When a role demands it, Renée Zellweger isn’t shy about changing her appearance. But when the Oscar-winning star appeared to have altered her looks in real life, it wasn’t as well received. And although it’s been years since rumors emerged that the actress may have had plastic surgery, the whole episode still seems to be on Zellweger’s mind. In September 2019, then, she decided to speak out about the controversy – and what she had to say was rather shocking.
In case you don’t remember, the internet erupted after Zellweger was photographed at Elle magazine’s Women in Hollywood event in 2014. During her appearance at the prestigious get-together, you see, she looked a little different to the actress that many knew – the star of Jerry Maguire, Cold Mountain and the Bridget Jones series. And people pondered one question in particular: what exactly had Zellweger done to her face?
Twitter users couldn’t resist but make jokes about Zellweger’s new look, either, although a lot of comments crossed the line into being mean. One person wrote, for example, that the actress bore some resemblance to “a waxwork figure,” tagging the comment with “#MadameTussaudsCalledTheyWantYouBack.” Others, meanwhile, used the words “scary” and “creepy” in reference to Zellweger’s appearance.
However, Zellweger has always seemingly been happy to alter her looks whenever the situation demands it. To prepare for her role as Bridget Jones, for instance, she put on 20 pounds. And throughout the movie, the title character is referred to as “chubby” – although Zellweger ended up at 130 pounds in the end, which is still a suitable weight for her height.
Yet this new body shape led to some very unwanted attention for Zellweger. In 2003 she told Vogue, “When [Bridget Jones’s Diary] was coming out, the question I was asked the most was regarding my weight… I was followed around Heathrow by a guy who wanted to take a picture of my backside. I don’t understand the obsession.”
Then, not long after Bridget Jones’s Diary came the ultimately Oscar-winning musical Chicago, and this time around Zellweger had to lose weight. Still, shedding those pounds didn’t stop people from commenting relentlessly on the star’s appearance. In 2002 the Daily Mail claimed, for one, that she now looked unhealthily thin.
And as time went on, plastic surgery rumors began to surround Zellweger. In 2007 the Daily Mail jumped into the discussion again with an article headlined, “Has Ruddy-Faced Renée Zellweger Taken Beauty Treatments Too Far?” That wasn’t the end of the talk about the actress’ looks, either.
Yes, in a 2009 piece for Page Six, Jarett Wieselman lamented Zellweger’s new slimmed-down physique. The writer explained, “I watched the woman I fell in love with slowly vanish – literally and figuratively. Renée overcompensated for her Bridget Jones weight gain so greatly that she became a stick figure.”
But Zellweger’s 2014 appearance at the Elle event caused arguably the biggest furor of all, with the press going on to speculate furiously about what she may have had done. A surgeon called Dr. Fuat Yuksel told the Daily Mirror at the time, “Renée has undergone some facial procedures to contour the shape of her face. [These include] fillers around her nasolabial folds and cheeks to give her face a fuller appearance, plus Botox around the brow area to tighten her skin and make it appear more youthful.”
Zellweger herself, however, would neither confirm nor deny that she had plastic surgery. During the media frenzy, she released a statement to People magazine in October 2014 that read, “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.”
The actress added in her message, “My friends say that I look peaceful. I am healthy. For a long time, I wasn’t doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn’t allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion.”
Zellweger also said of her lifestyle, “I was aware of the chaos and finally chose different things.” But she wasn’t exactly happy that people were commenting on her appearance again. She told People that the comments were “silly” and that she was only speaking out because “the folks who come digging around for some nefarious truth which doesn’t exist won’t get off [her] porch until [she answers] the door.”
Then in June 2016 the trailer for a new Bridget Jones film, Bridget Jones’s Baby, was released. And yet again, Zellweger’s appearance in her famous role prompted a certain amount of concern. In the headline to one of its articles, for example, Variety starkly asked, “Renée Zellweger: If She No Longer Looks Like Herself, Has She Become A Different Actress?”
In the piece itself, writer Owen Gleiberman said, “I didn’t stare at the actress [in the trailer] and think, ‘She doesn’t look like Renée Zellweger.’ I thought, ‘She doesn’t look like Bridget Jones!’ Oddly, that made it matter more. Celebrities, like anyone else, have the right to look however they want, but the characters they play become part of us. I suddenly felt like something had been taken away.”
A few months on, however, and it appeared that Zellweger had finally had enough of people offering unsolicited comments on her looks. In an attempt to fight back, then, she penned an article for HuffPost that both discussed her personal feelings surrounding her appearance and her own anger at the media.
At the beginning of her article, Zellweger wrote, “In October 2014, a tabloid newspaper article reported that I’d likely had surgery to alter my eyes. It didn’t matter; just one more story in the massive smut pile generated every day by the tabloid press and fueled by exploitative headlines and folks who practice cowardly cruelty from their anonymous internet pulpits.”
Then, after that damning indictment, Zellweger explained why she was hitting out. “Choosing the dignity of silence rather than engaging with the commerce of cruel fiction leaves one vulnerable not only to the usual ridicule, but [also] to having the narrative of one’s life hijacked by those who profiteer from invented scandal,” she revealed.
And Zellweger continued, “I am not writing today because I have been publicly bullied or because the value of my work has been questioned by a critic whose ideal physical representation of a fictional character originated 16 years ago – over which he feels ownership – I no longer meet.” Instead, she asserted, she wanted to set the record straight, saying that she was troubled by how newspaper “speculation” was being treated as fact.
Zellweger denied, too, that she had undergone the procedures that tabloids claimed she had done, adding, “Not that it’s anyone’s business, but I did not make a decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes. This fact is of no true import to anyone at all, but that the possibility alone was discussed among respected journalists and became a public conversation is a disconcerting illustration of news/entertainment confusion and society’s fixation on physicality.”
What’s more, the actress was angry at how she had become a tabloid staple while harder-hitting news items had seemingly fallen by the wayside. She questioned, “What if immaterial tabloid stories, judgments and misconceptions remained confined to the candy jar of low-brow entertainment and were replaced in mainstream media by far more important, necessary conversations?”
Zellweger concluded, “Maybe we could talk more about why we seem to collectively share an appetite for witnessing people diminished and humiliated with attacks on appearance and character and how it impacts younger generations and struggles for equality… Maybe we could talk more about our many true societal challenges and how we can do better.”
And Zellweger didn’t forget about that time when the whole world seemed to have an opinion on her face. In a September 2019 interview with Vulture, she mused, “Nothing like international humiliation to set your perspective right!” The star added that she had actually seen a therapist during that time.
During Zellweger’s period in therapy, moreover, the professional apparently understood the scrutiny that the actress had been under. Zellweger added, “[The therapist] recognized that I spent 99 percent of my life as the public persona and just a microscopic crumb of a fraction in my real life. I needed to not have something to do all the time, to not know what I’m going to be doing for the next two years in advance. I wanted to allow for some accidents.”
And Zellweger also shared that at one point during the media storm she had run into Salma Hayek at an airport. It seems, too, that Hayek had had some advice to hand out. According to Zellweger, her fellow actress had said, “The rose doesn’t bloom all year… unless it’s plastic.” Zellweger took that to mean, “You have to fake that you’re okay to go and do this next thing.”
The interviewer told Zellweger, however, that back in 2014 people had feared she wouldn’t look like herself going forward. In response, the star said, “That makes me sad. I don’t look at beauty in that way. And I don’t think of myself in that way. 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.”
Then, not long afterwards, Zellweger’s words in that article were brought up by another interviewer. A little later on in September 2019, the actress sat down for a SiriusXM Town Hall special, and host Jess Cagle mentioned the “international humiliation” comment that she had been quoted as giving in the Vulture piece.
Cagle remarked to Zellweger that he felt surprised the backlash would make her feel so bad. Zellweger replied, however, “I think you’d kind of have to be dead not to [have it hurt your feelings.]” At one point, she added, she had overheard complete strangers on a train slamming her looks.
Specifically, Zellweger had been on the London Underground when she had listened in to the remarks. “They were talking about Hollywood, and they were talking about how Hollywood ladies are so silly – and especially that Renée Zellweger,” she explained. “‘And how could she do that? Why would she go and have surgery on her face, like we wouldn’t know?’”
These strangers on the train also seemed to have a curious sense of entitlement over Zellweger’s appearance. The actress claimed that the bystanders had similarly questioned, “‘How could [Zellweger] do that? She doesn’t look like herself. And you can’t just do that, where you go and you just don’t look like yourself, because we expect you to look like yourself.’”
Zellweger said, though, that eventually the man gossiping about her noticed that she was sitting right next to him. “The man is still talking about how stupid I am. And he looked up, and he said, ‘Oh God, you’re not… you are… you’re… Oh my God, but you look just like yourself,’” she told Cagle. “And I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s funny how that works, isn’t it?’”
Yet the man apparently didn’t offer an apology for his remarks. Instead, Zellweger recalled, “He said, ‘Wow, oh, well you know Hugh Grant.’ And I said, ‘I do know Hugh Grant, he’s a great guy. I’ll tell him you said hello.’” British actor Grant was one of Zellweger’s co-stars in the Bridget Jones movie franchise.
Zellweger went on, “It’s only momentarily where you go, ‘Jeez, wow, that’s pretty painful.’ But then I don’t live in that. It just visits my life a little bit here and there. And I’m not really privy to that stuff until someone sends it to me and comments and says, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe they said this, or this happened.’ I’m not aware of it because I don’t seek it out, and I’m busy.”
Zellweger is indeed busy making a comeback with a new biopic of actress Judy Garland, which is titled simply Judy. The movie saw Zellweger make yet another physical transformation in order to portray Garland, and her performance as the troubled star prompted an extended standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival.
And in her interview with Vulture, Zellweger shared a little of the effort that she and the Judy crew members put into perfecting the actress’ take on the screen legend. “We were talking about seeing what we might be able to do. Every day. Just try that,” Zellweger said. “Try and see what this feels like. And what does that hair color look like? Let’s try this kind of makeup, and then let’s try these songs with this kind of orchestration.”
In fact, one of Zellweger’s castmates has raved about how well she transformed herself into Garland. Finn Whitrock, who portrays Garland’s fifth husband Mickey Deans on screen, told Vulture, “There was such a palpable sense of loneliness with Judy, that sense that she gave more to life than it gave back to her, of being drained and world-weary – which is not, in my observation, something Renée has naturally.”
Whitrock went on, “I don’t know what [Zellweger’s] secret was, but it was like she was heavier than she is in real life, carrying a kind of grief around with her. And the way Renée played Judy, the grief doesn’t come out as self-defeating. It comes out through comedy – but all her zingers are from a deep sense of sadness.”
What’s more, Zellweger was so often in character that Wittrock didn’t get a sense of what she really looked like until filming had ended. “[Zellweger] was always in the wig and had a bit of a prosthetic nose and dark contacts,” he told Vulture. “It wasn’t till the wrap party that she came out and she was blonde and wearing a stunning dress, and I was like, ‘Oh, right. That’s the movie star.’”
Vulture additionally noted, “When Zellweger talks about how Garland was a misunderstood figure, you can’t help but hear echoes of her own struggles.” And of the Wizard of Oz star, Zellweger explained, “There was so much that was not allowed for. You’re not allowed to be human. There’s no room on the schedule for her sanity – the choices that were made for her and how she was exploited and… robbed, basically.”
But even the Vulture piece didn’t steer away from commenting on Zellweger’s looks. Writer Jonathan Van Meter said, for example, “Zellweger looks great; she looks like herself again.” He also claimed that whatever the celebrity had previously done to her eyes had been “obviously temporary” – despite the fact that Zellweger herself had denied any such procedure.
Regardless of any continued speculation, though, people are already beginning to dub 2019 the year of the “Renéessance.” There’s even rumors that she may win an Oscar – her second – for her portrayal of Garland. And if Zellweger does emerge victorious at the Academy Awards, it will prove to any naysayers – on the train and elsewhere – that it doesn’t really matter what she looks like if she can still act.