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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 15:18 GMT
Zellweger's path to success
Renee Zellweger
Zellweger said director Anthony Minghella had made her a better actress
Actress Renee Zellweger has won best Oscar for her role in Anthony Minghella's epic film Cold Mountain.

From the weight-obsessed, wine-soaked Bridget Jones to Chicago's incarcerated killer Roxie Hart, the Texan star's abilities have made her one of Hollywood's most sought after stars.

In American civil war drama Cold Mountain, Zellweger plays a drifter called Ruby who helps Nicole Kidman's character to manage her dead father's farm.

But the 33-year-old made her way into the public eye thanks to years of hard work on unflattering roles - including playing a murder victim in 1994's Return of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

She started acting in a club at high school, and took acting classes at the University of Texas, where she decided to take it up as a full-time career after graduating in 1991.

I can't remember my acceptance speech - it's all been a blur
Renee Zellweger backstage after the Oscars ceremony 2004

She stayed in Houston and refused to change her "difficult" name - inherited from her Swiss father - despite the advice of several agents.

So she took a number of smaller roles, including parts in 1994's Reality Bites and Empire Records.

Thriller Love And A .45 led to enough critical acclaim to persuade her to move to Los Angeles, where she was unexpectedly cast in the critically acclaimed independent movie The Whole Wide World.

The role of the outspoken girlfriend to pulp-fiction writer Robert E Howard was meant for Olivia d'Abo but d'Abo pulled out when she found she was pregnant.

Neurotic

It was this role that brought Zellweger to the attention of Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe.

Bridget Jones' Diary
Zellweger's first Ocsar nomination was for her role as Bridget Jones
The role, opposite Tom Cruise, threw her into the limelight, and she was praised for her down-to-earth skills.

The same praise came her way when she later acted alongside big stars Meryl Streep and William Hurt in One True Thing.

A high-profile romance with screen funnyman Jim Carrey raised her into Tinseltown's higher ranks when they starred together in comedy Me Myself And Irene.

Yet no one was more surprised than Zellweger when she landed the role of Bridget Jones - the neurotic British heroine of Helen Fielding's novels.

"It never occurred to me that I should even think about the part. I figured that this was a film that would be made in Britain and that it would be played by a British actress. And that was that."

But the slim actress mastered Jones's middle class English accent and mannerisms - and put on two stones in weight. "I felt voluptuous for the first time in my life," she said at the time.

She found the role's real appeal was its difficulty.

"I wasn't sure I could pull it off so I had to see what would happen. It required so much work, I couldn't not try it."

Globe win

Zellweger's awards form
2004: Won Oscar for Cold Mountain
2004: Won Golden Globe for Cold Mountain
2004: Won Bafta for Cold Mountain
2003: Oscar-nominated for Chicago
2003: Won Golden Globe for Chicago
2003: Bafta-nominated for Chicago
2002: Nominated for Golden Globe for Bridget Jones's Diary
2002: Oscar nominee for Bridget Jones's Diary
2002: Bafta-nominated for Bridget Jones's Diary
2001: Won Golden Globe for Nurse Betty

Comedy thriller Nurse Betty followed, which helped her win her first major prize, a Golden Globe.

Chicago, directed by Rob Marshall, came as a chance for Zellweger to show off her newly-regained svelte figure, and to demonstrate some new talents - as she had never danced or sung on film before.

"Before Chicago, I wouldn't sing for anyone but my dog," she said.

"I didn't understand the Chicago script and I have no background in musicals.

But my manager called me and said, "You have to meet Rob Marshall. He's extraordinarily bright and he seems like a wonderful guy. Someone you'd have as a friend.

The effort was worth it as she scooped a best actress Golden Globe for her troubles, and was nominated for an Oscar and a Bafta.

Cold Mountain won Zellweger best supporting actress at the Baftas and at the Golden Globe Awards to sit alongside her Oscar.

The star recently filmed Bridget Jones sequel The Edge Of Reason, due out in November this year.

Discussions about her weight gain for the role dominated media headlines for the second time.

But her Oscar win should keep the media focused on her acting ability for some time to come.


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