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Renée Zellweger Follows Yellow-Brick Road to Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theatre

Release Date: January 16,2020

Renée Zellweger is interviewed by Hollywood Reporter columnist Scott Feinberg.
Renée Zellweger is interviewed by Hollywood Reporter columnist Scott Feinberg while being honored by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

By Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews | January 16, 2020 | 11:46 p.m.​​​​​​

Film actress Renée Zellweger received the American Riviera Award at the 35th Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Thursday evening at the historic Arlington Theatre.

The American Riviera Award was established to recognize an actor who has had a significant influence on American cinema, and the 50-year-old Zellweger has had an extraordinary career and several remarkable accomplishments. 

“This has been such a moving experience that I did not expect,” Zellweger said. “I love this town. 

“Sitting here tonight, I feel lucky to be part of this cinema-loving community who believe in the power of film to inspire, teach and change our perspectives to foster understanding, empathy and unity,” she continued. “I love this festival.”

Songwriter Diane Warren presented Zellweger’s award.

“You are a truly amazing artist,” said Warren, who also is Zellweger’s friend.

Renée Zellweger and Diane Warren on the red carpet at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.Click to view larger
Renée Zellweger, left, on the red carpet Thursday night before being honored by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. With her is songwriter Diane Warren, who presented the award. (Steve Kennedy / Noozhawk photo)

Stars that walked the red carpet arrived in the wake of winter weather that brought rain and cold temperatures to downtown Santa Barbara. Fans were out in full force and many held umbrellas.

Before participating in the one-hour question-and-answer session inside the theater, Zellweger greeted fans standing outside and behind the barricades.

She waved to the cheering crowd and headed to the red carpet.

“I love you,” someone yelled at Zellweger before the event.

The film festival's tribute presentation, sponsored by Bella Vista Designs, acknowledged Zellweger’s influential career that spans more than two decades. Her experience includes more than 35 films.

Renée Zellweger on the red carpet.Click to view larger
Renée Zellweger on the red carpet Thursday night before being honored by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. (Steve Kennedy / Noozhawk photo)

“I'm swooning,” SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said. “I just met Renée Zellweger and she’s lovely.”

Inside the venue, the evening began with a montage of film clips that showcased Zellweger’s acting talents in front of the camera.

“I forgot about all that,” Zellweger said.

She was honored for her many contributions to the art of film, as well as her latest portrayal of Judy Garland in the 2019 film Judy. The romantic drama tells the story of Garland's life 30 years after The Wizard of Oz success. 

Zellweger sang some of Garland’s best-known songs in the music biopic.

The film celebrates Garland’s talent, and follows her profession during the last year of her life when she relocated her stage career to Britain.

Zellweger is nominated in the 2020 Oscar lead actress category for her role in Judy. She is the favorite to win this year at the 91st annual Academy Awards. 

On Thursday, Zellweger took the stage with interviewer and Hollywood Reporter's award columnist Scott Feinberg.

She received an excitedly warm round of applause as soon as she stepped on stage. 

When asked by Feinberg if she could personally relate or understand what Garland had dealt with during her life in the public eye, Zellweger said, “Certainly. There are certain things I know just from working in the industry. I understand the schedule," later adding, “She’s a hero. She’s not tragic. She’s extraordinary.”

Zellweger became widely known to audiences for her starring role in the Bridget Jones’s Diary franchise, and she is the recipient of numerous accolades.

In the first installment, Zellweger earned her first Oscar nomination and she earned a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award and British Academy Film Award nominations. The sequel delivered her another Golden Globe nomination for best performance by an actress in a musical or comedy.

Zellweger also gained popularity for her portrayals of characters in films such as Jerry Maguire, as well as Me, Myself & Irene and Nurse Betty (2000), for which she won her first Golden Globe that marked the start of the most successful period of her profession.

Zellweger’s The Big Picture Co. recently signed an exclusive first-look deal with MGM Television. She made her television debut starring in Netflix’s 2019 What/If, and her recent movies include Bridget Jones’s Baby, also starring Patrick Dempsey and Colin Firth for Universal Pictures, and the film adaptation of the book Same Kind of Different as Me.

“I love working on sets,” Zellweger said. “I love the collaboration. I love making films. I love telling stories. 

“That’s the joy for me, and I’m not in a hurry,” she continued. “I’m just there for the day, and the crew and the experiences we share — that’s my joy and my bliss.”

The Oscar-winning actress is from Katy, Texas.

Zellweger has a close relationship with her brother, and she looked up to him as a child. Her brother took an acting class in junior high school.

“It looked like so much fun,” Zellweger said. “So, I joined the speech and drama club, and he quit.”

She enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, where she received a bachelor of arts degree in English in 1991. Zellweger took an acting course as an elective in college, and it fueled her interest in acting.

Zellweger dreamed of being a journalist and she enjoys writing, but she never submitted her work to the college newspaper in Texas.

“It seemed like a natural path to take,” she said. “I was comfortable with words, and as a kid, I wished for freshly lined paper for Christmas — come over to my house y'all.” 

Zellweger also spoke about her first acting jobs and what jump-started her career. She had leading roles in the Texas-based movies Love and a .45 and Empire Records.

Zellweger shared her experience on the set of the films Dazed and Confused and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, alongside actor Matthew McConaughey, who also is a University of Texas at Austin graduate.

The two shared the same talent agent in Dallas, Texas.

“Best work of my life, being chased through the woods by Matthew McConaughey,” Zellweger said. “Who knew?”

Attendees laughed at her remarks.

Zellweger joins a list of other American Riviera Award recipients, including Viggo Mortenson, Sam Rockwell, Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Robert Redford, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Annette Bening, Sandra Bullock, Mickey Rourke, Tommy Lee Jones, Forrest Whitaker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane.

"The American Riviera Award is special to us," Durling told the crowd. "We felt it was important to honor an American actor who had made a huge impact into world cinema."

The 35th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival continues through Jan 25. Click here for more information.

— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Renée Zellweger on the red carpet.Click to view larger
Renée Zellweger on the red carpet Thursday night before being honored by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. (Steve Kennedy / Noozhawk photo)