Renée Zellweger was born on April 25, 1969, in Katy, Texas. Zellweger is of Swiss, Norwegian, Kven (Finnish), and Sami ancestry. Her father, Emil Erich Zellweger, is from Au, a small town in the canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland, and was a mechanical and electrical engineer who worked in the oil refining business. Her mother, Kjellfrid Irene (née Andreassen), is a native of Norway. Kjellfrid grew up in Kirkenes and Ekkerøy, and was a nurse and midwife who moved to the United States to work as a governess for a Norwegian family in Texas. Zellweger has described herself as being raised in a family of "lazy Catholics and Episcopalians".
While in junior high school, Zellweger participated in several sports, including soccer, basketball, baseball, and football. She attended Katy High School, where she was a cheerleader, gymnast, speech team member, and drama club member. In 1986 her academic paper, "The Karankawas and Their Roots," won third place in the first ever Houston Post High School Natural Science Essay Contest. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, where she graduated with a B.A. in English in 1991. While at university, Zellweger took a drama course as an elective, which initially sparked her interest in acting.
In her junior year, Zellweger's father lost his job and was unable to support her at college, so she took a job as a cocktail waitress in Austin. "I learned a lot," said Zellweger of the job. "As much as I did in my classes that that club paid for... I learned not to judge people, [and] that things are not black and white." Zellweger began getting small parts acting, and earned her Screen Actors Guild card doing a Coors Light beer commercial. Also while in college, she did "a bit part ... as a local hire" in the Austin-filmed horror-comedyMy Boyfriend's Back, playing "the girl in the beauty shop, maybe two lines. But the beauty shop [scene] got cut." Her first job after graduation was working in a beef commercial, while simultaneously auditioning for roles around Houston.
While still in Texas, Zellweger appeared in several indie and low budget films. One was A Taste for Killing (1992), followed by a role in the ABCminiseriesMurder in the Heartland (1993). The following year, she appeared in Reality Bites (1994), the directorial debut of Ben Stiller, and in the biographical film8 Seconds, directed by John G. Avildsen. Zellweger's first main role in a movie came with the 1994 horror film Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, alongside Matthew McConaughey. She played Jenny, a teenager who leaves a prom early with three friends who get into a car accident, which leads to their meeting a murderous family, led by the iconic Leatherface. The movie opened in a limited theatrical release, to generally negative reviews. However, Zellweger's portrayal had a better reception among writers; Janet Maslin of The New York Times, praised her and co-star McConaughey, stating it was clear that the two actors "were going places". She also remarked that both leads "do show signs of what would soon make them famous. Ms. Zellweger, sweet and sprightly and a natural-born ditz, may be the only actress who could point a gun bravely at a killer, then simply shriek and drop it and scamper away". Joe Leydon for Variety magazine also lauded Zellweger, calling her "the most formidable scream queen since Jamie Lee Curtis went legit".
Her next movie was Love and a .45 (1994), in which she played the role of Starlene Cheatham, a woman who plans a robbery with her boyfriend. It received a release in selected theaters, garnering mostly favorable comments from critics. Marc Savlov of Austin Chronicle applauded the main cast saying they were "all excellent in their roles" and noted that "Zellweger's character – all squeals and caged sexuality – seems a bit too close to Juliette Lewis' Mallory Knox (of Natural Born Killers) to be as fresh as it should be". The part earned her an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance. She subsequently moved to Los Angeles, and appeared as a supporting role in the coming-of-age drama Empire Records (1995). The movie had a negative critical reception but Zellweger was considered a stand out among the cast members; website Rotten Tomatoes' consensus was: "Despite a terrific soundtrack and a strong early performance from Renee Zellweger, Empire Records is mostly a silly and predictable teen dramedy."
Zellweger became widely known to audiences around the world with Jerry Maguire (1996), in which she played the romantic interest of Jerry, Tom Cruise' character. The film, receiving critical and popular acclaim, marked the actress' big break on screen. It was Cruise who chose her to play his love interest and later credited her with "revealing the core humanity of the movie".Montreal Film Journal found her performance "fantastic", adding that she was "good looking, funny and moving, too".Roger Ebert, showing approval of Zellweger and Cruise's chemistry in the picture, wrote: "The film is often a delight, especially when Cruise and Zellweger are together on the screen. He plays Maguire with the earnestness of a man who wants to find greatness and happiness in an occupation where only success really counts. She plays a woman who believes in this guy she loves, and reminds us that true love is about idealism". She was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role.
She starred in 1998's religious drama A Price Above Rubies, where she played Sonia Horowitz, a young woman who finds it difficult to conform to the restrictions imposed on her by the community. Opening at limited release, the picture gained mixed reviews, with Zellweger being applauded by some critics such as Ebert, who once again impressed by her, stated she gave a "ferociously strong performance". During an interview, Zellweger was reportedly asked the question of why an actress would "bother" working in a "small" film after the blockbuster success of Jerry McGuire, to which she responded that "she loved the idea of showing the public a more personal aspect of life" through roles like the one she played in the movie, according to entertainment website Pajiba.
The same year, Zellweger portrayed the character of Ellen in One True Thing opposite William Hurt and Meryl Streep. The movie tells the story of a woman (played by Renée) who is forced to put her life on hold in order to care for her mother who is dying of cancer. Although it was not a box office success, the picture gained an extremely positive critical reaction with Renée being once again acclaimed for her part; Robin Clifford, for Reeling Reviews noted that she gives "a solid, almost dour, performance as a serious young woman who grew up idolizing her father and denigrating Kate and her housewifely ways. Ellen undergoes a dramatic metamorphosis as she takes on the burden of helping her steadily declining mom over the months spanning the holidays". On a similar note, Variety magazine's Todd McCarthy stated about Zellweger: "Projecting gravity and impatience that she hasn’t shown before, Zellweger is outstanding as the smart young woman who resents the interruption to her life’s momentum but ends up growing in ways she never would have expected". For her work in both A Price Above Rubies and One True Thing, she tied with Central Station's Fernanda Montenegro as runners-up for the Best Actress prize at the 64th New York Film Critics Circle Awards, but they lost to Cameron Diaz for There's Something About Mary.
She then played the lead in The Bachelor (1999), a romantic comedy in which Chris O'Donnell co-starred. The movie received mainly negative reviews and grossed $36 million, well below its budget $51 million. Zellweger next appeared as Irene Waters in the Farrelly brothers comedy Me, Myself and Irene, which was theatrically released in 2000. Co-starring Jim Carrey, the movie is about a Rhode Island state trooper with split-personality disorder named Charlie, played by Carrey, who is assigned to escort Irene from Rhode Island to Massena, New York, to face what she believes is a false hit-and-run accusation set up by her mob-connected ex-boyfriend. The film was a success commercially, premiering at number one at the box office charts on its opening weekend. It went on to gross $149,270,999 worldwide.
Her work in Me, Myself and Irene was followed by her role of Betty Sizemore in Neil LaBute's Nurse Betty , a dark comedy co-starring Morgan Freeman, in which she played a Kansas waitress who suffers a nervous breakdown after witnessing her husband's murder, and starts obsessively pursuing her favorite soap actor. Renée garnered unanimously positive comments from film reviewers.Urban Cinefile's Richard Kuipers asserted: "Renée Zellweger's ability to make us believe in what she's doing on screen is the big plus of this uneven entry. Fresh from winning our hearts in Bridget Jones's Diary (although this was made well before it), Zellweger gives this comedy-drama a strong emotional centre that smooths over clumsy side-detail and an uncertain tone".The San Francisco Chronicle called the actress "skillfull" and concluded that she, as "a performer who emanates kindness and a pure heart", is "worth celebrating". She won her first Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, but she was in the bathroom when future co-star Hugh Grant announced her name. Zellweger later protested: "I had lipstick on my teeth!".
Zellweger at the world premiere of Miss Potter in London (December 3, 2006).
She played the lead in the biopic drama Miss Potter. Emily Watson and Ewan McGregor co-starred in the movie, which was based on the life story of acclaimed author Beatrix Potter. Zellweger also served as an executive producer as she was dis-satisfied with the script and wanted to get more involved in the production.Miss Potter had its world premiere in December 2006, garnering a positive feedback among critics; William Arnold, of Seattle Post-Intelligencer concluded that Renée "strikes just the right chord of inspiration, eccentricity and uncompromising artistic drive", and Houston Chronicle critic Bruce Westbrook found Zellweger's work "quietly passionate", adding that the actress played a "warm and winning performance" that utlimately made Potter "an unlikely champion of female empowerment". For this portrayal, she earned her sixth nomination for the Golden Globe Award (and her fifth one in the category of Best Actress – Musical or Comedy). The following year, she landed her voice in the animated family comedy Bee Movie and was awarded the Women in Film Crystal award.
Zellweger appeared alongside George Clooney in his directorial venture Leatherheads (2008), a period comedy about the early years of professional American football. The film received largely mixed reviews and was considered a box office disappointment, with $41,299,492 grossed worldwide on a production budget of $51 million.MTV.com praised the actress for "displaying an unexpected gift for drawling sarcasm" and stated she "shared a convincing romantic chemistry with co-star Clooney". However, Kevin Williamson for website Jam! criticized her role, remarking that she, "as the kind of lippy heroine epitomized by Rosalind Russell, is miscast in a role that demands snark, not sleepy-eyed sweetness". Later that year, Appaloosa – another project starring Zellweger – was released. She appeared with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen in the movie. It opened in limited release, to critical acclaim but moderate earnings at the box office. Zellweger produced the made-for-television feature Living Proof, starring Harry Connick Jr., about the true story of Dr. Denny Slamon. It was co-produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, and premiered in October 2008 on Lifetime Television.
Zellweger's first film of 2009 was New in Town, a comedy where she played a Miami high-powered consultant adjusting to her new life in a small Minnesota town. It was released on January 30, to mostly poor reviews. Sky Movies writer Ellion Noble felt Renée displayed an "infectious lack of enthusiasm, convincing only in capturing the look of someone who wishes they would rather be anywhere else". Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian was also critical of Zellweger, stating that her "rabbity, dimply pout – surely the strangest facial expression in Hollywood – simpers and twitches out of the screen in this moderate girly flick that adheres with almost religious fanaticism to the feelgood romcom handbook." Besides the negative reception, New in Town made little interest commercially on its opening weekend, debuting at eighth place at the box office charts to an estimated $6.75 million. It went on to become a modest success with a total gross of $29,010,817, given its budget of $8 million. Following her appearance in the movie, she provided her voice for a supporting character in DreamWorks' computer-animated 3-D feature film Monsters vs. Aliens, released in March the same year.
She was cast to star as George Hamilton's mother, opposite Chris Noth and Kevin Bacon in My One and Only, a comedy loosely based on Hamilton's early life on the road with his mother and brother. The movie was acclaimed by critics, with Zellweger gaining an equally positive response; Bill Gray, of Entertainment Weekly felt she played her part "to her strengths", and reviewer Mick LaSalle found her performance to be a "standout". Roger Ebert, describing her work, wrote: "This is essentially Renee Zellweger's picture, and she glows in it. We've seen the type before, but she's able, beneath Ann's pluck, to suggest her sadness, and the love she has for her boys". The film received a release in selected theaters on August 21, 2009.
Her next movie was the horror thriller Case 39, that due to a lengthy post-production, was not released in the United States until 2010, four years after she filmed it. Nevertheless, it was first premiered in several countries throughout Europe in 2009. The feature was critically panned and a failure at the box office. She then played a former singer suffering from paralysis in the road drama My Own Love Song. It was screened at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, and instead of receiving a theatrical release, it went directly-to-video in the U.S. Although critical response for the picture was mixed or average, Zellweger got positive notes from some critics, with Anne Campbell stating in her verdict for Film Gate Reviews that Renée was "perfect in the role".Reel Film Reviews also found her performance "impressively commanding". After her work in this feature, she took a five-year hiatus from screen acting; which ended with her role in the indie film The Whole Truth, for which production started in July 2014. In 2013, Zellweger co-created and executive produced Cinnamon Girl, an original drama series set in the Hollywood movie and music scenes of the late '60s/early '70s, but the Lifetime network passed on the pilot.
2015–present: Acting comeback and upcoming projects
In April 1997, Vanity Fair named her part of "Hollywood's Next Wave of Stars". She was placed on E!'s "Top 20 Entertainers of 2001" list and was chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world in 2003. She also ranked number 72 in the "Top 100 Celebrities" list made by Forbes in 2006, and the following year, she was placed at 20 among "the 20 richiest women in entertainment", by the magazine. After Zellweger's appearance at the 21st-annual Elle magazine Women in Hollywood Awards in October 2014, there was media and social commentary that she is hardly physically recognizable, which resulted in speculation that she had undertaken substantial cosmetic surgery. Zellweger responded, "Perhaps I look different. Who doesn't as they get older?! Ha. But I am different. I'm happy."
Zellweger has been married once, divorced once, and has no children. From 1999 to 2000 she was engaged to Jim Carrey. In 2003, she had a brief relationship with musician Jack White. On May 9, 2005, Zellweger married singer Kenny Chesney, However, four months later the couple obtained an annulment. In the annulment papers Zellweger cited "fraud" as the reason. Under media scrutiny she explained that the word "fraud" was simply "legal language" and "not a reflection of Kenny's character." In 2009, she started dating Bradley Cooper, after having met on the set of Case 39 in 2006. They separated in 2011. Since 2012 she has been in a relationship with blues musician Doyle Bramhall II.
Zellweger took part in the 2005 HIV prevention campaign of the Swiss federal health department.
Zellweger 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. "Because of the experiences of close friends and family members who have had to endure and battle the challenges of breast cancer, I am a passionate supporter of breast health education and charitable causes", Zellweger stated about joining the campaign.