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Becoming Britain’s darling Bridget Jones was a challenge for Renee Zellweger, and involved acquiring a new accent, not to mention several visits to Victoria’s Secret to get ever larger bras, she confides to Jenny Cooney Carrillo.

It was only five years ago that Renee Zellweger ‘completed’ Tom Cruise in the hit comedy Jerry Maguire and became a household name. But since then, the 32-year-old Texan has managed to avoid the leading lady stereotype with some quirky performances first in Nurse Betty, which earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy, and then risking outrage from the British film community by playing their beloved Bridget Jones in the comedy Bridget Jones’s Diary, based on the best-selling novel by Helen Fielding about a pudgy, lovable British woman looking for love.

While the actress herself hasn’t been too successful in that department, following the high-profile break-up of her romance with Jim Carrey late last year, she’s clearly reveling in her successful film career and had no qualms about putting on 7kgs to play Bridget.

How did you react when you first heard about the role of Bridget Jones and what did you learn about yourself when you decided to gain weight for the part?
First off, I was surprised to learn that I was being considered for the role. I was a fan of the book and had read somewhere ages ago that they were planning to make a film of it would be an English company, shot in England, with a list of English actresses who would be contenders to play the part. That all made sense to me, and that was the end of it. When I got the phone call, it was a big surprise. In terms of putting on the weight, it was really about the lifestyle that this character leads. The lifestyle is different from mine, and I wanted her to physically represent that lifestyle, I wanted it to be reflected in her appearance. Also, I wanted her to look like the character I had pictured in my head while I read the book. That was really important because there was so much about this character that I loved, found endearing, and I didn’t want to lose that in the course of reanimating her in this film. And she wasn’t my creation, she was Helen Fielding’s creation, so I felt a certain responsibility to her as well. Gaining the weight was the same as getting the right haircut, and the right accent. The more involved and challenging it is to create a character, the more satisfying the result is. I was looking forward to so much of this project. I had never worked overseas. I had never worked with a dialect coach as extensively as I did and I loved it. Watching the whole process is an extraordinary experience, evolving along with the character. Every time I went to Victoria’s Secret to upgrade my bra size was a little success and it felt great!

Then why did you lose the weight after filming finished?
Of course everyone likes a woman with a little meat on their bones, and if I had my choice I would take more trips to Victoria’s Secret than I do. It was a program that was really boringly technical. I went to see a physician and told him what we were trying to achieve. So he did the math and he made a program for me and told me I was going to have to add this much in order to achieve this and we implemented that into the day along with the dialect classes and learning lines and rehearsals. It was part of creating a character and when I stopped going to rehearsals and we stopped filming, I stopped putting on Bridget’s clothes, and I stopped maintaining that program. I got back to being myself and maintaining my own program.

How hard was it to get your British accent right?
I spoke with an accent from the time I got to England as told to by my dialect coach. She wanted it to become a habit, and I wanted to not feel like a fraud when I opened my mouth. I didn’t want to be really self-conscious about the words and the way they were coming out of my mouth. I didn’t want to be thinking of how to say the words because that was going to get in the way of what we were really doing which was trying to tell a story. That was a part of wanting to move to England ahead of time, before we started shooting, because I wanted to be around it and hear it, pick up inflections and a little bit of slang in the meantime. I loved the character and wanted to be as good as possible, so I was just glad we had the time to do it.

What did you do to really become Bridget Jones?
Before becoming involved in a project or a character, I have to feel that I have something to give it or there is no point. Otherwise I think they would be better off working with somebody else who does have those feelings about the project. It has to inspire me in some way. Then it’s just work; it’s understanding and learning and coming to get to know that character as best I can, whether it’s technical or emotional. It also involves observations from my personal life or a personal experience from my life. When it came to Bridget, I loved this character after reading the book. I could completely relate as I suppose is the case with so many people considering the success of that book internationally. As an actress to play a part like this is a real learning opportunity because she is so different in so many respects, including her background and culture and that was where the work came in. I needed to do some learning, life learning most importantly. I need to move, to look around and watch, understand her social references and her background and her history. Then go from there.

Were you more self-conscious than usual on the set because of the extra weight?
That was more because of being in a room full of guys from the crew! When you see me on the screen is one thing but what those guys see is completely another story altogether! So for the first couple of days it was ‘well where’s my robe, when can I get dressed?’ and after that it was just, ‘which pair of panties do I wear today?’ I immediately built a trust between the crew and myself and they got a kick out of it all and so did I. But I’m sure they were equally embarrassed to see me running around in my knickers. I guess that is one of the most incredible parts of this weird job. It was weird and wonderful at the same time.

Published July 19, 2001

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Release Date: July 26, 2001
DVD/Video Release Date: Dec 5, 2001


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