Renee did a recent interview with The New York Times. I think it is a great read!
It has been six years since Renée Zellweger appeared on a big screen, and twice as long since she has channeled Bridget Jones, the British heroine who made charming sport of cataloging her romantic foibles. The gap was by design: Ms. Zellweger, 47, an Oscar nominee for the first “Bridget” movie and a winner in 2004 for “Cold Mountain,” stepped away from the Hollywood “cycle,” as she called it, to take stock of her life. “I had a lot of promises that I made to myself, years ago, about things that I wanted to learn and try,” she said.
She traveled, studied screenwriting — “I feel like I’m more articulate with my pen” — and helped created a TV pilot about female musicians in 1960s and ’70s Los Angeles. No networks have bitten so far, she said, miming a tear.
Still, it seems to have re-energized her to perform. She returns in the third Bridget installment, “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” out Friday, Sept. 16, with a script written by Helen Fielding, the novelist who created the character, along with the “Borat” writer-producer Dan Mazer, and Emma Thompson, who also stars. “It was time” to return, Ms. Zellweger said in an interview in Santa Monica, Calif., near her home. And doing another Bridget “was a no-brainer. I was just so happy to be back in her world.”
But sightings of Ms. Zellweger over the last few years also stirred up intense scrutiny of her appearance, including stunned reactions to her seemingly changed look on a red carpet in 2014. A slew of think pieces, about the undue pressure on women’s beauty standards in Hollywood and beyond, and some less charitable commentary, followed. Ms. Zellweger eventually responded, in an August essay for The Huffington Post. “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.”
And she insisted that she did not follow the brouhaha over her looks, until she had to. She has no public presence on social media. “I don’t participate in it, and I don’t know what’s being said about me or other people until someone makes me aware of it,” she said. “And usually it’s an email, ‘I’m so sorry about ——’”
In person, Ms. Zellweger was soft-spoken and thoughtful, if reticent about discussing some of the latest turns in her career. But she remains dedicated to the work: She watched hours of birthing videos to prepare to play a pregnant Bridget. The character is now a television news producer, so Ms. Zellweger also trailed a British morning-show producer for research. That made her realize “how important it is that the actor is not verbose,” she said, laughing. “I promised myself I would be very concise and quick with my answers from now on.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Did stepping into Bridget’s shoes again feel familiar, or like a challenge because so much time has passed?
Both. Familiar because the process is similar, and I feel like I know her pretty well, and a different kind of challenge because I’ve never had to show the ways in which a person evolves in her life and the ways in which she doesn’t. That’s my favorite stuff, by the way — that she just can’t help herself sometimes. She puts her foot in it, right? I love that she hasn’t refined her social graces; I love that she still goes for it — even if she’s uncertain what the outcome might be. I love that she’s hopelessly romantic and optimistic.
There were interesting conversations with Sharon Maguire, the director, about how [Bridget] might have gotten her life together — she’s a little bit more mature, she’s progressed professionally, moved into property ownership in London and has achieved her ideal weight. And still her life is a relative mess. I like the message in that: that we can tick off the boxes, and yet we still don’t quite have it together. And that’s pretty much the truth of growing up, isn’t it?
You had that experience a bit. When did you realize that you wanted out of the Hollywood circuit?
I don’t think anybody is born with the faculties to know how to navigate what comes with it. One of the things that I learned is that I didn’t know how to establish a healthy balance. I felt an obligation to say yes, whenever I was asked to do something on behalf of my work. And the years go by, and your family and friends understand that you have responsibilities, but they’re going to have the barbecue anyway, and the wedding anyway, and the baby’s having a birthday anyway. I just missed out on a lot of things. I needed to stop so I could reassess and figure out how to allow for myself in my own life. I needed to grow as a person in ways that didn’t revolve around my work.
Were you nervous making that leap, taking a break?
I think not doing it was more frightening.
One thing that changed in your time away is that there is now a bigger platform for both criticism and support, via social media. A male critic for Variety wrote a review of the trailer for “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” in which he talked about your looks in a way that many people felt was sexist, and they didn’t hesitate to call him out for it. Did that response feel helpful or empowering?
I’m grateful for that experience and that he chose to do what he did, because it brought me to a place where it was necessary that I stand up for myself. Which is not me. It’s not in my nature to publicly explain myself. And it was probably time.
Were you surprised at the level of scrutiny your appearance received in the last few years? Was that a consideration in coming back?
It’s always part of the equation — that’s been going on since 2000 [when she was cast as Bridget, a role for which she famously gained weight]. Too fat, and then I was too skinny and then … But I’m not alone in it; it’s just part of the reality of this experience now. I’m not going to make my [career] decisions based on whether or not I’m going to have to tolerate that.
Did you find, as many actresses do, that as you got older, the roles got more one-dimensional?
I don’t think that’s specific to aging. There’s always been “the girlfriend,” “the indiscretion” — that’s always been in the mix. Is it something that I saw in the industry before I turned 40? Yeah. It’s rare to read a great story that a woman my age would find relatable anyway. But now it seems that there’s something else going on as well. There’s really an unprecedented reset happening in our business — a little bit of an identity crisis.
Another thing that’s changed is a focus on pay equity in the business. Is that something that crossed your radar when working on any of the other Bridgets, versus now, getting paid as much as your male co-stars?
I don’t think it occurred to me that that would be an issue — isn’t that sad? But in this instance, I don’t think it was an issue.
In your Huffington Post essay, you talked about “doing better.” What did you mean by that?
It’s not about onscreen or famous people, it’s more about the precedent that we set, and I don’t speak about it from the perspective of an actress who has had certain experiences that aren’t necessarily fun, but as an observer, as part of society. You read about bullying and how we can stop kids from this social-media bullying and the catastrophic effects that it has, but we set the example. How can we ask them to make better choices when they’re just emulating what they see coming from us?
Now that you’re back on this circuit, are there parts of it you’re going to treat differently, given your past experiences?
It’s much easier for me to say no, because I understand that there are no consequences for saying no.
“No” is an empowering word.
I know that now.