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Renee Zellweger takes on Betty, now Bridget
NEW YORK (CNN) -- For Renee Zellweger, thin most definitely is not in.
The actress, an elfin woman with a big pouf of blonde hair untidily pulled away from her round face, is doing her best to pack on the pounds. But if pigging out looks this good, the diet industry is in serious trouble.
"Trust me, this is just a really good dress," she sighs.
Actually, it's not. The frock in question is, in fact, a snug wraparound black creation, hugging Zellweger's petite frame. Gallingly enough, the months of gluttony haven't left their mark. And not too many of us can pity an actress who, in the name of high art, has to stuff herself full of pasta, chocolate and junk food.
So why the great weight debate? Zellweger, 31, was most recently in London shooting "Bridget Jones' Diary," a film based on the massively popular tale of one neurotic Londoner's quest for thinness, confidence and true love. And to stay true to her character, whose weight fluctuates throughout the novel, Zellweger had to plump up.
"I was very successful until we started to do night shoots," she said. "They just leave you so fatigued and with absolutely no appetite and I was repulsed at the thought of those obligatory Snickers bars."
But for now, Zellweger's days of forced feedings and faux Brit accents are over. On Friday, her latest flick, "Nurse Betty," hits theaters. This time, Zellweger plays a loopy woman who pursues her favorite soap opera star (Greg Kinnear) after her husband (Aaron Eckhart) dies a grisly death.
In "Nurse Betty," directed by black comedy master Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men"), Zellweger is at her earthy, dippy best. The actress, who both in person and on-screen comes across as sweetly cerebral rather than achingly insecure (just think of the earnest mother she portrayed in "Jerry Maguire"), is no Winona Ryder, a frail woman who always manages to radiate a sense of inner turmoil.
Of course, that same word could describe the low-key Zellweger's work on "Bridget Jones' Diary," a quintessentially British novel if ever there was one.
Casting the all-American Zellweger -- who was born and raised in Katy, Texas, and who made her movie debut in the U.S. slacker magnum opus "Dazed and Confused" -- as the typically English Bridget Jones has caused something of an uproar in England. Sure, Gwyneth can talk like a Londoner. But Renee? Zellweger, whose twang rivals that of George "Dubya" Bush, feels her critics' pain.
"This character is quintessentially English and is representative of the new, modern, working young woman in England," she says. "I can see why so many women who have related to her in such an important way would want her to be played by a British person."
That's a typically tactful answer from a woman who's learned to watch her words. But despite her more guarded demeanor, Zellweger still radiates a certain sense of guilelessness. With her slightly scrunched up face, small eyes and voluminous lips, she's not your typical cosmetically enhanced Hollywood knockout. Perhaps that's why funnyman Jim Carrey, he of the rubber lips and manic physical comedy, fell for her while they were filming "Me, Myself and Irene" last year.
"It's silly, kind of, because it's all kind of protected. It's not like that from the inside," she says of the media's fixation on her relationship.
Zellweger grimaces when Carrey's name comes up. She knows their relationship is a hot topic, the stuff that an "Access Hollywood" exclusive is made of. But it's also near and dear to her heart. She wants to jump on the table and scream her happiness, she mumbles, but that would only mean sharing all those intimate details with millions of outsiders. So instead, she's assembled a collage of pat answers that seem to be personal without actually giving away anything even resembling bedroom gossip.
"We became comfortable around each other really quickly and we became fast friends," she says. "We really enjoyed working with one another. We did have a good time during the day, joking around the monitor and sitting down for lunch. Work was a nice place to be and he was a big part of that. I liked him, a lot, but you're not going (to the set) for the love connection."
Zellweger, who previously dated director Josh Pate, has traditionally been militant about keeping her personal life just that. As for Carrey -- who's been through two failed marriages (to Melissa Womer and actress Lauren Holly) -- he tries his best to stay mum about his significant other.
"Aside from giving personal details, because I think that what we are is too special to share with strangers and the worldI will say that we had the most wonderful, old-fashioned, tremendously something-you-dream-about-happening-and-never-happens-anymore type of courtship," he says. "We're having a great time. I think she's absolutely a gem of a human being."
Apparently, Carrey was smitten from the start. According to Peter and Bobby Farrelly, who directed "Irene," Carrey fell for Zellweger shortly after the shoot started. "They weren't making out, which is what he wanted to do," says Bobby Farrelly. That's because Zellweger, resolutely avoiding the Julia Roberts M.O. of shacking up with her leading men, blew him off.
Lights, camera, action
Not so, says the actress.
"There were no advances," Zellweger said. "No, no, no. It wasn't like that. We played a lot, we enjoyed the work. He's too professional to show up with it on a big name tag: Jim's Longing."
The two, in fact, didn't officially get involved until the movie had wrapped. And somewhat ironically, all those rumors about Zellweger and Carrey getting frisky on the set led to their romance.
"When the picture wrapped, we'd spoken a couple of times on the phone and then all those rumors came out that I was dating him," says Zellweger. "I was so mad. I said, 'No, it's not true.' And then I went homeand I went, 'God, I do miss him.'
"It was a very natural, innocent, old-fashioned way of getting to know a person," she adds. "I loved being around him and really gravitated towards him because we had fun."
In fact, the couple's co-stars learned about the love affair by watching the evening entertainment shows. Today, Zellweger says she's blissfully happy and would work with Carrey again in a heartbeat. Even her dog, she says, approves of the relationship.
"She's a good judge of character and when she gave him the thumbs up, I was thinking, 'OK, yeah.' She turns her tail up and she's very picky about who's gonna be her friend," laughs the actress.
And that gives a whole new meaning to puppy love.
Carrey courts controversy, co-star in 'Me, Myself and Irene'
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