Marie Claire's cover star, Renée Zellweger, on why 40 won't slow her down
‘Hi, I’m Renée.’ Zellweger‘s voice is instantly recognisable. It’s a mix of sugar and sandpaper, with a lilting hint of her native Texas, that has uttered some iconic movie lines: ‘You had me at “hello”’, from her breakthrough movie, Jerry Maguire; ‘Bridget Jones, wanton sex goddess, with a very bad man between her thighs. Oh, Mum… hi’, from Bridget Jones’s Diary.
She’s beautiful, but attainably so. We can imagine copying her red-carpet looks. She’s also going through life experiences women can relate to: an upcoming 40th birthday and a failed marriage behind her.
When asked what turning 40 in April might mean to her, Zellweger lets out a slightly sarcastic, ‘Woo-hoo!’, but quickly shifts gears. ‘I don’t think about it enough, I suppose. It’s not on my mental timeline.’ (Although she does admit, ‘I’m doing sit-ups every day so that I could maybe look like Helen Mirren in a bikini.’)
‘When I was a kid, 40 was ancient,’ she says. ‘I don’t think of it that way at all any more. Even friends in their late fifties feel like contemporaries. I’m glad of that; it makes possibility less of a finite thing.’
Is she referring to maybe getting married again? ‘I never say never about anything, because I look back on my own personal history and it shocks me,’ she says. ‘If I would ever have said, “Oh, for sure this is going to be in my future,” most of my experiences would not have been on my list.’
Zellweger’s personal history, in brief: after a couple of years with her Empire Records co-star Rory Cochrane, she dated Jim Carrey, whom she worked with on Me, Myself & Irene, in 2000. She then weathered rumours of an affair with George Clooney (about whom she will only say, ‘I have so much respect for him as a citizen and as an artist… I’m less inclined to whoopee-cushion my friends, though’) and took up with her Cold Mountain co-star, White Stripes virtuoso Jack White.
In January 2005, Zellweger was manning donation phone lines at a tsunami benefit when she met country singer and fellow Texan Kenny Chesney, who performed at the event. Apparently, he’d been nursing a years-long crush on her. Five months later, they were married on the beach at his home on St John, in the US Virgin Islands, she in white strapless Carolina Herrera, he in a black cowboy hat.
After four months as Mrs Chesney, she had the marriage annulled, citing fraud. Unsurprisingly, Zellweger won’t talk about it, refusing with a small shake of her head, eyes still hidden behind her sunglasses.
She’s been the dame in brawling boys’ club movies like Leatherheads and Appaloosa. Off-set, however, there’s no sparring partner, at least not right now. ‘The thing is, I’m away all the time,’ says Zellweger, who has a farmhouse on Long Island and an apartment in New York.
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‘If I sat still long enough to get to know somebody beyond a dinner date, maybe. But I don’t feel like my life is empty or that I have to make something happen.
I have projects to develop. I want to study American history and political science, live in an apartment in France and fix my bad French. And is there really time for all of it?’ she asks. ‘Last summer, when I said it wasn’t the right time for something I wanted to do, a friend asked, “How long are you going to live?”’ Then Zellweger offers that gentle smirk of hers. ‘I’m not single, I’m busy. That’s my line.’
To read the full article, buy the March issue of Marie Claire, on sale now.
Zellweger’s new film, New in Town, is out on 30 January 2009