All about this star
KEEPING UP WITH BRIDGET JONESFans of Helen Fielding's hugely successful Bridget Jones's Diary can breath a sigh of relief. Texan Renee Zellweger pulls off the film version with aplomb.
No-one is singing her praises more than co-star Hugh Grant who plays her flirtatious boss in the homage to thirtysomething singledom.
Grant admits he was initially surprised that an American actress was cast to play this very British character ahead of the likes of Kate Winslet and Helena Bonham-Carter. "We're all having to eat our words, she's done it perfectly," says Grant. "It's a complete triumph."
Zellweger's breathy Texas tones sometimes sneak into her English accent but she manages to bring endearing warmth and humour to the part of Bridget who constantly monitors her weight and is fixated on her daily intake of cigarettes and Chardonnay.
The 30-year-old actress worked with a dialogue coach to get the accent right. She also put on a highly publicised 16lbs to fit the picture of a calorie-counting 'real woman' - and she is not afraid to show off the extra weight in the film.
"I really wanted to show a body type that's a different lifestyle than my own," says the normally wafer-thin blonde. The extra weight reportedly cost Zellweger a cover shot for Harper's Bazaar magazine where the waif look is the norm.
But making herself look the part was obviously important to the actress who was well aware of the amount of interest in the part. "I wanted my character to look how she looked in my head when I read the book. I needed my characterisation to be as legitimate and real as I could make it.
"I didn't feel comfortable in my clothes or my body, and this helped me get in tune with Bridget's insecurities," she explains.
Putting on the extra pounds was definitely a chore rather than a pleasure for the body-conscious star. "I just added a lot to what I would normally go for but I still kept it healthy because I had to maintain my energy levels. It was actually quite a job eating when I didn't feel hungry, but it helped my acting."
In keeping with Hollywood's unwritten law that actresses should be ultra slim, she quickly returned to her normal weight after the film was finished.
"I lost all the extra weight simply by going back to my normal eating habits. Essentially I had to force feed myself to put it on."
During filming Zellweger felt the pressure of media scrutiny, especially because of all the criticism in Britain about her being cast. But she was committed to the role and even worked undercover in a publishing office in London for a couple of weeks to get a feel for the kind of environment Bridget Jones inhabited.
"I wanted to focus on being true to the character because I love the book. Frankly I'm surprised myself that I was cast, I never expected to be part of this experience. It's a real challenge doing a character who is as well written as Bridget."
According to Zellweger, Bridget is a more interesting character than someone who is just obsessed with her dress size and finding a boyfriend.
"She's also smart and she's accomplished in so many ways. I loved that she's funny and likeable with a beautiful heart."
Zellweger grew up in Katy, a sprawling mill town west of Houston in Texas. Her father Emil, a Swiss-born engineer, and her mother Irene, a Norwegian nurse, emigrated to the US in the 60s in search of the American dream.
Naturally pretty, she was a body-conscious cheerleader at high school. At the age of 18 she left Katy to study English at the University of Texas where she first became interested in acting.
In December 1993 she drove to Los Angeles where she worked as a waitress to support herself as she struggled to be discovered with small roles in a series of forgettable films.
Then came Jerry Maguire when she won the part of Tom Cruise's girlfriend against established actresses such as Mira Sorvino and Winona Ryder. It was the break she needed and led to the comedy Me, Myself And Irene opposite Jim Carrey with whom she had a high profile relationship.
The couple split at the end of last year and Zellweger is now herself a singleton - the main squeeze in her life now is her trusty 12-year-old labrador, Dylan.
Zellweger still seems to find the scrutiny in her private life difficult to deal with. "There's just nothing that prepares you for becoming a celebrity. I had no idea how it would affect my life when I got into acting. You just don't have any idea what it's going to be like until it happens to you."
At the moment she has plenty of work to keep her going. She looks set to join Michelle Pfeiffer in a screen adaptation of another novel, Jane Finch's White Oleander in which she will play the daughter of a woman jailed for the murder of a former lover. She has also signed to co-star with Robin Williams and Antonio Banderas in Lovers, Liars And Thieves.
But first she will have to deal with the public response in Britain to her depiction of Bridget Jones