From ’90s stardom to a sudden six-year hiatus: Inside Renée Zellweger’s big comeback

Renée Zellweger is a household name and for good reason, having graced our screens in some iconic films.

From Chicago to the Bridget Jones franchise, the now-54-year-old has led a dazzling career in Hollywood. 

Zellweger’s name has sprung back into conversation recently, with it being confirmed she will reprise her role as the lovable and endlessly relatable Bridget Jones.

The fourth film of the franchise, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, will feature Zellweger alongside Hugh Grant and will pick up four years after the previous film, Bridget Jones’ Baby.

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The new move is the latest of Zellweger’s stellar career. From glamorous stardom in the ’90s to a sudden six-year acting hiatus and a spectacular return to screens in 2016 – the star’s blazing career has been far from boring.

Read on to learn more about Zellweger’s life and career in (and out) of the limelight. 

Rise to fame

Having studied English literature at the University of Texas at Austin, Zellweger initially had her eyes set on a career in journalism.

But after dipping her toe into the world of acting with some brief stage roles while at university, Zellweger was drawn to the craft. 

She commenced her career with some minor screen roles and gained her first starring role with the slasher film The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1995) alongside Matthew McConaughey.

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402719 140: Actress Renee Zellweger arrives at the 74th Annual Academy Awards March 24, 2002 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, CA. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

However it was her role in the 1996 romantic comedy Jerry Maguire that saw her rise to stardom. Zellweger starred alongside Tom Cruise in the film which grossed over US$273 million worldwide. Her performance in this film earned her a nomination for a Screen Actors Guild Award. 

Her early career in Hollywood saw her star in various dramas and comedies alongside some other big names including Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman. Her acting started to attract critical acclaim with critics applauding Zellweger’s talent. 

“Few actresses can convey the king of honesty and humanity that Zellweger does her – it’s hard to imagine the film without her dominant, thoroughly credible performance,” Variety remarked of Zellweger’s performance in the black comedy Nurse Betty.

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 19:  Actors Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger pose with their awards backstage during the 60th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 19, 2003 in Beverly Hills, California.  Gere and Zellweger won Best Performance by an Actor and Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy for their movie, "Chicago."  (Photo by KW/Getty Images)

Zellweger went on to perform in several other critically acclaimed roles including the hit 2002 musical film Chicago where she portrayed Roxie Hart alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Geere, Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly. Her performance in which earned her a Golden Globe.

Bridget Jones’ takeover

While the actor has undoubtedly had a mammoth, star-studded career. It is her role as the bumbling, self-deprecating, but overall loveable, Bridget Jones that has arguably had the most global recognition.

Zellweger was cast in the lead role of the British romantic comedy Bridget Jones’ Diary, alongside Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in 2001. The film documents Jones’ personal and career endeavours as she navigates life in her 30s. 

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Hugh Grant, Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth

The first film of the franchise was a major success, raking in US$281 million worldwide and earning Zellweger a Golden Globe Award nomination and a BAFTA Award nomination.

The success of the first film led to the release of two more. Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason was released in 2004 and 12 years later Bridget Jones’ Baby hit our screens in 2016. A fourth instalment of the series has also been announced. 

A sudden six-year hiatus 

Arguably at the height of her career, with Chicago, two Bridget Jones films and a slew of other cinema greats under her belt, the Texas-born star suddenly disappeared from screens and the spotlight. 

She stepped off the glamorous pedestal and away from press junkets, red carpets and public scrutiny, taking a six year break to reset and explore other interests. 

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Speaking with Vulture in 2019 of the break, Zellweger said that the break was “crucial”. 

“I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was the last thing on my list of priorities,” she told Vulture

Zellweger continued to tell Vulture that after spending a year getting through a tricky period mentally, she had a “good five-year period” filled with joy calling it a “new chapter that no one was even aware of”. 

In this time Zellweger took a major side step from acting and went back to university to study public policy. 

“I snuck into UCLA for a little while to study public policy,” she told Today while promoting her new show The Thing About Pam. 

“I needed to step away and grow as a person and learn some things that were not related to work,” she continued. 

A mammoth return 

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Apart from a brief return in 2014 when she walked the red carpet at the ELLE Women in Hollywood Awards, her hiatus came to an end in 2016 as she starred in the third instalment of the Bridget Jones franchise.

Renee Zellweger, Judy Garland, movie, transformation

Her return caused a media frenzy with fans overjoyed by the return of the widely popular franchise. 

In 2019, she took on a challenge with the role of Judy Garland in the 2019 biographical drama Judy. Zellweger’s performance in this role gained her numerous accolades including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and  a BAFTA Award. She also earned a grammy for her vocal performance on the film’s soundtrack. 

Now, Zellweger’s name is circulating again with the announcement of her return for the fourth Bridget Jones film. 

Life and love in the spotlight

Having forged a successful career in a very public industry, there have been many eyes on Zellweger’s love life.

At the start of the millennium, the star had a brief engagement to fellow actor Jim Carrey. She also had brief relationships with musician Jack White, Bradley Cooper, Doyle Bramall II and a four-month marriage to singer Kenny Chesney.

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Ant Anstead and Renee Zellweger Instagram photo

But it is her relationship with English television presenter Ant Anstead that is the true love story to tell. The couple met in 2021 while filming Celebrity IOU: Joyride. 

The pair confirmed their relationship to Instagram in September of that same year. And two years later the pair celebrated their second anniversary.

It is understood that the couple are still going strong and expect to celebrate their third anniversary within the coming weeks. 

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