She has won three Golden Globe Awards and three Screen Actors Guild Awards, was named Hasty Pudding's Woman of the Year in 2009, and has established herself as one of the highest-paid Hollywood actresses in recent years.
In junior high school, Zellweger actively took part in several sports, including soccer, basketball, baseball and football. She attended Katy High School, where she was a cheerleader, a gymnast, a member of speech team, and a drama club member. Zellweger acted in several school plays and was voted the "Best Looking" of her class before graduating from high school in 1987. After high school, she went to the University of Texas at Austin to major in English language. Zellweger was a good student, and made the Dean's List several times. At the beginning she took a drama class only because she needed a fine arts credit to complete her degree, but the experience made her appreciate how much she loved acting. During this time, she supported herself by taking jobs as a waitress in Austin, Texas. In 1991, Zellweger graduated from university with a BA degree in English. She considered moving to Hollywood but decided to stay in her home state, Texas, to seek more experience. Her first job after graduation was working in a beef commercial, at the same time she started to audition for roles around Houston.While still in Texas, Zellweger appeared in several films. One was A Taste for Killing (1992) as Mary Lou, followed by a minor role in ABC TV mini series named Murder in the Heartland (1993). The following year, she appeared in Reality Bites (1994), the directorial debut of Ben Stiller, and in the biopic film 8 Seconds, directed by John G. Avildsen.
Zellweger's first main part in a movie came with the 1994 horror story Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, alongside Matthew McConaughey. She played Jenny, a teenager who leaves a prom early with three friends and ended up getting into a car accident, which leads to their meeting a murderous family. Her next movie was Love and a .45 (1994), in which she played the role of Starlene Cheatham, a woman who plans a robbery with her boyfriend. The performance earned her an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance. She subsequently moved to Los Angeles, winning roles in the films Empire Records (1995) and The Whole Wide World (1996). Zellweger first became widely known to audiences around the world with Jerry Maguire (1996), in which she played the romantic interest of Tom Cruise's character. She won the role over Mira Sorvino and Marisa Tomei.
Zellweger later won acclaim in One True Thing (1998) opposite William Hurt and Meryl Streep, and in Neil LaBute's Nurse Betty opposite Morgan Freeman. The role garnered the actress her first of three Golden Globe Awards, but she was in the bathroom when future co-star Hugh Grant announced her name. Zellweger later protested: "I had lipstick on my teeth!"
In 2001, Zellweger gained the prized lead role as Bridget Jones, playing alongside Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, in the British romantic comedy film Bridget Jones's Diary, based on the 1996 novel Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding. The choice came amid much controversy since she was neither British nor overweight. During casting Zellweger was told she was too skinny to play the chubby Bridget, so she quickly embarked on gaining the required weight and learning an English accent. She gained 20 pounds in order to complete her transformation to Bridget Jones. Her dramatic weight fluctuations became the subject of much media interest. Her performance as Bridget received praise from critics, with Stephen Holden of The New York Times commenting, "Ms. Zellweger accomplishes the small miracle of making Bridget both entirely endearing and utterly real." Along with receiving voice coaching to fine-tune her English accent, part of Zellweger's preparations involved spending three weeks working undercover in a "work experience placement" for British publishing firm Picador in Victoria, London. As a result of her considerable efforts to effect author Helen Fielding's character, Zellweger caught the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and received her first Best Actress Academy Award nomination.
In 2002, she starred with Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander. She played an actress in the film, and a clip from her role in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation was shown as she discussed her career with the main character, Astrid Magnussen. The same year, she appeared as "Roxie Hart" in the critically acclaimed musical film Chicago, directed by Rob Marshall, co-starring Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, and John C. Reilly. The movie received an Academy Award for Best Picture, and Zellweger received positive reviews. The San Francisco Chronicle's web site SFGate commented, "Zellweger is a joy to watch, with marvelous comic timing and, in her stage numbers, a commanding presence." The Washington Post noted that even though Zellweger couldn't dance well in real life, the audience "wouldn't know it from this movie, in which she dances up a storm." As a result, she earned her second Academy Award nomination as Best Actress, as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award and Golden Globe Award.In 2004, Zellweger received an Academy Award, this time as Best Supporting Actress in Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain opposite Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. Zellweger has since starred in the sequel to Bridget Jones's Diary in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, lent her voice to the DreamWorks animated features Shark Tale and Bee Movie, and starred in the 2005 Ron Howard film Cinderella Man opposite Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti. On May 24, 2005, Zellweger received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She produced and appeared in Miss Potter, based on the life story of acclaimed author Beatrix Potter, with Emily Watson and Ewan McGregor, released in December 2006. In 2008, she starred in the western Appaloosa with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen and the period comedy Leatherheads with fellow Oscar-winner George Clooney and John Krasinski (from The Office).
In 2008 she produced a film starring Harry Connick, Jr., about the true story of Dr. Denny Slamon. The film, called Living Proof, premiered in October 2008 on Lifetime Television. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron is also producing.
In 2009, she starred alongside Chris Noth and Kevin Bacon in the feature film My One and Only, as well as in the film New in Town, a comedy about a corporate executive from Miami who is sent to New Ulm, Minnesota, to oversee a small manufacturing company making minimal profits producing and selling pudding. She also had a cameo role in the animated film Monsters vs. Aliens in which she voiced the character of "Katie."
Zellweger dated director Joshua Pate, whom she began seeing in November 1997 after working on his film Deceiver. She also was rumored to have dated George Clooney. Her first high-profile romance was with actor/comedian Jim Carrey. The relationship ended in December 2000. The two were rumored to have been engaged, but Zellweger frequently denied this claim. Zellweger poked fun at the prior relationship when she ended her opening monologue on Saturday Night Live by reading an entry from her own "diary", marked "Dear Diary, I can't believe I am dating Jim Carrey."
For two years, Zellweger dated The White Stripes singer Jack White.
The pair met while filming Cold Mountain, and later began dating after the film wrapped. They broke up two years later, after schedule demands kept them apart. Friends said the split was amicable.
On May 9, 2005, Zellweger married singer Kenny Chesney in a ceremony at the island of St. John. They had met in January at a tsunami relief benefit concert. Zellweger missed out on the engagement ring since the wedding was planned over a short span of time. On September 15, 2005, after only four months of marriage, they announced their plans for an annulment. Zellweger cited "fraud" as the reason in the related papers. After media scrutiny of her use of the word "fraud", she qualified the use of the term, stating it was "simply legal language and not a reflection of Kenny's character. I would personally be very grateful for your support in refraining from drawing derogatory, hurtful, sensationalized or untrue conclusions. We hope to experience this transition as privately as possible." The annulment was finalized in late December 2005.
In 2002, Zellweger bought a US$6.8-million home in Bel Air, then sold her previous home in the Hollywood Hills, bought for US$1.9M in 2000. Due to the constant attention from the paparazzi, she purchased a home in Connecticut and moved there in 2005. She claims she rarely spends time there, and keeps a small apartment in New York where she "stops over" to do laundry before moving on to her next film. In January 2007, she admitted that she gets scared at home alone due to security problems and fans who send or leave mail at her homes; she said that she considered buying a gun for reasons of personal security.
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