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Renee Zellweger might have won the Academy Award for her dramatic supporting turn in 2003’s Civil War epic “Cold Mountain,” but the 38-year-old actress has demonstrated time and again that she’s nothing if not versatile, turning in showstopping performances in films such as 2001’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” 2002’s “Chicago” and 2004’s “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.” She even managed to executive produce her most recent starring vehicle, 2006’s “Miss Potter.” Wolf Schneider for The Hollywood Reporter recently caught up with the native Texan — who had flown from the South Carolina set of Universal’s upcoming release “Leatherheads” to attend New York’s annual Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala — to discuss her professional choices and how it feels to receive this latest honor.
The Hollywood Reporter: After receiving an Oscar for “Cold Mountain,” Oscar nominations for “Chicago” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and numerous Golden Globe and SAG Awards wins, what’s the significance of being honored by Women in Film?
Renee Zellweger: When I went to my first Women in Film luncheon, I was invited to go with my agent to see our friend Sherry Lansing, who was being honored that year. I was so impressed by the women in the room. This is far more than I had hoped for on that day.
THR: Which women have inspired you most?
Zellweger: Oh, when I worked with Meryl Streep, she impressed me.
THR: I knew she’d come up — how could she not?
Zellweger: How could she not! Well put. Beyond her unquestionable talent, she chose carefully what was important to her: to be good at her job and to be a really good mother. I think, as I get older, I look more to women as role models for finding paradigms of balance between professional and personal life.
THR: Was Meryl the reason you wanted to do 1998’s “One True Thing”?
Zellweger: She wasn’t attached to it at the time. It was a beautiful story and a fantastic character, and then I met with Carl (Franklin), who was going to direct it, and he talked about Meryl and that’s, I think, when my head flew off and landed under the table at lunch! (Laughs)
THR: On “Miss Potter,” you executive produced and starred. Do you expect to do that again?
Zellweger: I’m not sure. The first meeting I had with the producers and director, we discussed the work that needed to be done on the script and the creative decisions that needed to be made, and I knew I would be participating and making those decisions, so it just made sense that we’d make it official.
THR: You’ll next be seen in Paramount’s slated 2008 thriller “Case 39,” in which you play a social worker fighting to save a girl from abusive parents. Is “Case 39” your first thriller?
Zellweger: I did (1998’s) “Deceiver” in 1996. I love a good thriller, and it’s rare that you read one that’s satisfying at the conclusion. Usually, they lose you somewhere in the third act. This one kept me going.
THR: Then you’ve got Universal’s romantic comedy “Leatherheads” for director George Clooney in which you play Clooney’s fiancee. Being a romantic-comedy sports movie, is it at all reminiscent of your breakout role in 1996’s “Jerry Maguire”?
Zellweger: No, it’s a period piece, and the dialogue is very stylized. And so is the look. I’ve never done this kind of dialogue where you’ve got mouthfuls of it.
THR: Is it true that Clooney sent you the script one night and you committed the next morning?
Zellweger: Oh, no, I committed when I heard the script was on its way! I’m a big fan. I have great faith. I think he’s a phenomenally talented director.
THR: Whose advice do you take most often about whether to do a role? Your manager, John Carrabino’s?
Zellweger: Yeah. He and I look at the work in the same way.
THR: Was there ever anything he lobbied you into taking that you might not have otherwise?
Zellweger: Oh, so many things. “Jerry Maguire.” I read the first few pages of it, and I said, “This is great, wonderful, beautifully nuanced writing, but I don’t know who she is.” And he said, “Because she’s in between the lines! Now, finish the script, then call me!”
THR: Any directors you’re dying to work with?
Zellweger: Mmm. I sure wish Clint Eastwood would be on the end of the phone one day. Martin Scorsese. Marc Forster. Spike Jonze. Sean Penn. Taylor Hackford, call me please.
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