who quietly pines for sassy Oscar in DreamWorks' animated underwater underworld opus "Shark Tale" (2004). After demonstrating her diversity with drama, musicals and comedy over the previous few years.

Zellweger returned familiar territory by reprising her role as Bridget Jones for the less-successful sequel "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason." She then surprised fans and the media by marrying country star Kenny Chesney in the U.S. Virgin Islands after a whirlwind four-month courtship in 2005, following her bitter break-up with White. After only four months of marriage, however, Zellweger sought to annul the union, with the unusual citation of "fraud" - a charge that sent many a tongue wagging as to what exactly that meant.

Not one to let the hard times derail her, she jumped right into her next project, director Ron Howard's Depression-era boxing drama "Cinderella Man" (2005). The film, while not a financial success, received generally good notices, but Zellweger's mannered performance as Mae Braddock, the devoted wife of unlikely prizefighting champ Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) was perhaps the most criticized element. The misstep did not affect the top screen actress from receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame the same year, after which she dusted off her British accent to play the title role in "Miss Potter" (2006), a biopic exploring the life of beloved children's writer Beatrix Potter. Again, she was honored with a Golden Globe nomination for best actress.

In 2007, Zellweger was not seen at all onscreen; only heard, as the voice of florist Vanessa Bloome in the animated feature "Bee Movie," starring Jerry Seinfeld as a disgruntled worker bee who breaks free from the hive and develops a crush on a cute honey of a human. In 2008, Zellweger's appearance schedule was set to include a starring role in her first thriller, "Case 39" (2008), as well as supporting role opposite George Clooney (a rumored off-screen paramour) in the period sports film, "Leatherheads" (2008).