Until she headlined Jerry Maguire opposite Tom Cruise in late 1996, Renée Zellweger claimed extremely limited public recognition. Though Zellweger essayed several key roles before Maguire, the vulnerability and versatility that the actress exhibited as Cruise's (long undeclared) love interest in Cameron Crowe's seriocomedy netted much-deserved praise from critics and audiences alike. Though the Academy passed her over when that year's Oscar nominations rolled around, she received several other laurels for her work in Maguire, including the title of Best Breakthrough Performer by the National Board of Review.
Born April 25th, 1969, the willowy, strawberry blonde Zellweger began life in Katy, TX, a small town on the outskirts of Houston. The town was so small that it possessed neither cable television nor a movie theater. As a result, Zellweger reportedly did not see her first art film until she was a student at the University of Texas in Austin. Her career at U.T. was an exceptional one; a regular on the Dean's List, she graduated a year early with a B.A. in Radio, Film, and Television. While in college, Zellweger took an acting class and discovered a knack for performing; following graduation, she made her feature-film debut with a bit part in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused (1993). She then landed a role playing a whacked-out waitress in Love and a .45 (1994), for which she won her first Independent Spirit Award nomination; she won a second nomination for The Whole Wide World (1996), earning additional acclaim at various film festivals.
Following the tremendous success of Jerry Maguire, Zellweger went on to prove herself as a versatile actress able to play roles ranging from an ambitious journalist (who temporarily shelves her career to care for her mother) in One True Thing (1998) to a rebellious Hassidic Jew in Boaz Yakin's A Price Above Rubies (1998). She then exhibited a capacity for romantic comedy in The Bachelor (1999), starring as the long-suffering girlfriend of a commitment-phobic Chris O'Donnell. Zellweger's second role as a deeply confused soap opera fanatic in Neil LaBute's offbeat crime comedy Nurse Betty won her the Best Actress in a Comedy Award at the 2000 Golden Globes. Nominated for yet another Golden Globe the following year for her memorable performance in Bridget Jones' Diary (2001), that same role also earned Zellweger her maiden Oscar nod. The following few years found Zellweger's leading lady status growing and numerous lucrative film offers flowing in, and the release of White Oleander (2002) the starlet received numerous positive reviews despite the film's lackluster performance. Later that same year, Zellweger was on top of the world when she received rave reviews for her role in Chicago. Based on the popular Broadway musical of the same name, director Rob Marshall's flashy cinematic extravaganza received nearly unanimous praise accompanied by multiple Academy Award nominations, including a second Best Actress in a Leading Role nod to Ms. Zellweger for her lively performance.
Zellweger lost the award bid to Nicole Kidman, and then teamed up with that actress for
Anthony Minghella's epic Cold Mountain. The performance netted Zellweger her third Oscar nomination, and on February 29, 2004, her losing streak ended as she took home the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Attempting to keep up the momentum, Zellweger then returned to the character that earned her her first Oscar nod, starring in the sequel to Bridget Jones's Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004). Unfortunately, that outing (directed by To Wong Foo helmer Beeban Kidron) failed to draw the critical acclaim of its predecessor and was widely greeted with public apathy in the States, but in the final analysis, it grossed nearly as much as the premier outing (with a massive overseas take).
After the second Bridget Jones installment, Zellweger's screen activity decrescendoed somewhat, but she placed a heightened emphasis on more offbeat and unusual roles, including a portrayal of children's author Beatrix Potter in the Weinstein Company outing Miss Potter (2006), and a throwback role to the days of classic Hollywood screwball comedy, as the romantic lead of George Clooney and John Krasinski in the period sports outing Leatherheads (2008). The actress lent her voice to the animated children's fantasy Monsters vs. Aliens, and will reprise her role as Bridget Jones for Bridget Jones' Baby.
Off-camera, Zellweger has been romantically linked to funnyman Jim Carrey and to rocker Jack White, of The White Stripes. She was married very briefly to Kenny Chesney; the two received an annulment in less than a year. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi