RENEE ZELLWEGER on 'LEATHERHEADS' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
March 14, 2008
Set against the backdrop of America in 1925, the romantic comedy Leatherheads follows the exploits of Dodge Connolly (George Clooney), a charming and savvy football captain who sees the writing on the wall--with the advent of professional football on the horizon and his own sports career waning, he sets out to take his team from a ragtag group of part-timers to national stars who can fill stadiums. And though he thinks a professional league, with all of its rules and regulations and big business, will mark the end of the sport as he knows it, he takes one last shot at glory and recruits Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), a golden-boy war hero returning home from World War I.
Handsome, smart, and a terror on the football field, Carter seems too good to be true, and reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) suspects that America's favorite son is hiding something. Sharp and plucky, Lexie is determined to uncover the truth behind him, even as she becomes the object of affection in a growing rivalry between Dodge and Carter.
In this interview, Renee Zellweger talks about getting into the skin of her spunky character, working with George Clooney and John Krasinski, and just being one of the guys in this boys' club of a project.
MEDIA: We just spoke to George Clooney, who said you and John Krasinski both had the ability to not feel contemporary in these roles you were portraying...
RENEE: Okay, well, first of all, I'd just like to say, "Lucky me to get to follow George Clooney." That's great. [laughs] Nothing like George to warm things up for you! He's always very funny. Did anybody read his Esquire magazine article yet? You have to read his Esquire. I read it on the plane coming over here last night and I laughed out loud. I did. With absolutely no consideration for the nappers adjacent. He's just so clever. He's my hero. I'd like to learn to have such grace in this business. I'm doing my best...
Do you consider your look "non-contemporary"? Is that image something you paid attention to growing up?
I didn't think about what I looked like growing up. At all. Ever. I was taught to much later in life. I didn't think about what I looked like. It didn't matter. I was very busy living my life this way, you know? And I didn't think about it so much when I got [to Hollywood], either. You know, I knew that I didn't look like "a movie star." I know that I don't have those assets. So to speak. [laughs] But it didn't bother me too much because it didn't seem that it was going to help me with what it was that I was hoping to do, you know?
How do you like getting to play a spunky 1920s gal like Lexie?
I enjoy it. I love it. Because I find in my personal experience that the further removed the character's reality is from my own, the more fun it is and the easier it is to disappear within that alternate reality. I just really enjoy it. I love it. In fact, I'm so much more comfortable in a corset or the '20s sort of drop waist dresses, and the way of delivering that dialogue, than just being the girl who kind of looks like me and who might have the same clothes in her wardrobe as I do. I don't feel comfortable--I don't feel safe playing the girl who looks like me. There's not enough to hide behind.
Do you think girls like Lexie existed in the '20s, or do you think she was more a product of subsequent decades?
Oh no, I'm sure she existed. Absolutely. Just fewer opportunities, I suppose, to express herself--and for us to see her, you know?
Would you enjoy her job as a reporter who digs up dirt?
I don't know. I don't know that I'd like her job very much.
I understand the responsibility that journalists have to reporting the truth, and I appreciate that. I mean, we're in an interesting crossroads with that right now, because I find that there's not so much accountability any more, and that you don't necessarily have to report the truth, you just need to be first. And news has become a commodity, and that's frightening to me, because I think there's a better way to make money. But yeah, I don't know that I'd be comfortable with having that much responsibility in terms of shaping the course of another person's life. I don't know that I would. Especially if I knew that I could do damage to it, I don't know that I'd be comfortable.
Given how the media currently overblows celebrity news, you could have a bad day recorded and spread all over the internet...
[jokes] That never happens! [laughs] They write articles about the bad day they think you're having, when they see you from across the room. "Her body language definitely indicated that she's clearly upset with this person." You know what I mean? Seriously! I mean, I've read that!
The characters in this film--especially Lexie--have a specific, quick-witted way of speaking. Was that dialogue difficult for you?
It was hard because she's so confident and quick, and she's so witty and funny and spot-on, and she doesn't miss a beat! And it's hard to play that when you're terrified that you're going to be the person who destroys your friend's movie. [laughs] Because you go to work and you're thinking, "Okay, don't suck. Just don't suck. Don't forget that, and don't do that." And it's this added pressure of not wanting to disappoint your friend who's put so much faith in you. That made it hard. But there is a lot of homework. You should do your homework, you know? Whatever it takes. You stay up and you get it done, and show up, and ready to go. Because it was essential. That's what I loved about her. I loved how quick she was!
What did you think of her stylized, period wardrobe?
I love it. It just helps. It's a disguise. It's a nice buffer between pretending to be somebody else and who you are. I love it. It's something else, it just adds one more thing that you can depend on. I loved that orange coat. Boy, it was hotter than Hades on that day, and I didn't care! And my purple scarf with the polka dots? Oh, I loved that stuff! And I loved how brave she was in terms of the combinations of things that she would just throw together. Like the blue shoes with the purple polka-dotted scarf, and this bright orange and gold jacket! I loved it. Absolutely beautiful. And who thinks of that when you're recalling the 1920s in America? You think grey and bleak and wool with holes, and the Depression era. You don't think of roaring, celebrated, bright, and fantastic in that way.
How did you like shooting in North and South Carolina? Also, an extra from the set said you were very pleasant, and that you used the same bathrooms as the extras...Do stars often slum it like that?
I expect when you gotta go, you gotta go! We had a great time down there. It's sort of like a prerequisite in that region of the country that you are polite, you know? So everybody that we experienced, they were so generous. I mean, seriously. In the towns that we ended up in, seriously polite. People are just generous and fun, and warm welcomes everywhere we went. They were truly generous, hospitable hosts. I had a great time. A great five months, wherever it was that we were running around in that region, wherever we ended up. The food was good, too. Oh, man! And as far as the porta-can is concerned, you know... [laughs] It's always surprised me that people are surprised when somebody is just kind of normal, you know? [laughs]
How did you handle being, essentially, the only girl in this boys' club of a project?
[jokes] It was terrible, but somebody had to do it! [laughs] I had a great time, are you kidding me? Those fellas are fantastic. And yeah, sure, it was a boys' club. It's funny that you say that. It really was. Because most of [George's] crew have worked together for years and years and years, and he's had the same friends for over 20 years, at least. And so it was really nice to be a part of that big, extended family. I had a great time at work. Who are we kidding?
Did you get to play football with the guys between takes?
Oh, I got in trouble! At one point, we were throwing the ball outside...I guess it was the first big practice day where the crowd shows up to see them practice for the first time. And I had my stupid little heels on and my hat, and George came out and said, "Put that thing down! Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! What am I going to do with you when you miss?" [laughs]
[Editor's note: props for the Brady Bunch reference]
Are you a big football fan?
Oh, yeah, you're born with that. It's a genetic thing. Again, it's a prerequisite, isn't it, to living in that region of the country: you like your football. Oh, sure.
As someone from Texas, what is your favorite team?
Right now, I gotta be a Cowboys fan. I have to--you know, to maintain the relationship with my brother.
Did you have fun with the motorcycle scene with George?
Oh, yeah! We had motorcycle practice in the parking lot at the football stadium. That was a lot of fun. I loved it! Are you kidding? The props guy might not be okay, but I was great! [laughs]
How did working with George Clooney the actor compare to working with George Clooney the director? Who was the more difficult?
[jokes] I'd say they're equally impossible. It was just torture all the way around. Let's see...You know, that was a tough job. That's a really, really tough gig to have, because you have to be in completely the polar opposite place simultaneously in order to achieve what you're trying to do, in that you have to be cognizant of what's happening as the director watching, and you have to disappear and not pay attention in order to be part of this alternate reality you're trying to create. So good luck. But he did a great job--focused and good at what he does. He's prepared. He knows what he's trying to achieve, so he doesn't waste time. He's not indulgent. He's not insecure about it, so we [didn't] have to try everything 600,000 different ways in order to cover whatever it might be that he's forgetting. I don't know that I'd be able to separate one from the other.
Did he surprise you in either role?
I gotta say no. I know he's a good actor. I think he's a wonderful performer. And I know he makes beautiful films. So, no. Surprised me? I guess that he seemed to have the faculties of a much more experienced filmmaker might have surprised me. His confidence, and his level of preparation, and his clarity in terms of his vision...That might have surprised me. I wouldn't have known what to expect from that. But I knew he was going to do a good job.
Was it strange to have your co-star also be your director?
No. I did Appaloosa right away afterwards with Ed Harris, and it was the same situation. And no, I quite enjoy it. I mean, odd for them, I'm sure, because it's quite a daunting responsibility, I can imagine, and difficult to do--to be real in a scene while you know that you're breaking everything down. But no, I enjoyed it. I mean, I felt sorry for him. He must have been exhausted. [laughs]
How do you feel about John Krasinski sort of coming into his own with this movie? And were there many "George vs. John" fan debates amongst the women on this set?
[laughs] That was more on the streets. You know, you drive to work and there'd be the cheering section for George and the "I Love Johnny K" signs everywhere. I think he's a wonderful person. Have you met him yet? He's funny and smart and charming, and he's kind. I think he's very special. I think he's one of those that doesn't come along all the time. And I respect him. I think he's really good at what he does. So I enjoyed being at work with him a lot. It was just so fun. It was a lot of fun to watch him not really knowing how good he is, you know? And the scarier part is knowing what's in store for him, and remembering what that might have been like a long time ago with Mr. Cruise on the set [of Jerry Maguire], you know? It was an interesting experience to have for pretty much the first time, I suppose, in that parallel way. But I'm happy for him, because he deserves good things.
Having done so many comedic roles, does comedy get any easier for you? Are you more comfortable with it now?
I don't know if I look at it as being more difficult than any other genre. I found comedy that's written into the script that you need to get out of the way of rather then interpret or sort of bring to life--I've found that a new and different kind of challenge when I worked with, say, the Farrelly Brothers, for example. And when we did Down with Love, where you kind of just had to understand the dialogue in such a way that you didn't screw it up in the delivery rather than interpret it and bring it to life. I just think it's about being truthful, right? So I don't think about it. I think if you think about it, it's not funny.