Renee Zellweger is all about flying under the radar these days — and not just when it comes to dodging the paparazzi. The Oscar winner, who took a six-year break from the big screen between 2010 and 2016, is now an expert stealth altruist, frequently going undercover to volunteer in her native Texas. So it's no surprise that the opportunity to give back played a role in her decision to return to Hollywood for "Same Kind of Different as Me," which is just her third project since her acting hiatus ended, following "The Whole Truth" and "Bridget Jones's Baby." Wonderwall.com caught up with the 48 year old to get the scoop on the film, which is based on a true story and debuts in theaters on Oct. 20, 2017. Keep reading to see what Renee told us about why she's looking forward to getting older as an actress, what it was like ditching her trademark blonde locks for her role in the film, why it's important to her to do undercover volunteer work and more…
Renee Zellweger on why she wanted to make "Same Kind of Different as Me":
"It's a beautiful story, and that it's a true story is hard to believe because it reads like fiction. But I got a phone call from Michael Carney, who is the film's director, and he said, 'I heard you love the story and you like the script, but let me tell you what we're gonna do. We're gonna go to Jackson, Mississippi, and instead of building sets and then tearing them down and saying thank you very much and leaving town, we're going to actually find a mission that is serving the homeless community in Jackson, and we're going to refurbish it and we're going to leave it in a better state so that it's better able to serve.' I think that's a pretty cool reason to make a movie."
Renee Zellweger on how the cast and crew of "Same Kind of Different as Me" really made improvements to the local mission that served as the film's set:
"You know how the mission changes [in the movie]? Well, that's it changing [in real life]. We are planting the flowers. They did change out the glass. They put in an air-conditioning system, and they changed the electric wiring so they could have the lights on. They built an entirely new commercial kitchen in that building so that they could feed everybody because they weren't able to before. That was enough for me. Forget that the cast is phenomenal. Forget that you're going to beautiful Jackson, Mississippi, and you're telling this wonderful story."
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Renee Zellweger on making a movie about Texans giving back as a native Texan ("Same Kind of Different as Me" is set in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas):
"Is it a prerequisite for us in Texas that you look out for your neighbors? It's just so very familiar to me. I found it so heartening to turn on the television after the devastation of [Hurricane] Harvey — looking at what happened to our town — to watch people coming out or driving from San Antonio, El Paso or Lubbock and hauling whatever it is that they have to float to just go and get people out. It made me tear up. It made me cry. I thought, yeah, there it is right there. … After tragedy, we do forget our differences to come together. That's it: All that matters is that people are saved and that people are helped. All that matters is the return to some kind of normalcy. That's what we witnessed. I was very Texas-proud that week, I have to say."
Renee Zellweger on why she goes undercover to do volunteer work:
"Not to diminish the opportunity that you have as a public person to shine a spotlight on causes that matter to you or to participate in some cooperative effort in the community that might somehow inspire people to give because they see their favorite rock star is part of this thing — not to diminish that because that's a wonderful opportunity, but at the same time, there's a human side to it where it feels like you can make a significant difference by putting your hands on something — literally — to make it right. When I see those opportunities, I find it personally very rewarding to participate in that respect."
Renee Zellweger on working with the real Ron Hall — whom Greg Kinnear portrays in "Same Kind of Different as Me" and who produced the film, which is based on his relationship with his late wife, whom Renee portrays:
"I can't imagine what that must have been like for him to watch us reenacting some of the most painful and probably important moments in his life. I can't imagine. But it was a beautiful thing to share with him knowing that he so badly wanted this movie to be made because he wanted to spread the message of [his late wife] Debbie's commitment and hoped to inspire other people to ask themselves how they might contribute the way Debbie chose to. That's been his work for the past 17 years. He raised almost $100 million on behalf of homeless charities — carrying Debbie's torch. That's extraordinary. To be part of that mission in some way, that's a real, real blessing. And he was there on set. I could ask him how Debbie carried herself. How'd she laugh? What was her humor like? How'd she walk? He's very generous and sharing. I got that she was very funny and very strong."
Renee Zellweger on wearing a wig instead of dying her hair to portray Debbie Hall:
"You learn that lesson [about dying your hair] — and you learn it again and again and again, unfortunately, because sometimes circumstances don't allow you to go and prepare in a way that will protect your hair. It's the last thing you get to think about really in this business. But [it's part of] building a character."
Renee Zellweger on reuniting with Greg Kinnear on the big screen 17 years after they co-starred in "Nurse Betty":
"It was wonderful. I have so much affection for him. We had the best time together years and years ago. I can't believe it's been such a long time. We laughed so much, and we picked right back up where we left off and started laughing the minute we all came together for the first meeting. We have a lot of fun together."
Renee Zellweger on what she'd still like to accomplish in her career:
"There are documentary projects that I'm interested in producing. There are a couple of pieces that I've written for myself — perhaps maybe one day I'll write for a different reason. Who knows! In terms of characters, what's really fun about this job is that you never stop learning and [never lose] the opportunity to grow. As you get older in your life, there are new stories to tell. I haven't been 50. I haven't been 55. I look forward to that."