Renee Zellweger is one of those celebs that perfectly sums up the American dream. Born in Katy, Texas, Zellweger spent her childhood in small-town America before catching the acting bug upon some small appearances in Texas-filmed productions. In 1995, Zellweger decided to make the move to Los Angeles, California — the city of dreams.
Though she certainly wasn’t the first blonde-haired, blue-eyed, aspiring actress to move to Los Angeles with hopes of becoming a movie star, Zellweger made quite the impression on the industry. Most notably, Zellweger captured the attention of Cameron Crowe, who went on to cast her alongside Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire.
Since then, she has captured the hearts of audiences worldwide. Her charming demeanor, serious acting chops, and surreal ability to flawlessly embody any character sent her way are what makes Zellweger one of the most recognized and celebrated actresses of a generation. Here’s an inside look at some of Renee Zellweger’s most stunning transformations — both onscreen and off.
Renee Zellweger went from high school to Hollywood
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by old high school yearbook photos. Let’s be honest — if you’re not raising your hand, you’re lying.
For your high school self, picture day was the most important day of every year. You’d spend hours curling your hair (or aggressively straightening it until it was stick straight), begging your mom to let you wear eyeliner just this once, and rummaging through your closet for the top the best represented who you were as an individual. After all, the way you look in your high school yearbook photo is how your old classmates will always remember you. Unless, of course, you happen to become one of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces.
At first glance, Renee Zellweger is hardly recognizable in her senior portrait. The year is 1987, and Zellweger has the hair to prove it. Her bangs are feathered, her lips are bold, and her look could easily give Blue Steel a run for its money. Zellweger has obviously always been photogenic, and it’s a good thing. The Katy High School homecoming queen and small-town Texas gal has no idea the future that awaits her — and the millions of photos that will be taken of her in the years to come.
Renee Zellweger’s first major role
Some celebrities were discovered in pizza parlors. Some celebrities were discovered arguing with bank tellers. A surprising amount of celebrities were discovered at malls. However, becoming a bonafide Hollywood starlet isn’t as easy as visiting your local food court. For every celebrity discovered by chance, there’s a celebrity who made the trek to Hollywood themselves and kept the dream alive through every bit part and failed audition. Just ask Renee Zellweger.
In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Zellweger reflected on her early days in La La Land. "I was 24 when I first moved to Los Angeles. I didn’t really know how to pursue a career," she said. "Every job I feel I got by accident." After an uncredited role in Dazed and Confused in 1993, followed by a small part in Reality Bites and a starring role in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, both in 1994, Zellweger stumbled upon her happiest accident yet — a not-so-little movie by the name of Jerry Maguire.
Cameron Crowe, the film’s director, auditioned several well-known actresses for the part that would go on to be Zellweger’s big break — but neither Gwyneth Paltrow nor Mira Sorvino had quite was Crowe was looking for. In an interview with Deadline, the director recalled thinking while casting the part, "She doesn’t even have to be a star. Maybe it’s better if she isn’t." Casting director Gail Levin recommended Zellweger, and the rest is history. "Renee fit that piece of the puzzle perfectly," said Crowe.
Bridget Jones diet-ry
Renee Zellweger certainly stole hearts as Dorothy Boyd in Jerry Maguire, but it was her role as the titular Bridget Jones that solidified her celebrity. Bridget Jones’s Diary was a highly-anticipated cinematic adaptation of its novel precursor — a literary hit based off author Helen Fielding’s Independent column documenting her own misadventures as a very single 30 year-old woman.
The everywoman heroine, Bridget Jones, is British in every way — so the casting of American Zellweger was quite a shock. Actresses with considerably more accomplished careers were considered for the role during a two-year search — including Helena Bonham Carter and Emily Watson — but Zellweger’s charm eventually won over the film’s producers.
Not only did Zellweger have to perfect a British accent for her leading lady debut — which she did to rave reviews – the actress had to change her physical appearance. A recurring theme throughout Bridget Jones’s Diary is the 30-something’s tendency to feel self-conscious about her weight.
Zellweger told Us magazine (via The Washington Post) in 2001 that she gained 20 pounds to step into character — going from 110 pounds to 130 pounds in a matter of months. Despite the depiction of the heroine as "chubby," the Post was quick to note that 130 pounds on Zellweger’s 5’5" frame is far from unhealthy. In fact, it’s well-within the normal range for a woman of Zellweger’s stature.
Renee Zellweger joined the dark side
Coco Chanel said it best: "A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life." Though the length of Renee Zellweger’s mane stayed pretty much the same, the actress stepped out on many a red carpet in late 2004 and early 2005 without her signature blonde tresses. Instead, her golden locks had been replaced by a deep-brunette ‘do. Though a far-cry from the golden blonde fans knew and loved, Zellweger’s dark hair perfectly complemented her fair skin and light blue eyes.
Whether she anticipated it or not, Renee Zellweger was indeed about to change her life — for better or for worse. In January 2005, the Hollywood starlet met country music superstar Kenny Chesney. The pair fell in love, had a whirlwind romance, and wed in a beachside ceremony in May 2005. By the day of her wedding, Zellweger had traded her dark tresses for her natural blonde strands. Perhaps her newfound romance inspired her to climb out from the dark side?
As whirlwind romances are apt to do, Zellweger and Chesney’s ended only four months after their beautiful wedding ceremony. In a joint statement, Zellweger and Chesney said that "the miscommunication of the objective of their marriage at the start" was the underlying cause of the September 2005 annulment. Where’s the boxed hair dye when you need it?
Renee Zellweger became a mountain woman
You’d be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t felt pressure to look a certain way or conform to societal beauty standards in order to be considered "attractive." For a person living their life in the public eye, that pressure is multiplied infinitely. Generally speaking, celebrities possess seemingly unattainable levels of attractiveness. Flawless skin, a bright, shining smiling, and not a hair out of place — how do they do it?
As most stars will tell you themselves, it takes a village to make look like you just stepped off the cover of Vogue. Celebrities have a dedicated team of stylists with a singular goal of making sure their clients are ready for their close-ups at any given moment. When you’re used to the luxury of looking perfectly put-together all the time, the thought of going #nomakeup can be, well, frightening.
However, Renee Zellweger welcomed the opportunity to go au naturel for her Oscar-winning Cold Mountain performance. "I find there’s so much more freedom in the parts where you don’t have to constantly be concerned about looking right," Zellweger told ABC News about portraying Ruby Thewes in the 2003 film. "[Ruby] looked like where the day led her."
Renee Zellweger took on the role of Roxie
"The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be Roxie," croons Roxie Hart, the fame-obsessed murderess in Broadway’s hit musical Chicago. Surprisingly, Roxie was far from the lips of the woman whose portrayal of the infamous 1920s bad girl would earn her an Oscar nomination.
According to a 2003 press junket interview for the musical’s film adaptation, Renee Zellweger had never seen — or even read — the play when she was asked to audition for the part of Roxie Hart. "I thought, ‘No, I don’t think I should do [the movie],’ ’cause I didn’t have enough understanding of it," said Zellweger.
Though she was reluctant, Chicago director Rob Marshall convinced Zellweger to join the production during their first meeting. Zellweger recalled how Marshall convinced her to abandon her initial reservations through his wealth of insight, wisdom, and insistence that all the singing and dancing Zellweger was concerned she wouldn’t be able to do "would just be fine."
Renee Zellweger crooned "Life is hard"
Little did Renee Zellweger know that her iconic performance in Chicago wouldn’t be the last time she used her newfound vocal talent onscreen. The weeks of voice lessons certainly came in handy when Zellweger stepped into her next musical role — this time, though, she traded her tap shoes for a wheelchair.
My Own Love Song tells the story of Jane (Zellweger), a wheelchair-bound singer, and Joey (Forest Whitaker), a former fireman. The soundtrack for the film featured 16 new Bob Dylan songs — some of which were covered by Zellweger in her heartfelt performance, such as "Life is Hard."
The film, French director Olivier Dahan’s first venture into American filmmaking, was met with widely negative reviews — though Zellweger and Whitaker’s performances were praised. IFC’s Stephen Satio said her portrayal of Jane was "Zellweger’s first genuine performance in years." According to Variety, which called her performance forceful, Zellweger "resonates beyond the feebleness of the dialogue." They can’t all be box office hits, but Zellweger seems to always be on her A-game.
Renee Zellweger transformed into a pixie dream girl
Nothing makes headlines in Hollywood quite like an actress’ big chop. Just before My Own Love Song hit theaters in 2010, Renee Zellweger chopped off her long, blonde locks and traded them for an adorable cropped ‘do. This wasn’t the first time Zellweger found herself in the news for getting a trim — she debuted a fun pixie cut on the red carpet at Bee Movie‘s 2007 premiere.
The benefits to having super short hair are endless. Less shower time, less styling time, no more vanishing ponytail holders — honestly, who hasn’t considered biting the bullet and going through with a dramatic chop? That said, if you’ve always had a lengthy ‘do, making the decision to chop it off requires a certain amount of bravery — especially if you’re a celebrity.
While you’ll likely only have to worry about what your mother might say, celebrities like Zellweger have the distinct privilege of being put on trial in the court of public opinion. Luckily, the chop was well-received. Is there a look Zellweger can’t pull off?
Renee Zellweger’s surprising new look
After the 2010 premiere of My Own Love Song, Renee Zellweger disappeared for a spell. In the years that followed, the star remained relatively quiet, noticeably steering clear of magazines, tabloids, and especially movies.
That all changed in 2014 at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards when Zellweger walked the red carpet and posed for photos looking — well, not like herself. Her appearance sent shockwaves throughout the entertainment news-sphere. Suddenly, Zellweger was the news — a stark contrast to her long hiatus.
Responding to the buzz about her new look, Zellweger told People, "I’m glad folks think I look different! I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows." Zellweger certainly seemed genuine in her response to the criticism her so-called "new" face received, but the star’s happiness was not enough to stave off swirling rumors of plastic surgery.
Responding to a 2016 Variety article that went in depth about the possibility she’d had plastic surgery, Zellweger penned an op-ed for The Huffington Post simply titled, "We Can Do Better." In it she noted, "Not that it’s anyone’s business, but I did not make a decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes."
Renee Zellweger’s "international humiliation" led her to transform her thinking with therapy
After sending the media into a frenzy with the new look she debuted at the 2014 Elle Women in Hollywood Awards ceremony, Renee Zellweger put on a brave face to address her critics — saying at the time that her change in appearance was due to making healthy lifestyle changes, finding happiness, and living her best life in her 40s. But the actress revealed in 2019 that the incessant chatter about her looks landed her in therapy. Luckily, working with a professional helped Zellweger refocus on what’s truly important in life.
"Nothing like international humiliation to set your perspective right!" Zellweger joked in a September 2019 interview with Vulture. The Cold Mountain star continued, telling the publication, "It clarifies what’s important to you. And it shakes off any sort of clingy superficiality." According to Zellweger, while the rest of the world was abuzz with talk of her rumored plastic surgery, she was busy enjoying life away from the spotlight. Zellweger revealed to Vulture, "I had a good five-year period when I was joyful and in a new chapter that no one was even aware of."
Renee Zellweger started looking like her old self again
In a September 2019 Vulture profile, journalist Jonathan Van Meter wrote, "It must be said: Zellweger looks great; she looks like herself again." Van Meter continued, noting that whatever cosmetic work Zellweger was rumored to have done to her trademark "crinkly and comically expressive" eyes was "obviously temporary," even though Zellweger has stated that she did not undergo any sort of cosmetic procedure to alter her eyes.
According to Zellweger, one of the worst parts of having the media and general public speculate on whether or not she had plastic surgery was "the implication that [she] somehow needed to change what was going on because it wasn’t working." The actress revealed to Vulture, "That makes me sad. I don’t look at beauty in that way. And I don’t think of myself in that way." Zellweger continued, "I like my weird quirkiness, my off-kilter mix of things. It enables me to do what I do. I don’t want to be something else."
A star is born
Renee Zellweger certainly has an incredible ability to completely transform herself in order to fit a director’s vision for a particular character. However, as she proved in early 2018, the actress can just as seamlessly transform into one of the most beloved actresses of all time.
On March 19, 2018, the first look of Zellweger in the Judy Garland biopic was released, sending Zellweger and Garland fans alike somewhere over the rainbow. Judy, which is about Garland’s later years and final performances, didn’t have a release date upon the first-look photo’s debut — but one look was all fans needed to go crazy over the uncanny resemblance Zellweger bears to Garland. The photo features Zellweger in a black, off-the-shoulder dress complete with colorful floral details. The actress sports a dark pixie ‘do and seemingly sings into a microphone.
Garland had a notoriously beautiful and distinct singing voice, so no movie about her life would be quite complete without featuring her most iconic performances. According to Entertainment Tonight, Zellweger is taking on the task of covering those iconic performances with her own distinctive voice.
Renee Zellweger’s most dramatic transformation yet?
As seen in the initial promotional photo, Renee Zellweger could easily pass for Judy Garland’s twin. However, while looking the part is an important component of playing a Hollywood legend, many were curious to discover if Zellweger could truly capture the icon’s essence. Luckily, Zellweger has never been one to disappoint.
According to the cast and crew of 2019’s Judy, the film showcases one of Zellweger’s most incredible transformations yet. Rosalyn Wilder, a producer’s assistant at London’s Talk of the Town — the famous nightclub at which Judy Garland once had a residency — said in a featurette for Judy that she was floored by the way Zellweger transformed into Garland. Wilder revealed, "I was absolutely stunned. I’ve never seen such a transformation."
Actress Jessie Buckley, who appears alongside Zellweger in Judy, was also blown away by her co-star’s performance. "It’s literally like Judy’s in the room when [Zellweger] comes into character. Renee doesn’t look like Renee anymore," Buckley gushed.