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Young, Bright and Starring With Tom Cruise

Renee Zellweger takes the initiative in going after parts she wants. Hollywood is becoming a believer.

December 08, 1996|Anne Bergman | Anne Bergman is an occasional contributor to Calendar

But for the next nine months, the only work Zellweger could find was as a bartender assistant at the L.A. nightclub Three of Clubs. "I was cleaning glasses and stocking the fridge with cases of beer," she says. "It was OK, even fun. I never felt like I was missing anything. During the day, I was meeting really cool directors, having these really neat experiences, and it was all reinforcing that maybe it was OK to stay."

Last Wednesday marked Zellweger's third anniversary in Los Angeles, and during those three years she's been in "Empire Records," "Shake Rattle and Rock" for Showtime's Drive-In Classic series and "The Whole Wide World," a feature that was well-received at this year's Sundance Film Festival and is set for release by Sony Pictures Classics later this month.

In "The Whole Wide World," Zellweger plays Novalyne Price, a young schoolteacher whose yen for writing brings her into the life of Robert E. Howard, the creator of "Conan the Barbarian." Based on Price's autobiography, "The Whole Wide World" put her opposite Vincent D'Onofrio and gave Zellweger a chance to stretch her acting muscles.

"I play this woman," she emphasizes, "an intellectual woman, not a silly woman. I could throw parts of myself into her that I hadn't been asked to before."

Los Angeles Times Sunday December 15, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Page 95 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo credit--A photograph last Sunday of Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger from the film "Jerry Maguire" should have been credited to Columbia/TriStar.

The part was originally meant for Olivia D'Abo, who abandoned the role when she discovered she was pregnant.

"There was a danger that the film would never get made," says director Dan Ireland, "because the financiers weren't too thrilled about making this film anyway. I needed a name actress, but my casting director told me to look at Renee."

Ireland admits he was reluctant to audition Zellweger, as he wasn't sure she could handle the role. But by the end of her first reading, Ireland says, he was moved to tears by her performance. "After she left the room it took me two or three minutes to compose myself. I knew then that I'd found our girl."

Will success spoil Zellweger?

Maybe not, for rather than parlaying her part in "Jerry Maguire" into another big Hollywood project, Zellweger has chosen to take a small one as a prostitute in "Liar," a film by Josh and Jonas Pate that stars Tim Roth, and another as an Orthodox Jewish woman in "Price Below Rubies," which begins shooting in January, to be directed by Boaz Yakin ("Fresh").

"I didn't want to go and do the ingenue thing," explains Zellweger. "I wanted to go and do something I felt something for."

In fact, Zellweger gives the impression that she's just jazzed to be working on what's in front of her at a given moment: "Can you say, 'Vincent D'Onofrio, Tom Cruise and Tim Roth in one year?' Hello! I'm being smiled on by the actor gods!' "

"What's refreshing about Renee," Crowe says, "is that you're used to these people who work in movies and they act it all. They act their interest in you. They act everything, and then halfway through your movie you see them fall in love with somebody else's project, you see them talking about the next movie they're trying to get. And with Renee, you never get that."

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