"I have Bridget moments all the time", says Renee Zellweger

Renee Zellweger returns as the titular perennial singleton in Bridget Jones's Baby.
Renee Zellweger returns as the titular perennial singleton in Bridget Jones's Baby.PHOTO: UIP

Renee Zellweger says returning to acting via her best-loved character is the perfect way to end her five-year break

It seems fitting that Renee Zellweger should end her five-year hiatus from acting by reprising her iconic role in Bridget Jones's Baby as the titular perennial singleton.

Zellweger, 47, says her return to acting via her best-loved character is the perfect way to rekindle her Hollywood career.

"To come back and begin again with this old, extended, dysfunctional family was a really nice way to begin again," she says during an interview in London recently. "I am spoiled rotten for the friendships I have made on this set."

Her stint away from her career, she concedes, was inspired by a desire for "a little normalcy" and a hope that she would return to work "a little less boring".

I think I may have fallen asleep in the middle of giving an answer and I was pretty sure by the look on the interviewer's face that I was making no sense.

ACTRESS RENEE ZELLWEGER on having a Bridget moment while being jet-lagged on live television

"I hope I'm a little less boring than I might have been after just 25 years of being an actress and being in that cycle of making films."

Zellweger says she decided to leave Hollywood in 2010 to explore new avenues.

She adds: "I was craving a little normalcy. I wanted to learn something that had nothing to do with researching a character. I wanted to learn some things beyond the scope of what you are exposed to in film-making in Hollywood.

"I wanted to learn something new and grow as a person and see if I had an aptitude for these things that interest me. And if not now, it would be, 'Oh, in two more years, or four years, then 10 years,' and then, ultimately, you just don't do them. And I didn't want that to happen."

  • Who's in, who's out and who's new

  • IN: COLIN FIRTH

    Firth is back for a third outing as stiff-upper-lipped Englishman Mr Darcy.

    "I wanted to visit the same people, but to have moved to the next generation to see what life has dealt them. I was afraid Darcy might feel like a parody," he says.

    He adds with a laugh: "Really, I wanted to do the film so I could work with a racing driver like Patrick Dempsey."

    IN: SALLY PHILLIPS

    A host of Bridget's old buddies are back, including Phillips as Shazzer and Shirley Henderson as Jude - and they are incorrigible when it comes to getting their friend back on the dating scene.

    Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones also return as Bridget's parents. Celia Imrie gets a cameo too.

    NEW: PATRICK DEMPSEY

    Mr Darcy's love rival in the third film is a swish American billionaire, Jack Qwant, played by Grey's Anatomy star and racecar driver Dempsey.

    "I love the dynamic between my and Colin's characters," he says.

    "And there was no physical fight, though it was much discussed. Instead, it's a balance of insecurities from both men."

    NEW: EMMA THOMPSON

    Brought in to polish the script, Thompson also takes a leading role as Bridget's doctor.

    "We were looking for a writer to come on board and Emma did an incredible job," says producer Eric Fellner.

    "She built up a character called Dr Rawlings and we told her she'd made that character, now she needed to play her."

    NEW: SARAH SOLEMANI

    A rising star of British television, Solemani is cast as Bridget's newscaster friend Miranda, a 30something who takes Bridget back into the world of sex and partying.

    "I was beyond thrilled to get cast," she says. "When I got the call about playing Bridget's best friend, I thought, 'Bridget is my best friend already.'"

    OUT: HUGH GRANT

    Grant declined the chance to return for the third film as Daniel Cleaver.

    "I decided not to do it," he had said in a radio interview.

    "The book is excellent, but the script is completely different."

    The film-makers start Bridget Jones's Baby with a memorial service for Cleaver, presumed dead, but they have also set up a possible return for him in a fourth film.

During her time off-screen, she travelled in Asia with a friend, taking a train through Vietnam and walking across the border to Cambodia.

The actress, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2003's Cold Mountain, also flew to Liberia in 2011 to support gender-equality charity The Great Initiative, and has also spent time setting up home with musician Doyle Bramhall II, her boyfriend of four years.

She has known Bramhall, 47, since she was a student in Austin, Texas, and said in an interview with Vogue magazine that "there is a familiarity between us, that sense you have when you're with someone and you know you are home".

Despite all the fun she had during her time off, Zellweger says that acting eventually called her back.

She felt it was time to reconnect with a career that started with films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) and Empire Records (1995), before she hit the big time with Jerry Maguire (1996), in which she delivered the famous line: "You had me at hello."

"It was a really gradual thing," she says of her return to Hollywood. "I just started looking around, reading some things. I was just curious and had missed it. I have a new perspective. I worked on the other side of the camera quite a bit while I was on my hiatus."

Returning as the lead character in Bridget Jones's Baby, says Zellweger, was the perfect way to step back into acting. 

"I admire her authenticity and I love playing someone who is so open and awkward and self-deprecating," she says of the character, who rocketed her to stardom in 2001 with the film adaptation of Helen Fielding's novel Bridget Jones's Diary, which is itself an interpretation of Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice (Colin Firth's character even retains the name Mr Darcy).

Bridget became an instant fan favourite, with singletons around the globe realising they were not alone with their conflicting aspirations and insecurities.

Worrying about weight, the rules of make-up and shaving, conflicts of the heart and mind - nothing was taboo.

"I'm having a Bridget moment" became part of the English vernacular.

"I have Bridget moments all the time," says Zellweger.

"I had one about 10 minutes ago. And I had one on live television a couple of months ago. I was really jet-lagged and I think I may have fallen asleep in the middle of giving an answer and I was pretty sure by the look on the interviewer's face that I was making no sense.

"I remember imagining watching myself and thinking, 'You're still talking. You should probably wrap that up real quick.'"

The first Bridget Jones film took almost US$300 million worldwide at the box office. Its sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason (2004), earned almost as much in cinema ticket sales.

A third film has been much discussed ever since, given Bridget's unremitting popularity.

The character resonates in so many hearts and minds because her major quandary is the fear of ending up alone, says director Sharon Maguire, who helmed the first and the most recent Bridget Jones movies.

"One of the reasons the first film worked was not just because of the comedy, but also because people identified with Bridget's fear of loneliness," she adds.

"It's a universal fear and one that's still a prominent theme in the character's journey. This is an integral point of access for the audience to empathise with Bridget. The universal undercurrent is that everyone is afraid of being lonely."

The new film opens with Bridget celebrating her 43rd birthday. She is single again and focused entirely on her job as a news producer. For once, she has everything under control. Then she meets a dashing American named Jack Qwant (played by Patrick Dempsey), a suitor who is everything Mr Darcy is not.

In an unlikely twist, she finds herself pregnant, but with one hitch - she is uncertain if the baby's father is her long-time love, Mr Darcy, or the newfound Romeo from across the Pond.

Producer Eric Fellner says they spent more than a decade working on a script that does justice to the character and to her story.

"Bridget Jones is one of Working Title's favourite characters," he says, referring to the British production company behind the franchise, "and we've spent 12 years trying to get a script that is good enough to persuade these people to come to work every day."

Hugh Grant's Daniel Cleaver does not feature in the third film, though Mr Darcy's love rival from the first two films is set up for a possible return in a fourth outing.

"There is another book out there," says Fellner. "Helen Fielding has a third Bridget Jones novel, Mad About The Boy, which picks up when Bridget is 51, so maybe we can look at that. And there are other stories out there too.

"I think that's one of the interesting things about the Bridget Jones films," he adds. "Unlike the James Bond films, where the character gets recast at the same age, we've been able to follow a series of characters and show them as they move through their lives.

"I don't think many mainstream films have been able to do that. It's what makes Bridget a very different franchise than most. And why can't we follow these characters into their 50s and 60s?"

Director Maguire agrees, adding with a laugh: "We'll look forward to Bridget Jones: The Menopause. And then Bridget Jones: The Ovaltine Years."

•Bridget Jones's Baby opens in Singapore tomorrow. See A break for the better for review.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline ''I have Bridget moments all the time''. Print Edition | Subscribe