Renee Zellweger is one of the most private A-list actresses in the world—and there’s a reason for that. Her career may be prestigious, but her personal life has been one wild ride. From the hidden stories behind her most iconic roles to the tragic downfall of her one and only marriage, here are scandalous facts about Renee Zellweger.
1. She Worked At A Racy Club
Zellweger has a racy past not many people know about. When she was struggling to make it as an actress, she actually worked as a cocktail waitress in Sugar’s, a well-known strip joint in Austin, Texas. In fact, she was almost a dancer there: The managers offered to let her to perform on stage, but Zellweger politely declined.
2. She Had A Doomed Engagement
In addition to her more infamous dating history (more on that later), Zellweger also had a little-known engagement to comedic superstar Jim Carrey. The pair started dating while on the set of Me, Myself & Irene, and sources say Carrey even gave her a $200,000 “friendship” ring, which is celebrity speak for a good old engagement ring. Sadly, they broke it off in 2000, and short-lived romances would become Renee's pattern.
3. Tom Cruise Fought For Her
Zellweger has none other than Tom Cruise to thank for her career. When he was about to make Jerry Maguire, the film that turned Zellweger into a superstar, Cruise personally hand-picked the inexperienced actress for the part of his love interest, Dorothy Boyd. He didn’t regret it, either, and later praised Zellweger as “the core humanity of the movie". But not all Renee's movies would be that pleasant...
4. She Nabbed A Role For A Disturbing Reason
Another one of Zellweger’s most famous roles comes with a scathing dark side. When she played Bridget Jones in the instant classic rom-com Bridget Jones’s Diary, Zellweger beat out a slew of actresses for the part...but the reason why is incredibly unsettling. Zellweger bested Rachel Weisz for the role partly because Weisz was “too beautiful". Ouch.
5. She Almost Ruined Her Chance At Fame
Zellweger’s line “You had me at hello” from Jerry Maguire is one of the most iconic lines in film history, but it almost didn’t happen. When she first read the line, Zellweger didn’t understand it and thought it was a typo, and she even struggled on the best way to deliver and perform it. Of course, after a few takes she inevitably nailed it, but it was a close call.
7. She Had An Unhealthy Body Image
Everybody knows that Zellweger gained 20 pounds to play Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Diary, but few people know what happened after the movie came out. Zellweger admitted that many men in her life liked the weight on her, and she even considered keeping it. However, her insecurities got the best of her, and she ended up saying, in her words, "ugh no" to the weight.
6. She Embarrassed Herself In Hollywood
In 2001, Zellweger nabbed her first win for Best Actress at the Golden Globes for her black comedy Nurse Betty. But when the announcement came, Zellweger was in a very compromising position. At the exact moment Hugh Grant read out her name on stage, she was actually in the bathroom fixing the lipstick on her teeth. Soon enough, though, her life would take an even more dramatic turn.
8. She Dated A Famous Heartthrob
Everyone seems to forget one of Zellweger’s most famous exes: Bradley Cooper. Like so many of her flames, Cooper was her co-star when they worked together on Case 39. Also like so many of her flames, their relationship petered out in 2011 after just a couple years of dating…but not before an unimaginable disaster struck.
9. She Was In A Horrific Accident
When Zellweger was dating Bradley Cooper, an enormous fire erupted at Cooper’s family home and made its way into the living room where the couple were watching television. Terrified, they jumped up and had to call 9-1-1 to get the fire department to put it out. Luckily, no one got hurt, but it was a harrowing experience for the actress.
10. She Quit Hollywood
From 2010-2016, Zellweger took a long break from acting—but her reasons weren’t what people thought. She wasn’t just resting on her laurels and Oscar wins. She had serious exhaustion issues, and had gotten so fed up with acting that she started to hate even the sound of her own voice. Yet when she came back, controversy started again…
11. She Underwent A Notorious "Transformation"
After returning to the limelight following her hiatus, people were quick to point out that Zellweger looked a lot different, particularly in her face, and they immediately began accusing her of getting plastic surgery. Zellweger dismissed the rumors in an essay she wrote for the Huffington Post and chalked it up to the fact that she has simply aged. But that wasn't the end of that.
12. She Had A Horribly Awkward Fan Encounter
Zellweger experienced everyone’s worst nightmare when she once overheard strangers talking about her on the London underground. Their comments were again about her "plastic surgery," and the people were discussing how silly actresses were to go under the knife—especially “that Renee Zellweger". Oh, but it got so much worse.
13. She Gave A Legendary Comeback
When Zellweger stood up to get off the subway car, one of the men who had been insulting her suddenly recognized the actress, and he did not react well. Shocked, he reportedly exclaimed, "Oh God, you're not, you are! But you look just like yourself!" Zellweger’s response was pitch perfect; she quipped back, “Yeah, it's funny how that works, isn't it?'" The CRINGE.
14. She Was In An Infamous Horror Story
Most actors have humble beginnings, but not Renee Zellweger—she had a violent, bloody start. Her first leading role was in the 1994 slasher sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, where she co-starred with Matthew McConaughey. Never heard of it? Well, the studio originally shelved the film and only released it after their leads became bona fide stars.
15. She Went On A Bizarre Diet
How did Zellweger put on that weight to play Bridget Jones? Well, don’t try this at home, folks. According to the actress, she didn’t exactly follow a healthy weight gain plan when she prepared to become the iconic character. Instead, she subsisted on meals like pizza, desserts, and protein shakes. Apparently, Zellweger will do anything for a part...including, as we'll see, stealing it.
16. She Beat Out A Big Star For Her Famous Part
One of Zellweger’s most iconic roles is Roxie Hart in the film adaptation of Chicago, but she got the part in a sleazy way. Charlize Theron originally got cast in the role, and Zellweger only got it through betrayal. At the last minute, director Rob Marshall took over the project, made Theron re-audition to keep the part, and then turned around and handed Roxie over to Zellweger.
17. She Likes Bad Boys
In 2003, three years after her split from Jim Carrey, Zellweger started dating musician Jack White. Although the pair were somewhat of an odd couple on the Hollywood scene, the White Stripes frontman is actually exactly her type. Zellweger has a thing for musicians, and one of her first serious relationships was with bass player Sims Ellison. White wasn't her last rock god lover, either.
18. She Received A Brutal Insult
To research for Bridget Jones, Zellweger took a job as a PR assistant at Picador, the company that published the original book. She was apparently an ideal employee who took her job seriously and acted professionally…but it did come with huge downsides. Zellweger's job was to clip out articles about the upcoming Bridget movie, which were mostly painfully critical insults about her casting being a huge misstep.
19. She Had A Rare High School Experience
Some people have awkward teenage years, but Renee Zellweger wasn’t one of those people. In fact, she was the exact opposite. In high school, she was a cheerleader for the football team and the MVP of the girls’ football team. She then went on to become Homecoming Queen, and her classmates named her their “Dream Date". I mean, c’mon.
20. She Went Method
Many people were extremely sceptical that the American Zellweger could play the quintessentially British Bridget Jones, so Zellweger had to work double time to prove them wrong. She apparently spent all day on Bridget Jones speaking in a British accent, even when the cameras weren't rolling. Hugh Grant said the first time he heard her speak in her natural voice was at the wrap party.
21. She Made A Powerful Celebrity Enemy
Zellweger came back in a big way for her role as Judy Garland in the acclaimed biopic Judy—but she paid a high price. Though Zellweger approached the material with painstaking reverence, Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli was upset at the news of the film, and even publicly stated that she does “not approve nor sanction the upcoming film about Judy Garland in any way".
22. She Nearly Went Penniless
When I say Jerry Maguire was Zellweger’s big break, I really mean it. The star-to-be had spent so long between acting gigs that just after she got cast, she went to an ATM to withdraw money and found that she had insufficient funds. I mean, they say everything happens at the right time, but that’s really cutting it close.
23. She Wanted To Refuse Her Oscar-Winning Role
Although she earned rave reviews and a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Judy Garland in Judy, not even Renee Zellweger herself thought she could pull off the part. When director Rupert Goold approached her about the role of the iconic singer—which contained no lip syncing—Zellweger admitted, "At first, I didn't understand why they thought of me for it".
24. She Went Undercover
Zellweger is intensely private—she doesn’t even have any social media—and she has one secret weapon for when she wants to go incognito. After she dyed her hair brown for Cinderella Man, Zellweger suddenly realized that no one could recognize her on the street, and she went wild with it. As she said of this time, “I think the old adage that blonds have more fun is a presumption!”
25. She Has A Talented Ex
Zellweger’s more recent lover was yet another musician. Doyle Bramhall III is rock royalty; his father is a legendary blues drummer, and the younger Bramhall followed in his footsteps to work with music greats like Eric Clapton. Apparently, though, talent doesn’t make for long relationships: Zellweger split from him in 2019 after seven years of dating.
26. She Had A Strange Run-In With A Fan
If you ever happen to meet Renee Zellweger out in public and you aren't smack-talking her, you won’t be disappointed. 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 a plane, and when he mentioned that he played the guitar, she gave him Doyle Bramhall's new album.
27. She Had A Quickie Wedding
Zellweger has a veritable rap sheet of ex-boyfriends, but she’s only been married once—to a very strange choice. In 2005, she married country music singer Kenny Chesney, which took her love of musicians to new heights. The wedding was a casual affair, and their entire ceremony was just 15 minutes long. Tragically, their downfall happened almost as fast.
28. Her Marriage Was A Sham
Just four short months after she married Chesney, Zellweger was already filing for an annulment…and the scandal didn’t end there. When she went to file the paperwork, Zellweger wrote “fraud” under “grounds for divorce". The media immediately began speculating about their relationship, with many suggesting that Chesney was secretly gay. The truth, however, was much different
29. She Was Unlucky In Love
Despite citing “fraud” on her divorce, Zellweger 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 their relationship. When the annulment happened, Zellweger and Chesney released a statement saying they really split because of the "miscommunication of the objective of their marriage".
30. An A-List Star Sends Her Regular Gifts
Every year, Zellweger receives a special birthday gift from her Jerry Maguire co-star Tom Cruise. Every. Single. Year. Cruise is somewhat infamous for his habit of regularly sending gifts to former co-stars, and Zellweger is no exception, though she hasn’t divulged what gifts he’s presented her with. Instead, she only said, “He’s always so thoughtful and generous".
31. Nicole Kidman Took Her Dream Role
For all that Zellweger has a bunch of accolades to her name, she’s also missed out on some iconic parts. She lost out on the lead role in Nine, which went to Penelope Cruz instead and earned her an Oscar nomination. But what probably hurt the most was getting beat out of the part of Satine in Moulin Rouge—you know, the one that made Nicole Kidman a legend.