Then and Now: Renée Zellweger (From ‘Jerry Maguire’ to ‘Judy’)

Though Renée Zellweger has an extensive filmography, she’s known best for two films: 1996’s Jerry Maguire and 2019’s Judy. The former thrust her into the Hollywood spotlight and the latter garnered her a Best Actress Oscar for her turn as the troubled performer (and Wizard of Oz starlet) Judy Garland. Thanks to that role (and especially to the Oscar win), Zellweger’s career is in the midst of a second wind, a delight to her fans as she had dropped off the map for much of the 2010s.

But let’s rewind. Up until Jerry Maguire, Zellweger had struggled to make a name for herself in Tinsel Town. She’d appeared in Reality Bites (as one of Ethan Hawke’s character’s one-night stands) and Empire Records (opposite Liv Tyler) in 1994 as well as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation with Matthew McConaughey the following year. But nobody knew who the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Texan was. That was, until Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe heard about her performance in the period romance The Whole Wide World. Though Hollywood darlings like Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder, and Marisa Tomei were considered for the role of single mom Dorothy Boyd, Cameron auditioned Zellweger – and she nabbed the part, thanks to the undeniable chemistry between her and Tom Cruise, who starred as sports agent Jerry Maguire.

Jerry Maguire hit a home run, both at the box office and with critics and audiences alike. Suddenly, everyone knew who the pouty beauty Renée Zellweger was. But then something happened. Despite steady work in comedies like Me, Myself & Irene (which led to her dating costar Jim Carrey), a recurring role in the Bridget Jones franchise, and three Golden Globe acting wins (for Nurse Betty, Chicago, and Cold Mountain), she decided to take a six-year hiatus from acting. After 2010, Zellweger faded from most movie fans’ memories — until 2019, when she appeared on screen in Judy.

Zellweger shined in the biopic as the titular vivacious singer who struggled with drug addiction and anxiety. She captured the superstar’s nervous tics while embodying her larger-than-life stage presence. Critics praised Zellweger’s performance, and when the 2020 Academy Award nominations were announced, she was considered a shoo-in for Best Actress. And win she did, making her a two-time Oscar winner (her first Academy Award was for Best Supporting Actress in Cold Mountain). Poised and statuesque in a one-shoulder Armani Privé sequin number, Zellweger accepted the award and (in her Southern drawl) praised the way heroes like Garland unite us.

Zellweger charmed her way into our hearts way back when and she’s still wowing us today. Let’s hope her recent accolades pave the way for higher quality roles for the actress, who certainly deserves them. In the meantime, here are some GIFs honoring Renée Zellweger’s most memorable movies.

Cover Photos: TriStar Pictures and Roadside Attractions

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