Reneé Zellweger: "Young women today never assume they can't do anything. It's wonderful"

·5-min read
Photo credit: Terence Patrick - Getty Images
Photo credit: Terence Patrick - Getty Images

Reneé Zellweger is nothing short of a Hollywood institution. Both critically acclaimed and commercially beloved, the actress' output has seen her display grit and gumption, musical pizazz and chain-smoking British snark. She is Roxie Hart and Bridget Jones. Quite simply, she he had us at hello.

Now she is bringing her stardust to her first major starring role on the small screen, playing the titular character in The Thing About Pam – a limited series she has also produced. The show is based on the real life 2011 murder of Betsy Faria – a true-crime sensation (with its own Dateline podcast) – in which her best friend Pam Hopp slowly becomes implicated. Following her Oscar-winning turn as Judy Garland, this will be the second real person Zellweger has portrayed. That, she tells me, comes with its own set of pressures.

Photo credit: NBC
Photo credit: NBC

"It's a different sort of responsibility that comes with it, I suppose," she says, Zooming in from Los Angeles. "You have to be as authentic as you can, and respectful as you can. In terms of preparation, luckily there's enough on public record to help guide decisions and inform the performance."

"I relied very heavily on the interviews that our research team had with family members, about their experiences and people who are close to the case. And that, for me, was important to stick to," she continues. "I wanted this performance to be an amalgam of the information that's in the podcast and the public record; to accurately and responsibly tell the story…"

Zellweger is thoughtful and charming in person. Her Texan lilt is stronger than expected – used as I am to hearing her through the various accents she had deployed through her career. But she is, of course, an actress of extraordinary malleability. Before I even speak to Zellweger, her team requests I should not ask about the fat suit she wears as Pam Hopp. But they needn't have. For far too long, Zellweger's talents have become obfuscated by misogynistic-leaning coverage of her weight gain (to play Bridget Jones) and loss (to play Roxie Hart and Judy Garland) instead of focusing on the truly transformative nature of both of these performances. It is not a fat suit which makes Zellweger Pam Hopp. She seamlessly morphs into her with incredible skill and attention to detail.

Photo credit: NBC
Photo credit: NBC

"Pam really intrigued me as a character," she tells me. "How she presents herself is so completely far removed from the truth of who she is. It was like playing a role within a role. She still feels so fresh to me, and at the moment one of my favourite characters I've played."

Zellweger also serves as executive producer on the show, The Thing About Pam marking the first outing of her own production company, Big Picture Co. After years of being in front of the camera, she has relished the opportunity to peak behind it. "I love being part of the creative decisions; the casting and music and the writing and all sorts of post-production decisions. We call it quality control," she grins, evidently hugely enthused by this new chapter in her life. "My partners at Big Picture Company, and I, we're all perfectionists! For me it is a more comprehensive experience, to take projects from the ground up."

Photo credit: RB/Bauer-Griffin - Getty Images
Photo credit: RB/Bauer-Griffin - Getty Images

One of the most rewarding aspects of this new producing role, she says, has been the sourcing and championing of talent. "My favourite part has been bringing in a bunch of young writers and first-time directors," she says. A lot of these, as well as her team and her own production partners, are women. I ask if the foregrounding of women in Hollywood is important to her. "Well, I mean, talent is talent, and you know when you're in the room with someone who has it, or when you read the material... you just know if you want to give them a shot," she says, clearly excited to be the one – in an industry dominated by make decision-makers – to be the 'shot giver'. She nods. "Oh yeah, it is probably one of the most exciting things to be the one making those decisions and to be able to give someone that chance. Just because someone's never done it before doesn't mean that they can't, and to champion them and to mentor young people on their creative journeys – oh that's amazing."

She sees the increase in female talent – both in front of and behind the camera – as a sign of changing times in Hollywood. "The younger generations of women coming up now have a different sort of expectation for themselves," she says. "The women today never assume they can't do something; it never occurred to them, that they shouldn't. It is wonderful to witness that and be a part of that."

Following The Thing About Pam, Zellweger may be embarking on more television projects. "It is getting a wider audience now," she says, of our golden TV streaming age."Personally, I love it. Because as a storyteller, you have an opportunity to more comprehensively explore the lives of these people; these stories or these characters. And it's a lot of fun."

Photo credit: NBC - Getty Images
Photo credit: NBC - Getty Images

'The Thing About Pam' is available to stream on NowTV and Sky in the UK from Thursday 21 July.

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