BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Mar. 18, 2001 — Renée Zellweger is an actress born and bred in Texas, slender and cheerful, with a light twang that rings when she finishes statements with “and that’s the truth.”
But for seven months she was Bridget Jones, book publishing company publicist, 129 lbs., witty and veddy, veddy British. Starring alongside Hugh Grant and Colin Firth for the feature adaptation of Helen Fielding’s novel, Zellweger nabbed a role that reportedly had Brits and Bridget fans alike in an uproar.
But all it did was drive the 31-year-old actress harder to transform herself into the neurotic character, who journals her fluctuating weight, number of cigarettes and progress in snagging boss Daniel Cleaver (Grant), all the while perplexed over the seemingly wrong Mark Darcy (Firth). To do this, Zellweger embarked on a now-famous weight-gain regimen, putting on some 20 lbs. for Bridget Jones’s Diary.
“It was boringly technical, frankly, truly,” Zellweger says now. “We went to the physician and I said ‘This is what I would like to do.’ And he did the math, and he made the list, and said ‘Here’s what you’ll have to add if you want to achieve X,’ so we just implemented that into the day.”
But the volume of food–breakfast was an omelet with croissant, butter and weight-gain milkshake–sometimes became overwhelming for the diminutive actress, who found herself substituting Cadbury dairy milks instead.
“It was nice to say, ‘I’d better have a garlic bread with this pizza. It’s for the good of the film … It’s my responsibility to have that piece of pie,’” she says.
“That was a thrill, oh my gosh, absolutely, are you kidding me?” she says. “I had to upgrade three times at Victoria’s Secret. It was a very exciting time for me…being voluptuous and really womanly, and right, most importantly. Very right.”
Her second step to Bridget-hood was mastering the accent. Teaming with Barbara Berkery, the same dialogue coach who turned Gwyneth Paltrow into an honorary Englishwoman for Sliding Doors and Shakespeare in Love, Zellweger moved to London three months before production began and diligently spent many hours (and lunch during filming) working with Berkery. She also stayed in the accent when cameras weren’t rolling.
Zellweger also went one step further by working incognito at a London book publisher, Picador, as a trainee in the publicity department. Under the name Bridget Cavendish, she answered phones, served coffee and made photocopies–without being recognized by any of her co-workers, who offered career advice and wondered privately why she kept a photo of Jim Carrey (her then-boyfriend) on her desk. Even an American intern, who was reading a book that had been made into one of Zellweger’s films, didn’t catch on.
“I became familiar with her social and cultural references,” Zellweger says. “I understood what her daily responsibilities were … Most importantly, I knew why I was sitting at that desk.”
After seven months of living inside Bridget Jones, Zellweger’s back to acting and twanging. But it doesn’t mean she’s shaken her alter ego off completely.
“I’d be out in the cab and asking the guy in an English accent,” she sighs, shaking her head. “[I say] ‘brilliant, lovely,’ all those things. ‘Quite,’ I say ‘quite’ a lot now … [But] I’m not an actor doing research anymore. [I’m] a doofus.”
Bridget Jones’s Diary opens April 13.