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Saturday, 2 September, 2000, 04:44 GMT 05:44 UK
Renee's box-office cure
Renee Zellweger and Greg Kinnear in Nurse Betty
Nurse Betty is Zellweger's biggest film to date
By BBC News Online's entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

Hollywood actress Renee Zellweger is on a winning streak, earning strong reviews for playing a small-town waitress in director Neil LaBute's sharp black comedy Nurse Betty.

The film showcases Zellweger, 31, in one of her biggest roles to date.

It also arrives in UK and US cinemas after Zellweger has spent the summer working in England on the coveted title role in the adaptation of Helen Fielding's bestseller, Bridget Jones' Diary.


She is a hopeless romantic who believes in true love and that life can be an adventure

Renee Zellweger on Betty Sizemore

In Nurse Betty, Zellweger portrays Betty Sizemore, a Kansas waitress who becomes delusional after witnessing the violent murder of her husband

She thinks she inhabits the world of A Reason To Love - her favourite daytime TV soap opera - which is set in a California hospital.

She becomes convinced that she has a personal connection to the show's leading cast member, Dr David Ravell, played by Greg Kinnear.

When she travels to Los Angeles to meet him, fantasy and reality collide in ways that are both amusing and painful.

Zellweger talks affectionately about her character in the film:

"She is very warm, likeable. She has big dreams about what life can be about," she says.

Renee Zellweger
Zellweger talks fondly about 'Nurse Betty'

"She is also a hopeless romantic who believes in true love and that life can be an adventure.

"Yet she leads a very ordinary life. She lives her fantasies through watching this soap opera."

Zellweger, who grew up in Texas, admits she got caught up watching soap operas herself when she was younger but she never went as far as fantasising she was part of one.

"No, I can't say that that ever happened," she says, adding: " I was much more into the Olympics to be honest - I dreamed of running around that track!"

Observation

Film-maker Neil LaBute's two previous films, In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbours, were dark works that dealt with sexual politics and misogyny.

Nurse Betty, which LaBute directs but did not write, is a much lighter work, although it does contain one moment of extreme violence that many have found gratuitous.

Neil LaBute
LaBute is an astute social observer

LaBute is an astute social observer and Zellweger is among his fans.

She says: "He is very clever, there is always something very ironic about the stories he tells and definitely it is part of this film and its messages."

Zellweger maintains that Nurse Betty makes a statement about today's media-led society.

"It's a comment on what it like to live in a world that is saturated by media images and the cynicism that's arisen in our society as a result."

Zellweger began acting as a student at the University of Texas. Her first leading role in a film came in 1994 in the thriller Love and a .45."

But it was playing opposite Tom Cruise as his love interest in the romantic comedy Jerry Maguire four years ago that really thrust her into the limelight.

Since then she has played opposite Meryl Streep, in One True Thing, and Jim Carrey, now her real-life romantic partner, in the comedy Me, Myself & Irene.

But getting cast in Bridget Jones' Diary was a major coup for Zellweger. She hopes she has done a good job.

Renee Zellweger and Jim Carrey in Me, Myself & Irene
Zellweger starred alongside real-life boyfriend Jim Carrey in Me, Myself & Irene

"I never think it's right ever, but I put a lot into it and I really tried, because I felt this huge responsibility to make her as true to the book as I could," she explained.

The decision to place an American actress in the leading role instead of home-grown actresses like Helena Bonham Carter and Kate Winslet prompted criticism in the British press.

Zellweger is aware that landing the part in Bridget Jones' Diary ruffled a few feathers.

"I understand the miffed aspect of that experience. I understand that it is a smaller market and so there are less opportunities for English girls.

"I felt very lucky that they called me about that and what a gift, what an incredible journey as an actress to take!"

Some critics complain that Zellweger is a one-note performer and that she always plays the same roles.

Nurse Betty, however, proves that Zellweger is more than just competent, and is capable of displaying a large range of emotions.

But the true test of her acting skills will probably come with the release of Bridget Jones' Diary.

If she manages to pass herself off as an authentic Englishwoman she will disarm her critics once and for all - and then most definitely she will have arrived.

See also:

26 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Carrey sends Chickens running
24 Feb 00 | Entertainment
Renée wins Bridget role
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