After more than half a decade away from Hollywood, Oscar winner Renée Zellweger returns to the big screen as endearing British everywoman Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Baby, the third installment in the rom-com franchise, due September 16. Just shut up, because she had us at “hello again.”
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: I’ve missed you, Renée.
Renée Zellweger: What a sweet thing to say. Thank you. I guess I haven’t thought, I wonder if people miss me.
Your last film was 2010’s My Own Love Song. Did you have the best vacation ever?
I wouldn’t call it a vacation. I’d call it a necessary reset. I needed to step away for a second so that I could see what life looks like at this stage. I know it sounds like I was on a beach somewhere — and yeah, there was some of that — but I was mostly figuring out how I could fill my days, what I wanted to learn next, and how to grow as a person.
Are you familiar with the term FOMO?
No. Please enlighten me.
It means “fear of missing out,” which might strike if you’re home and all your friends are at a party. Did you experience FOMO during your hiatus?
Never as great as the FOMO I had while working before, looking outside at the person I could become if I stepped away.
Did you journal while resetting? I’d totally read Renée Zellweger’s Diary.
Oh, no! I really messed up. I’m going to start this morning and see what I can remember.
Would Renée Zellweger’s Diary have made an exciting movie?
Well, it would be pretty boring for me, because I’ve already seen it.
Was the allure of Bridget Jones’s Baby that Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey essentially fight over you for the entire movie?
Not a bad life, is it? I definitely didn’t complain during filming when the alarm went off at 4 o’clock in the morning. No, I really wanted to play Bridget again because I love her and it sounded fun. It was very selfishly motivated. It had very little to do with anything else, like carrying on the legacy of a beautiful character that so many people relate to.
Especially the LGBT audience.
That makes sense. Bridget doesn’t necessarily fit the paradigm but she succeeds anyway. She loves herself and she accepts who she is. She makes it OK for all of us to be human.
James Callis also returns as Tom, Bridget’s gay bestie. What role does he play in her life?
He’s been her go-to wingman for years. They understand each other. They’ve shared similar struggles, and they both have a hunger to be loved just the way they are.
Do you have a similar gay confidant?
I’m lucky to have handfuls. The majority of my closest friends are gay, and I have my pearl. I went to Miami for New Year’s Eve some years back with him and his boyfriend, and we got paparazzied on the beach. We had a very Bridget Jones moment: He had no desire to be photographed in his trunks, so he told me, “You need to get out of here and go for a run right now!” Some tabloid ran the photos and wrote, “Has Renée finally found her pearl?” I was like, “Aww, he’s my pearl!” He’s family to me. We dated for a minute, actually.
You didn’t know he was gay?
No, I knew he was gay — or had been gay. But he wasn’t gay that day! [Laughs]
After citing “fraud” as the reason for annulling your marriage to Kenny Chesney in 2005, many media outlets alleged that he must be gay.
I forgot about that. It’s a pretty big thing to forget, isn’t it? That made me sad. It made me sad that somehow people were using that as a way to be cruel and calling someone gay as a pejorative, which has fateful consequences. Of course, there’s the bigger-picture problem of why anyone had to make up a story at all.
Were you tempted to publicly jump to his defense?
Well, I’d said all I needed to say on that subject. I’m an old-fashioned gal who doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to hang out your laundry on the lawn. I feel you devalue yourself as a human being when you share very personal things with a bajillion strangers who are making fun of you. I just don’t see that there’s any dignity in that. But sometimes it is difficult to just let something be what it is, especially when it’s unnecessary ugliness. Once you’ve said your piece, shouldn’t that be enough? And why is the ugliness that’s perpetuated in the media so attractive to people?
Growing up in Texas, what was your introduction to the LGBT community?
Well, there were no conversations of LGBT anything, but there were other words. I remember how a friend of mine in the first grade didn’t fit in with the other boys. When I got to high school, I made another friend who was struggling. Looking back on it now, I understand. I feel like gay people have always been present in my life from a really early age, so I don’t even think about it.
Some viewers perceived sexual tension between your tomboy character, Ruby, and Nicole Kidman’s character, Ada, in Cold Mountain, which earned you an Oscar. Were you working with any lesbian subtext?
Maybe a little. I did steal some things from a woman I know, but it wasn’t about her being a lesbian — it was more about her being a nontraditional female. She was caring and nurturing, but she could also build your house.
I would’ve liked to see Ruby and Ada live happily ever after. Although I suppose they sort of did, albeit platonically.
Yeah. I mean, how romantic is it after you’ve been together for 20 years anyway?
Sonia, your discontent Hasidic character in A Price Above Rubies, unexpectedly kissed her sister-in-law, played by Julianna Margulies. Was that scene supposed to suggest her suppressed lesbian desire?
I actually had that explained to me. It was about her suppressed sexual desire and a craving for affection, but it wasn’t specifically about her discovering that she had same-sex attraction. I think it also revealed a lot about her spirit. She was open and ready for other life experiences that she hadn’t been exposed to.
In Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason’s lesbian twist, Bridget got a surprise snog from a female admirer. Has a woman ever expressed her love for you?
Yes, thank goodness. But I loved her differently. We talked about it, we laughed, and I was happy she trusted me and that we have a relationship where we could have that conversation.
Any queer twists in Bridget Jones’s Baby? Do the two guys end up together?
That was actually an ongoing joke on set because Colin and Patrick immediately had such an affinity for each other, which was wonderful. Maybe in the next movie? There’s still time!
Thanks to your famous scene with Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, how often does someone walk up and say, “You complete me” to your face?
It definitely still happens, and I love it. It’s really sweet and flattering that they remember it and that they take the time to walk over and say it. I’m really lucky because I meet a lot of nice people in the street who say nice things to me every day. It makes me smile. What a blessing, right? I guess I can’t complain.
Well, this interview has completed me, Renée.
[Laughs] That’s pretty good. I haven’t heard anyone make a segue like that in a long time.
The Advocate, October/November 2016 issue; extended online version.