“I love Snoop Dogg — don’t you?”
We do, of course, but hearing Renée Zellweger admitting she’s a Snoop stan at her EW cover shoot in Los Angeles is an unexpected twist. But the unexpected is really what we should expect from Zellweger, who became a household name when she “completed” Tom Cruise in 1996’s hit romantic comedy Jerry Maguire (which, incidentally, costarred one of our other Entertainers of the Year, Regina King) and is now a front-runner for the Best Actress Oscar for her astounding channeling of Judy Garland in Judy.
“There’s work, and then there’s Judy. It’s different than anything that I have done before,” admits the Texas native, who’s traded her dandelion-colored Stella McCartney designer gown for a sweatshirt and chinos post-photo shoot. “That’s not to say that any of the other experiences were less special, but it felt like there was a different purpose beneath it.”
Though notoriously press-shy, the Academy Award-winner sat down with EW to talk about that purpose, discuss her big year, and let us get to know more of the real Renée.
On what she would have done if she hadn’t become an actress: “I was going to journalism school. It’s so interesting the way journalism has changed in the last 20 years. It seems like it’s more difficult to get the support that you need to do legitimate reporting and, at the same time, it’s never been more important.”
On turning 50 this past April: “I’ve never been ashamed of my age. Not everybody gets 50 years. Aging is a privilege. There’s just a certain kind of liberation — there’s freedom from a certain level of self-doubt. Freedom from that self-imposed judgment where you’re gauging how well you’re doing in terms of some timeline that you didn’t determine for yourself. You stop looking at those sorts of things and start to acknowledge that the life you have lived has mattered.”
On why she wanted to play Judy Garland: “I felt that there was a certain injustice in the blanket of tragedy that was thrust over that final chapter of her life. I thought, ‘Just because you think that you can summarize or that you can draw a conclusion based on what you’re seeing on the outside, it doesn’t make it the truth.’ I felt like everybody on that set, we were sort of advocating for her.”
On the biggest misconception about her: “Oh, gosh. I see things sometimes because [my team will] send it along because they want to know if I would like to correct them. Most of the time, I don’t see the point because I feel like it’s not my business to correct how people think. Most of the time I don’t know who that person is — the ‘Renée Zellweger’ in quotations. That’s fine with me.”
On singing Garland’s classic “Over the Rainbow” live in front of an audience for Judy: “By the time we were filming that moment, it was at the end of the performance sequences. It was after a week of having shared all of those moments with the actors in the audience. We were telling stories and we were sharing photographs, laughing about why we loved her. Some people’s mom and dad had been at [Judy’s original performance at] the Talk of the Town. Some people had been at Talk of the Town. It was just this wonderful week of cooperatively celebrating her. That moment felt like the culmination of all that. All that celebrating her importance.”
On physically transforming for roles: “It does make the experience more authentic for me. And I do have an emotional connection to athletic, physical exertion. If I’m ill or if I am fearful or if I need to write something or if I can’t figure something out, I don’t make a phone call or sit on a couch — I lace up my shoes.”
On what a typical weekend is like for her: “I will play some music, probably. I do something [physical] every day, even if it’s going out in my garage and grabbing those dumbbells. I have to run the dogs, so I’ll take them and we’ll go check on the horses across the street and stuff like that.”
On if she’d ever play Bridget Jones again: “I hope so. She’s fun. I love her.”
On who she’d still love to work with: “I’m a Wes Anderson fan. Could we just live in his world? It’s a heightened authenticity.”
On the golden age of television: “I watched more TV in the last five years than probably in the rest of my entire life combined. It was research, wanting to know writers and producers and what’s out there and the evolution of it has been so fascinating to watch. I’ve so enjoyed it.”
On her favorite TV show: “The Wire. The great American novel on television. It’s gorgeous.”
On whether she’d ever step away from Hollywood: “There was a moment, I guess eight or nine years ago, where I knew that I needed to change my life. I knew that I didn’t have the gratitude that I should have for the experiences that I was having because they were taking a toll. I knew that I just had to do something differently. I was making a lot of really important, significant life decisions based on my professional life. I needed to stop doing that. Everyone said, ‘You shouldn’t do that, especially at this age. It is really important that you keep going.’ But there comes a point where you’ve got to do things that enable you to grow.”