LOS ANGELES—Former lovers George Clooney and Renée Zellweger really are “just friends”. Friendly enough, in fact, to work together for several months in small towns in North Carolina, where Clooney directed himself and Zellweger in Leatherheads, which opens next Friday (April 4) in Vancouver.
The movie, set in 1925, tells the story of a professional football star (Clooney) who signs a college phenom (John Krasinski) in order to help his team survive. Zellweger plays the newspaper reporter assigned to dig up dirt on the young star.
In an L.A. hotel room, she says she was worried that her friendship with Clooney might end if she failed to get the character right. “It was a hard character, because on the page she is so confident and quick and witty and funny and spot-on and doesn’t miss a beat. That’s not easy to get across, and it is terrifying when you think that you might be the person who will destroy your friend’s movie.
"You go to work and think, ”˜Don’t suck,’ because your friend has put so much faith in you. But you stay up and do your homework and get it done.”
Zellweger has become the poster girl for period movies. Although she is perhaps best known for playing modern Brit Bridget Jones, she hasn’t portrayed a contemporary American character for six years. She went back to the 1800s for Cold Mountain, to the early years of the 20th century for Miss Potter, to the Roaring ’20s for Leatherheads and Chicago, and to the ’60s for Down With Love. She says that the further a character is removed from her, the more fun she has with it.
“It is a lot easier to disappear within that alternate reality,” she says. “I really love it, and I am so much more comfortable with the corsets and the way of delivering the dialogue than just being the girl who kind of looks like me and might have the same clothes in her wardrobe as I do at home. I don’t feel comfortable playing that girl because there is not enough to hide behind.”
A journalist who will do whatever it takes to get a story is not a character that most celebrities want to relate to. Zellweger says that she felt her character was reluctant to be destructive, and she says she would like to see more reluctance from modern tabloid journalists.
“I don’t think I would like her job very much. I understand the responsibility journalists have of reporting the truth. There is not so much accountability, and it seems you don’t have to report the truth as much as you have to be the first with the information.
"The news has become a commodity, which is frightening to me because I think there is a better way of making money. But I don’t know if I would be comfortable with having that much responsibility in terms of shaping another person’s life, particularly if I knew that I could do damage to him.”