"I ran out of coins so I had to take my wet clothes home with me and throw them around my living room," Renee Zellweger says of a laundry incident early in her career. "The next morning, the phone went, and they were offering me this movie with Tom Cruise. I just started laughing because I was looking at all this wet laundry and I knew no one would believe me."
The movie with Tom Cruise turned out to be Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire, the $240 million grossing blockbuster that put Renee on the map. After bit parts in Dazed And Confused and 8 Seconds, the cheerleader and track and field star who grew up in Katy, Texas, was suddenly on every casting director's wish list.
The daughter of a Norwegian mother, Irene, and a Swiss father, Emil, Renee graduated from the University of Texas and soon after got her first professional gig: a beef commercial. Determined to succeed, she lived the struggling actor's cliché, waitressing to make ends meet while auditioning. She later co-starred with classmate Matthew McConaughey in the little seen B-movie The Return Of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, before hitting the big time with a string of high-profile projects including One True Thing opposite Meryl Streep and the dark comedy Nurse Betty, for which she won a Golden Globe.
It was the coveted role as the titular anti-heroine in Bridget Jones's Diary that established her firmly alongside Cameron Diaz and Sandra Bullock, however. Initially, the casting of American-as-apple-pie actress Renee as Bridget she reportedly beat Kate Winslet and Helena Bonham Carter to the part sent the British press into a tizzy. Ignoring the controversy, Renee just got on with her homework, which included putting on two stone and taking an entry-level job at a London publishing house for three months to get into the role, accent and experience-wise.
For the notoriously giddy Renee, success isn't the same as fame. While Cameron and Tom were hobnobbing on Oscar night when Jerry Maguire was a contender, the film's ingenue was elsewhere. "It was so Renee not to be there. The spotlight is very low on her list of priorities," Cameron says of the actress.
But Renee would enjoy being the centre of attention on Oscar night quite a few years later. In 2004, after her third consecutive nomination (she was shortlisted for Bridget Jones and 2002's Chicago) the star picked up a best supporting actress gong for her role in Cold Mountain.
Like that of her Bridget Jones character, for a while Renee's love life, with a pair of notable exceptions, was remarkably low key. She dated actor Jim Carrey after meeting him on the set of Me, Myself And Irene and also stepped out with George Clooney before striking up a relationship with White Stripes front man Jack White.
In May 2005, however, the showbiz world was stunned when, following a whirlwind romance, she wed country and western singer Kenny Chesney in a Caribbean ceremony. Then, just as suddenly, the marriage was annulled, only four months later.