Renee Zellweger endures freezing temps to mine laughs in 'New in Town'
But knows there's little to laugh about in economic crisis on and off screen
“New in Town” is nothing new for Renee Zellweger and no, it has nothing to do with her much-needed return to the romantic comedy genre that launched her career. Unlike other stars who purposely make sure their films shoot as much as possible in New York or Los Angeles, it appears that Zellweger is a traveler. Her last four releases have sent her to Toronto (“Cinderella Man”), England (“Miss Potter”), South Carolina (“Leatherheads”), Austin, Texas (“Appaloosa”) and most recently, the sub zero temperatures of Winnipeg, Canada. (Yes, she shot “Case 39” in Vancouver somewhere in that mix, but it’s been on the shelf for so long does she or anyone else associated with it even remember making it? Do they want to remember it?)
“Every four months new in town,” Zellweger says during a press conference earlier this month. “Wherever the next location is and wherever you get sent the first order of business is to plop the bags down in what is going to be home for the next four to six months. Then you hoof it around and try to discover what’s going on in the community.”
Obviously, there is little fear of paparazzi in Winnipeg or South Carolina. Instead, Zellweger seems to relish the constant change of scenery and new film crews.
“It’s very strange because you become like a high school class or something by the time you wrap a picture,” Zellweger reflects. “It’s a very strange nomadic circus life I guess. You are perpetually new in every respect.”
Following her Oscar win for “Cold Mountain,” Zellweger stumbled with the disappointing sequel “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” and has been trying to get her career back on track ever since with frustrating results. “Cinderella Man” was a modest performer where she didn’t have much to do, “Potter” was a charming flick that the Weinstein Company rushed into theaters and completely mis-marketed and last fall’s “Appaloosa” was an underrated Western that didn’t have a compelling hook for audiences like the previous year’s “3:10 to Yuma.” Sadly, the most success Zellweger’s has had recently is voicing animated characters in “Sharktale” and “Bee Movie” (sigh, Mike Meyers can sympathize). “Town,” in which she plays a corporate executive sent to a small town in Minnesota to downsize a food processing plant and (surprise!) finds love in the chilly Minnesota air, is her most conventional Hollywood film to date. Except for the Winnipeg part, of course.
“It was highly entertaining and very educational. I didn’t know cold like that, it was a whole different kind of experience,” Zellweger recalls. “It was a marvelous exercise in developing new survival skills. It was a whole new language for the biological things that happen.”
And while Zellweger is bizarrely cursed in what has to be the worst lit studio production in years (seriously, she looks great in person), the film is timely in how it echoes the climate of continuous layoffs that has marked the last few months. A self-described “news junkie,” Zellweger is blunt about both her character’s job and the pain people are feeling in the real world, saying, “Initially it’s about numbers, what works on paper, and a profit margin. It’s sad but it exists. It’s a big part of what is going on right now and it saddens me.”
She continues, “My father was a victim of those circumstances in the late '80s. I’ve lived it and experienced it. I didn’t have any new thoughts on it. Because I don’t work in that profession, I shouldn’t comment on it beyond a plebian, pedestrian of television news and newspaper articles.”
As for the status of her own career, Zellweger has two upcoming indie’s that could turn things around: the Forest Whitaker drama “My Own Love Story” and the period comedy “My One and Only” with Kevin Bacon and Chris North. For her sake, let’s hope they spent some money on the cinematographer.
“New in Town” opens nationwide on Jan. 30.
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