Renée Zellweger - The reluctant movie star

She may have a hatful of flash homes, but Renée Zellweger tells Lesley O'Toole why she's at her happiest staying in a hotel

If the Academy Awards had a "Best Chameleon" category it would surely have been owned by Renée Zellweger these last few years. This decade alone, Zellweger, 38, won over legions of Bridget Jones-lovers adamant that their "Bridge" really shouldn't be played by a Texan (and you had to see their point). She deservedly earned her first Academy Award nomination for the role, her second the next year for Chicago, before winning as Best Supporting Actress for Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain in 2004. She gambled on Down With Love with Ewan McGregor, gained the hated weight once more for Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason, starred with Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man and McGregor again for Miss Potter. Jerry Seinfeld, then semi-retired but still powerful, hired her to voice his "queen bee" in Bee Movie, only Zellweger's second animated movie and finally, last year, she found time to work with her "dear friend" (they use the same term for each other) George Clooney.

Set against a backdrop of American Football in the mid-Twenties, Leatherheads had been gestating in Clooney's cluttered head for about a decade. He says he wrote the role of pugnacious Chicago newspaper reporter Lexie Littleton with Zellweger in mind.

"She was the only person I ever thought of to do it. Three or four scenes were written in the original script that really sounded like her voice, and then you just had to think about Renée delivering them. She is so good at this kind of stuff. There are very few actors, not just actresses, but actors that don't feel contemporary. If you took them and put them in a period piece it feels like it's 2008 in the middle of a period piece. And she doesn't. She's really good at being able to do that."

Littleton indeed channels a mood straight out of Hepburn-Tracy country. Zellweger is quick too in person but very different from Littleton. "I love that she's so sexy and confident and brave."

Tellingly she adds, "I don't feel safe playing the girl who looks like me," and breaks her near-constant eye-contact for a moment to fiddle with her rather shapeless long-sleeved black T-shirt. "There's not enough to hide behind. The further removed the character's reality is from my own, the more fun and easier it is."

She says she likes tools to work with – costumes, accents – but is not a woman to adorn herself. Today she wears what has become a sort of uniform – that dark T-shirt, jeans and invariably trainers. She has at times drawn media attention for her weight, or lack of it. "I'm a constant 110 pounds," she protests, "I don't like sweets but give me pasta in Rome and I'm like nobody's business."

Her fleeting 2005 wedding to country star Kenny Chesney that saw her gracing the sort of tabloid pages she would rather not; first a beaming photo from the idyllic-looking day and then the account of her filing for divorce on grounds of "fraud". Otherwise, Zellweger rarely features in any form of tabloid media unless she is grabbing a coffee at Starbucks en route to a set.

"I like a good day at work," she says, "and it's not really an addiction. I'm learning things and I like to be busy and I have a curious mind and I like to be occupied with something that feels worthwhile to me. I like a challenge. If the moment isn't filled with something chances are I'll find something."

She and Clooney speak weekly, text constantly and, Zellweger says, "see each other all the time". They have been dogged by rumours for years. Zellweger wears them well, as any sensible girl should.

"I'm fine with it because what they do write is so much more interesting and makes me so much more an interesting person, especially when they say George Clooney is my secret husband. I'm a terrible terrible movie star. I'm not good at it. I'm really not. I can pretend to be but it takes a lot out of me. It's not my natural inclination to go, 'Goody! Talk show!'"

She turns 39 this month, so is well used to questions about the possibility of her becoming a mother. "I don't think about that. I'm not single, I'm busy. I will worry about that when the day comes. I just want to do my best to be a good friend and a good daughter and a good sister and a good aunt [to her brother Drew's children]."

Born in Texas to Swiss- and Norwegian-born parents, Zellweger excelled at school, academically and in sport, and planned on becoming a journalist before acting derailed that plan. Nothing about Zellweger is typical, not least her refusal to jump on a bus for Hollywood. Instead, she stayed in Texas winning roles in locally shot films like Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused (which also launched Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey) and 8 Seconds, starring then-Beverly Hills 90210 star Luke Perry.

"I have no regrets about that, none," she says of moving away from Los Angeles. She says she hasn't lived there properly in a while, despite plunking down nearly $7m for the requisite Bel Air mansion more than five years ago. Now she owns an Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan, which she calls home, seemingly reluctantly. "What's home? Where my bed is and stuff,"she says.

Though she also owns a home in the Hamptons, one in Connecticut and a 39-acre plot in Tennessee, Zellweger has been eulogising the virtues of living out of a suitcase for some time now. She says that, after years of sleepless nights in hotels, she is finally able to sleep wherever she lays her head. "It's just a hotel after a while, isn't it?" she says breezily, as if we all live her peripatetic life. "I know. It's terrible to not be impressed by being spoilt rotten, but spoilt rotten is sleeping on my best friend's couch because I love private moments with people that are real."

When not working, she says, she's an avid surfer, and registers my surprise. "I prefer to call it surf-ish. I surf-ish. I don't have a lot of time to get good at anything because usually I'm contractually obligated not to surf or do anything fun. No motorcycles, no water-skiing."

Surfing provides precious alone-time. "That's just how I'm made. I ride my bike, I run, I read, I play my piano and guitar and write really bad songs; short stories and poems that no one will ever need to see. So this job's a really good idea, right? Nice choice, lady!"

'Leatherheads' opens in the UK on 11 April

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada