Celebrities are not immune to the cruel things people say about them, and Renée Zellweger knows how much it can hurt first hand.
While sitting down with Jess Cagle for a SiriusXM Town Hall Special to promote Judy, Zellweger opened up about comments she’d made in a Vulture profile about experiencing “international humiliation” following a 2014 internet outrage over her changed appearance due to what many presumed was plastic surgery.
Cagle told Zellweger he was surprised that would impact her on that level before she quipped, “I think you’d kind of have to be dead not to.”
She went on to tell a story about riding the Underground in London and overhearing strangers discussing her appearance. “They were talking about Hollywood and they were talking about how Hollywood ladies are so silly — and especially that Renée Zellweger,” she recounted. “‘And how could she do that? Why would she go and have surgery on her face like we wouldn’t know? How could she do that? She doesn’t look like herself, and you can’t just do that, where you go and you just don’t look like yourself because we expect you to look like yourself.’”
Zellweger said she sat quietly while they talked and went to leave the train car when it came to her stop, at which point the man who had been mocking her realized who she was. “The man is still talking about how stupid I am and he looked up and he said, ‘Oh God, you’re not, you are, you’re oh my God, but you look just like yourself,’” she said. “And I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s funny how that works isn’t it?’ And he said, ‘Wow, oh, well you know Hugh Grant.’ And I said, ‘I do know Hugh Grant, he’s a great guy. I’ll tell him you said hello.’”
The actress, who is already earning Oscar buzz for her portrayal of legendary entertainer Judy Garland in Judy, said it’s moments like that that would get to her. “It’s only momentarily where you go, ‘Jeez, wow, that’s pretty painful.’ But then I don’t live in that. It just visits my life a little bit here and there,” she noted. “And I’m not really privy to that stuff until someone sends it to me and comments and says, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe they said this or this happened.’ I’m not aware of it because I don’t seek it out and I’m busy.”
Zellweger’s turn in Judy comes as part of what Cagle has dubbed a “Renée-ssance” alongside her role in Netflix’s What/If. The buzzy roles come on the heels of a six-year absence from Hollywood that lasted from 2010-16, barring that 2014 appearance at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards that sparked the furor over her changed appearance, which prompted her to make a statement to PEOPLE.
For Zellweger, that time away was invaluable to the work she’s doing now. “I’m a storyteller and we draw from personal experience, and I was regurgitating the same old information,” she told Cagle. “I just felt like a phony because I was drawing on nothing. I felt like I need to stop. I forgot to consider myself in the equation of professional responsibilities…I was stuck at 23 or 24, whatever it was.”
Now, Zellweger feels a renewed sense of purpose in her career — one fans can witness in Judy when it hits theaters Sept. 27.
The Jess Cagle Show premieres Sept. 16 on SiriusXM, and Zellweger’s interview will air as part of it Sept. 20.
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