When someone mentions Renee Zellweger, the first thing that generally pops into people’s mind is the quote, “You had me at Hello.” Obviously, being remembered for one of the most iconic lines in cinematic history isn’t the worst thing, but Zellweger has accomplished so much more in her career and life and not enough people are aware of that. Plus, her path to the top is one people can only dream of, as she wasn’t a child star or came from a family of performers. She was simply a girl from a small town with humble beginnings who decided to pursue a passion and worked hard every day to turn that passion into a living.
Zellweger may be a name that many people have forgotten over the last few years, mainly because she’s kind of disappeared from the limelight during that time, but she has been a force to be reckoned with in the film industry ever since she broke into Hollywood as the loveable and courageous Dorothy Boyd in Jerry Maguire. To the mainstream audience, she may be best known for that role or for Bridget Jones in the film franchise of the same name but her portfolio consists of more than just romcoms, and her trophy mantle is a perfect indication of that.
Zellweger has starred in Oscar-winning movies and given Oscar-winning performances throughout her career, and minus a mini-hiatus, she doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon. Here are 38 little-known facts about Renee Zellweger.
38. Three’s Company
Renee Zellweger is a three-time Academy Award-nominated actress and one-time winner, with all three nominations coming in a row, from 2001 to 2003, and the win coming in that final year. She was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Bridget Jones’s Diary and Chicago, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Cold Mountain, which was the winning performance.
37. Hot Streak
In the early 2000s, Zellweger was an awards magnet, specifically at the Golden Globes, where she was nominated from 2001 to 2005 and again in 2007, for either Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress. She went 50/50 in that stretch, with wins in 2001, 2003, and 2004 for Nurse Betty, Chicago, and Cold Mountain, and loses in 2002, 2005, and 2007 for Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Miss Potter.
36. Everyone Needs a Little R & R
If it seemed like Zellweger was MIA the last few years, that’s because she took a six-year hiatus from acting, from 2010 to 2016. Her main reason for the break was exhaustion, as she stated, “I was fatigued and wasn’t taking the time I needed to recover between projects.” She also started to hate the sound of her own voice, which is something everyone can relate to because everyone hates the sound of their own voice.
35. Jane of All Trades
Zellweger had a memorable high school experience, dipping her toe in a bit of everything. She was a cheerleader for the men’s football team as well as MVP of the women’s football team and she competed in basketball and ran cross-country. She wasn’t just a tomboy either, as she went on to become Homecoming Queen and was named Dream Date by her male classmates in her senior year. She clearly enjoyed her time there and even made sure to make a surprise return in 2016 to celebrate the retirement of one of her former teachers.
34. Dreams Do Come True
In 1988, Zellweger took her first trip to Hollywood to check out the stars on the Walk of Fame and dream of one day seeing her name there. Then, on May 24, 2005, 17 years later, that dream became a reality when she was awarded the 2,286th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
33. Haters Gonna Hate
Zellweger’s biggest starring role came as the titular character in Bridget Jones’s Diary, but the choice to cast her was met with severe backlash from fans of the novel the film was based on. The main reason being that Bridget Jones is British whereas Zellweger is not, as she was born in Texas. The controversy was short-lived, though. Once the film was released, everyone realized that Zellweger was the perfect casting choice.
32. Doing Her Homework
Zellweger knew she had to be perfectly authentic in the role of Jones, which meant not only perfecting the British accent but also looking exactly like the character is described in the book. According to co-star Hugh Grant, her accent started off rough but in the end became, “the best American doing English that I’ve ever heard.” She also gained 17 pounds for the role by eating a lot of pizza, desserts, and protein shakes.
31. Putting in the Work
To make sure her British accent was so good people would think she was actually British, Zellweger took a job as a PR assistant at Picador, which happens to be the company that published the Bridget Jones’s Diary book. She was apparently an ideal employee who took her job seriously and acted professionally, even when her job consisted of clipping out articles about the movie, which mostly consisted of negative thoughts about her casting.
30. It All Works out in the End
Before Zellweger was cast in the movie Cold Mountain she was already a fan of the book, so much so that she even thought about trying to buy the rights to the property. However, once Newsweek called it, “the most beautifully written book about the American civil war in the past 50 years” she knew she had zero chance of being able to afford it. However, Anthony Minghella had heard about Zellweger’s interest, so after he ended up buying the rights and writing the screenplay, he immediately contacted Zellweger to play Ruby.
29. Hidden Talent
Not only did the majority of the cast of Chicago not know that Zellweger could sing, but Zellweger herself didn’t even really know. She had already been cast so she decided to put her vocals to the test and she turned out to be a natural. To make sure the performance was perfect, though, she went through 10 months of vocal and dance training.
28. Magic Mike-esque
Before Zellweger’s career took off, she made money the same way most actors do, by waitressing. However, she did it in a more unusual spot—a strip club in Austin called Sugar’s Go-Go bar. She was only a server and never a dancer, although she was asked if she wanted to perform, but declined.
27. Life Imitating Art
Zellweger not only became British in voice but in personality, too, while filming the sequel to Bridget Jones’s Diary, as she ended up becoming a legitimate fan of the Chelsea Football Club and attended a game in disguise during a break in filming.
26. The Year of Zellweger
Zellweger is one of only 13 actresses to win an award from five different award shows for the same role. This happened thanks to her performance in Cold Mountain, where she took home an Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critic’s Choice, and SAG award.
25. Missed Opportunities
Zellweger was probably considered for, or lost out on, a lot of roles in her career but the ones that stand out the most are for the movies Moulin Rouge and Nine as the actresses who got those parts—Nicole Kidman and Penelope Cruz, respectively—went on to get nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. Although not a guarantee, there is a good chance that could have been Zellweger’s name on those ballots.
24. Bad Part of Town
It’s a good thing Zellweger’s career took off fairly quickly after she moved to Los Angeles, as her living situation wasn’t the best starting out. At one point, she lived in a tiny garage apartment with her dog, Dillon, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. She used to work and live in such a terrible neighborhood that any time she came home late at night she would have to wait in her car for crack deals to wrap up before she felt safe enough to go inside.
23. Musically Gifted
Not only has Zellweger learned an accent for a role as well as how to sing and dance for others, so also learned how to play the piano for the film Appaloosa and performed four songs for it. She even prepared to learn the violin for a movie she never ended up doing but did end up learning how to play, according to her, “the best ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ you’ve ever heard!”
22. Beer Money
One of Zellweger’s first-ever roles came in the 1993 movie My Boyfriend’s Back when she was still in college at the University of Texas. She only had a few lines but the entire scene was inevitably cut. Luckily, she ended up booking a Coors Light commercial around the same time that not only got her a Screen Actors Guild card but the payday also helped with her college tuition.
21. A Little Bit of Everything
Zellweger was born on April 25, 1969, in Katy, Texas and graduated from the University of Texas in 1992 with a degree in English and a newfound love for acting. Although it may not sound like it, she is more than just a Texan, as she has a rich, diverse family background with her mother being from Norway, her father from Switzerland, and her grandmother from Finland.
20. Show Me the Money!
In 2007, Zellweger popped up on the highest paid actresses list thanks to multiple paydays of $15 million for movies like Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Cinderella Man, and right before taking a hiatus from acting she had a net worth of $45 million.
19. Imposter Syndrome
One obvious sign of Zellweger’s pure talent when it comes to acting is the fact that she never trained or studied acting in her life, she just thought it’d be fun and gave it a shot. That gold statue on her desk proves it was the right decision to make. However, because she is essentially self taught, Zellweger has admitted in several interviews that she’s felt like a fraud multiple times on set, specifically Jerry Maguire, and always feels like she is going to get exposed and fired.
18. Better Late Than Never
Zellweger is getting into the TV/Netflix game, as she is set to star in the new original series What/If. Although Zellweger got her start in TV movies, this will be the first time she appears on the small screen in 24 years, with the last time being in the TV movie Shake, Rattle and Rock!
Zellweger’s best-rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes is the 1998 movie One True Thing, which holds a certified fresh rating of 89%. To find her worst reviewed film, one doesn’t have to go back too far as it came out this year. The movie Blue Night has a rating as low as one can get, with 0%. To be fair, it’s only had five reviews so far, but the next lowest rated movie isn’t much better either, as 1999’s The Bachelor only has a 9%. In total, Zellweger technically has more rotten movies than fresh ones, with 18 rotten and 17 fresh.
16. People Can Be Cruel
After returning to the limelight following a hiatus from acting, people were quick to point out that Zellweger looked a lot different, particularly her face, and immediately began speculating that she had plastic surgery. She ended up dismissing the rumors in an essay she wrote for the Huffington Post and chalked it up to the fact that she has simply aged, like every human being does.
15. Big in the UK
Zellweger may not have the luxury of starring in a billion-dollar franchise but her films have performed well at the box office, particularly in the UK for one specific franchise. Two of her highest grossing movies are animated, with Shark Tale making $367.3 million worldwide and Bee Movie coming in at $287.6 million. As for live action, Chicago is second with $306.8 million worldwide and then Bridget Jones’s Diary with $281.9 million. She even set a record for biggest September opening in the UK with $11 million for Bridget Jones’s Baby.
14. Gut Feeling
Zellweger may have been a relatively unknown actress before being cast in Jerry Maguire, but according to director Cameron Crowe, not only did he know Zellweger was perfect for the part when he met her, but so did Tom Cruise, as he reportedly lit up the first time he saw her. They got along perfectly, and Zellweger claims that Cruise still sends her a gift every year on her birthday.
13. Slow Ride
Unlike most wannabe actors who instantly move to Los Angeles to pursue acting the second they get the chance, Zellweger played it smart and auditioned for and landed several roles in her home state of Texas first. Once she had enough experience and confidence, she then decided to make the jump to Hollywood on December 6, 1993, at the age of 24. It all paid off as only two years later she booked Jerry Maguire, and the rest is history.
12. Fighting Back
In 2011, Zellweger partnered with Tommy Hilfiger to model their yearly Breast Cancer Awareness handbag. For every limited edition bag that was sold, $100 of the proceeds went to the Funds for Living program through Breast Health International. Zellweger even helped design the bag.
11. Stand up to Cancer
Zellweger’s decision to partner with Hilfiger wasn’t a tough one, as she’s had her own history with the disease. She had a breast cancer scare back in 1996—the lumps were benign—and she helped her friend and publicist get through the disease when she was diagnosed not long after. Zellweger also produced the TV movie biopic Living Proof about Dr. Dennis Slamon, the man who created the breast cancer-fighting drug Herceptin.
10. A Woman of the People
Zellweger is an actor who fans will not be disappointed meeting in public, as she is reportedly friendly and welcoming to everyone. She’ll stop to chat or take pictures, and in one fan’s case, have a full-fledged conversation on an airplane. Brian Borek sat across from Zellweger on an airplane and told Forbes that not only was she one of the nicest people he has ever met, but when he mentioned he played the guitar she gave him Doyle Bramhall’s—her boyfriend—new album. On top of that, when she found out Borek’s wife recently beat cancer, she made sure Borek called her the second the plane landed so she could offer her support as well as chat with her for 10 minutes.
9. Keeping Busy
During her hiatus from acting, Zellweger took screenwriting courses at UCLA and even co-created a TV show with Anthony Tambakis, one of her professors. The show was called Cinnamon Girl and was loosely based on Zellweger’s experience moving from Texas to LA to pursue acting. The show was initially bought by Lifetime and a pilot was filmed but in the end, Lifetime decided not to move forward with the project.
8. Can’t Please Everyone
Zellweger may be making a return to form—as well as the Oscars—in the biopic Judy, where she stars as the singer/actress Judy Garland. However, one person who is not looking forward to the movie is Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, and she has made that abundantly clear on social media. Minnelli wrote that she does, “not approve nor sanction the upcoming film about Judy Garland in any way.” Zellweger has kept quiet on the matter, for the time being.
7. Preview of Things to Come
In 1997, Zellweger landed on Vanity Fair’s list of Hollywood’s Next Wave of Actresses alongside other acclaimed actresses like Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron and Claire Danes. It’s safe to say that Vanity Fair nailed their predictions.
6. Longhorns for Life
Zellweger attended the University of Texas at the same time as Matthew McConaughey and two of her first film roles also featured McConaughey—Dazed and Confused and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. They have yet to work together in a film since, but they were at one point reunited on the cover art for the newly released Blu-Ray of Texas Chainsaw Massacre before being cropped out for legal reasons.
5. Not Much Left to Do
Zellweger has enjoyed a long and successful career, and during that time she as appeared on countless lists and given numerous awards. Some memorable ones consist of being named one of the top 20 entertainers of 2001 by Entertainment News and one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world by People magazine that same year. She was also named the Hasty Pudding’s Woman of the Year in 2009 and was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2011.
4. Right in the Nick of Time
When Zellweger was announced as the winner for Best Actress at the Golden Globes in 2001 (for Nurse Betty), she was nowhere to be found. She was in the building but chose the wrong time for a bathroom break. Luckily, she was just wiping lipstick off of her teeth and not, well, going to the bathroom, so she was able to make it back in time to accept the award and give a speech.
3. You Almost Didn’t Have Me
Zellweger’s line, “You had me at hello” from Jerry Maguire is one of two especially memorable lines in the movie (don’t forget “Show me the money!”) and arguably one of the most iconic lines in film history, but if it were up to Zellweger, at the time, she probably would have said it differently, or not at all. Zellweger admitted in an interview that when she first read the line she didn’t understand it and thought it was a typo. She even struggled on the best way to deliver and perform it but after a few takes she inevitably nailed it and cemented her place in cinematic history.
2. Burning Love
Back when Zellweger was dating Bradley Cooper, the two had a fire scare at Cooper’s mother’s house while watching the Golden Globes. They had to call 911 after the fire in the fireplace made its way into the living room. Luckily, no one was hurt as the fire department arrived and put it out. Oddly enough, they had another issue with fire on the set of their movie Case 39 when a special effects fire got out of hand and burned down the entire set, resulting in production being shut down for the day.
1. Relationship Baggage
Zellweger has the typical actor relationship history, from dating co-stars to breaking off engagements and even a quick marriage. Zellweger was engaged to Canadian comedic actor Jim Carrey from 1999 to 2000 but they broke up before tying the knot. She then went on to marry country music singer Kenny Chesney, but after only four months of marriage she filed for an annulment, citing fraud as the reason. Finally, she of dated Case 39 co-star Bradley Cooper from 2009 to 2011, but they broke up after Cooper’s star started to rise.
Her marriage to Kenny Chesney was particularly scandal-ridden. When she filed for annulment from the union, under “grounds for divorce,” she had written “fraud.” The media immediately began speculating about their relationship. Specifically, they speculated that Kenny was a homosexual, which Renee found sad to hear. She later revealed that this was only a legal term that helped along the annulment, and it wasn’t at all reflective of Chesney’s character or of their brief relationship together. When the annulment happened, Zellweger and Chesney released a statement saying they split because of the “miscommunication of the objective of their marriage.”