NEW YORK — Renee Zellweger sits in a Manhattan hotel room, wrapped in a tight, gray, off-the-shoulder sheath that stops just inches from her sand-colored stilettos. She stands and beams, friendly and extending her hand.
Face it — she had you even before “Hello.”
Zellweger blends that natural charm with the faded glamour of a 1953 society wife in “My One and Only,” which opened wide in theaters Friday. The seriocomic gem tells a fictionalized story of Hollywood icon George Hamilton at age 15, when he traipsed cross-country in a Cadillac convertible with his brother and runaway mother, Anne Devereaux (Zellweger).
Zellweger, 40, who won a supporting actress Oscar for “Cold Mountain” (2003), following best actress nominations for “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001) and “Chicago” (2002), spoke with Frank Lovece.
Q. So, basically, you and Meryl Streep are now officially interchangeable: You both win Oscars, do accents, sing ... What’s left? Learning to play a musical instrument for a role?
A. Well, I did take piano lessons for “Appaloosa,” and I had to play four songs for that film. It’s so funny, because the way it was shot, I could have been knitting behind those keys and you wouldn’t have known the difference! But, yep, I was playing the piano.
There was another film that I had talked about doing where I was going to play the violin. I’ve got the best “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” you’ve ever heard!
Q. Which film was that?
A. I won’t say, since I didn’t end up doing the film.
Q. Y’know, Meryl Streep learned to play violin for “Music of the Heart” (1999).
A. Yeah (laughs). She did, actually! (laughs) She sure did!
Q. So, how does the producer of a modestly budgeted movie come to say, “Let’s go get us a major Oscar-winning star for the lead!”
A. It’s about the material, and if it’s good and the time is right in my life, and if I feel like I’d go see (the film) myself. The character is so much fun, and it felt right for last summer. I thought, “I wanna go and be this lady this summer and discover what her experiences might be like.”
Q. The British tabloid The Daily Mirror and others say the third “Bridget Jones” movie is expected to start filming at the end of 2010. What do you hear about it?
A. I’ve no idea. No idea. People have been talking about it, and it was a rumor, and now people think it’s not a rumor. To me, it’s still a rumor.
Q. Along those lines, since different sources say different things: Were you in the 1993 movie “My Boyfriend’s Back”?
A. I did a bit part in that. ... I was still in college. It was filmed in Austin, where I lived when I was going to the University of Texas. I got a bit part ... as a local hire, the girl in the beauty shop, maybe two lines. But the beauty shop got cut.
Q. Did that get you your Screen Actors Guild card, regardless?
A. I got my SAG card on my Coors Light commercial. Yeah! Coors Light paid for college! (chuckles)
Q. Your most famous movie line — “You had me at ‘Hello,’” from “Jerry Maguire” — is still a catchphrase all these years later. Did you nail it the first take, or did it come after a lot of tries?
A. Cameron (Crowe, the director) had me say it a few different ways. It’s so funny, because when I read it, I didn’t get it — I thought it was a typo somehow. I kept looking at it. It was the one thing in the script that I was looking at going, “Is that right? Can that be right? How is that right?” I thought, “Is there a better way to say that? Am I not getting it? I just don’t know how to do it.”
Q. So, do you remember which take it was?
A. Oh, honey! I can’t remember a thing! What day it was or whether it was the first day or the next day! (laughs)