Born April 25, 1969 in Katy, Texas, Renée Zellweger was a cheerleader, gymnast, speech team member and drama club member in Katy High School. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1991. She received her Screen Actors Guild Card for doing a Coors Light commercial.
Zellweger made her screen debut in an uncredited role in 1993’s Dazed and Confused. Her first credited role was in 1994’s Reality Bites, followed by the same year’s 8 Seconds and Love and a .45. She starred opposite Matthew McConaughey in 1995’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation and broke through opposite Tom Cruise in 1996’s Jerry Maguire for which she received a SAG nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1998, Zellweger won strong notices for playing Meryl Streep’s daughter in One True Thing for which Streep received an Oscar nomination. In 1999 she became engaged to Jim Carrey, with whom she co-starred in 2000’s Me, Myself & Irene, for a year. Her other 2000 film, Nurse Betty earned the actress her first Golden Globe for Best Actress.
2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary earned Zellweger her second Golden Globe and SAG nominations and first Oscar nomination. 2002’s Chicago earned the actress her second Golden Globe, her first SAG award and her second Oscar nomination. 2003’s Cold Mountain earned her a third Golden Globe, a second SAG award and an Oscar. That same year she had a brief relationship with Jack White.
2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and 2006’s Miss Potter earned the actress additional Golden Globe nominations. Her 2005 marriage to singer Kenny Chesney was annulled after four months. The films she made between 2008 and 2010 were all flops. In 2009 she began a relationship with Bradley Cooper that lasted through 2011. From 2012 through 2019 she was in a relationship with musician Doyle Bramhall II.
During her long hiatus from film stardom, Zellweger threw herself into political activism. She took part in the 2005 HIV prevention campaign of the Swiss federal health department. She is one of the patrons for gender equality foundation The GREAT Initiative; in 2011 she visited Liberia with the charity. In April 2011, she collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger to design a handbag to raise money and awareness for the Breast Health Institute.
Zellweger had a bit of a career resurgence with 2016’s Bridget Jones’s Baby, the third film in the franchise. She followed that with a starring role in the Christian film, Same Kind of Different as Me, the straight to DVD Here and Now and the Netflix series, What/If.
Zellweger’s comeback portrayal of Judy Garland in 2019’s Judy won the lion’s share of the year’s Best Actress awards including her fourth Golden Globe, her third SAG award and her second Oscar. She is the fourth actress to win for Best Actress after having won for Best Supporting Actress, after Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange and Cate Blanchett. She’s back on top at 50.
JERRY MAGUIRE (1996), directed by Cameron Crowe
Zellweger’s career was launched with this movie in which she says to Tom Cruise, “you had me at hello.” Playing a young mother to scene stealing Jonathan Lipnicki, Zellweger had the audience at hello, too. Nominated for five Oscars, Jerry Maguire was the only studio made film nominated for Best Picture that year, losing to The English Patient. Cuba Gooding Jr.’s win for Best Supporting Actor was the film’s only Oscar win. Zellweger had been nominated for a Golden Globe but failed to earn SAG or Oscar nominations for her performance. She also scored in 1996 with The Whole Wide World.
CHICAGO (2002), directed by Rob Marshall
Zellweger won Golden Globe and SAG awards for her performance but lost the Oscar to Nicole Kidman in The Hours. The film was nominated for 13 Oscars, winning 6 including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones, Zellweger who played the other murderess on death row vying for publicity. Based on Maurine Dallas Watkins’ play first filmed in 1927, then in 1942 as Roxie Hart, the musical version hit Broadway in 1975. The 1996 revival is still running. There was even a little seen remake of the original play released in 2019, but this is the definitive screen version of the seminal work.
COLD MOUNTAIN (2003), directed by Antony Minghella
Zellweger again won Golden Globe and SAG awards, but this time added an Oscar to her haul for her controversial portrayal of Nicole Kidman’s friend and helpmate. Her broad, over-the-top performance was roundly criticized for being patterned on Marjorie Main’s Ma Kettle character first introduced in 1947’s The Egg and I. The film received seven Oscar nominations overall, but Zellweger’s performance accounted for its only win. It was the only one of the five films nominated for Golden Globe-Drama for 2003 that was not nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
MISS POTTER (2019), directed by Chris Noonan
Zellweger perfected her British accent for 2001’s Bridget Jonses’s Diary and its 2004 sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, but she was even better in this under-appreciated gem for which she received her fifth Golden Globe nomination as Beatrix Potter, the author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other children’s books. Raised in a stuffy Victorian household, Potter eventually found love with her publisher, winningly played by Ewan McGregor. Emily Watson also excels as McGregor’s sister who becomes Potter’s best friend. It’s a delightful film with excellent cinematography and production and costume designs.
JUDY (2019), directed by Rupert Goold
Zellweger had the comeback of the year in her Oscar winning portrayal of Judy Garland in this film about the legendary star in the final months of her life as she performs a series of concerns in London in order to make enough money to pay her bills and prove that she can support her two youngest children now in the care of ex-husband Sid Luft. Supported by Jessie Buckley as her London assistant and Finn Wittrock as hanger-on Mickey Deans who would become her fifth and final husband, Zellweger is sensational throughout. She is especially moving in the scene where she is unable to sing “Over the Rainbow” and the audience sings it for her.
RENEE ZELLWEGER AND OSCAR
- Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) – nominated – Best Actress
- Chicago (2002) – nominated – Best Actress
- Cold Mountain (2003) – Oscar – Best Supporting Actress
- Judy (2019) – Oscar – Best Actress