LOS ANGELES -- Renee Zellweger is explaining why she prefers the company of jerks.
This probably has nothing to do with the fact she's facing a room full of journalists.
"I know it sounds weird, but I cherish it when someone is being mean just because they're having a bad day and they don't recognize that I know Tom Cruise, so they alter their behaviour in some way," she says during interviews at a Beverly Hills hotel.
"I love it. I love it when the stewardess is just nasty. It's fantastic. I just shrink when she comes back and apologizes because she didn't realize who I was."
So this is what stardom is: Hoping strangers are rude because at least you know they're genuine.
"As an actress, you draw on the truth of experiences, but I can't draw on the truth of experiences that happened 20 years ago because that was the last real exchange I had with a person. I want to be a real person and I want to be a fly on the wall. I want to be able to watch and people-watch and have different sociological experiences. But that's becoming rarer and rarer ... I have the most difficult time with people who don't hear you or see you but they perceive you to be something before they meet you."
Zellweger, 38, goes on to call this disconnection from normalcy the hardest part of her job. It wasn't always this way. Originally from Texas, she moved to Hollywood in the early 1990s and subsisted on a diet of television roles and forgettable B-flicks. Back then, she says, "I knew I didn't look like a 'movie star' in quotations. I didn't have those assets, so to speak. But it didn't bother me too much because I didn't see it helping me with what I was hoping to do."
She would go on to become an overnight sensation in the 1996 comedy Jerry Maguire. A decade later she remains one of Hollywood's most in-demand actresses, thanks to such hits as Bridget Jones' Diary and its sequel, as well as Chicago, Cinderella Man and Cold Mountain, the latter for which she won a best supporting-actress Oscar.
That these three dramas are all period pieces isn't quite a coincidence. As she explains, she's simply more comfortable playing characters who are far removed from her.
"It's easier to disappear and more fun to play. I love it. I'm so much more comfortable in a corset ... I don't feel safe playing the girl who looks like me. There's not enough to hide behind."
So this Friday she turns up in yet another period piece: The 1920s football comedy Leatherheads, directed by George Clooney. The two dated in 2001 and have remained friends.
Zellweger -- who went on to relationships with White Stripes front-man Jack White and country singer Kenny Chesney, who she married and divorced in a four-month span -- says the worst part of working for Clooney, though, wasn't their history. It was trying not to let him down.
"It's hard when you're terrified you're going to be the star who destroys your friend's movie ... (There is) the added pressure of disappointing your friend who has put such faith in you."
Following Leatherheads, she will be seen in Chilled in Miami, which she spent this winter filming in Manitoba. The time in Canada isn't forgotten easily, though -- at one point, she coughs and explains it away as "Winnipeg leftovers."
Should she ever want further evidence of her time in Canada, however, she need only Google her own name, where a search will locate an online video of Zellweger falling on her arse on a Winnipeg sidewalk. Although it's not clear from the footage whether the tumble was unintended or scripted, it does illustrate the danger of being a celebrity in this age of YouTube and viral videos. After all, for some movie stars appearing average is a fate worse than Hollywood Squares.
Zellweger, though, couldn't care less. One even gets the impression she'd welcome it."It always surprises me when people are surprised when someone is kind of normal."
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