The actress talks about the highly imaginative bio-pic of the famed children's book author
Renee Zellweger charms in director Christopher Noonan's highly imaginative Miss Potter. Zellweger stars as Beatrix Potter, the famed author behind classic children's stories like "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" and "Three Old Mice". The film is a light-hearted fantasy tale with a lot of animation. As Beatrix writes, she sees her creations come to life. It's somewhat gimmicky, but gives a warm, cuddly feeling for all to enjoy. Miss Potter marks the second collaboration with Ewan McGregor, who co-starred with Zellweger in Down with Love.
Were you a reader of Beatrix Potter as a child?
Renee Zellweger: I knew a couple of her stories. I remember the images as far back as I can remember anything at all. I remember 'Peter Rabbit' being there. My mom read some of the books to my brother and I. There were other children's books and authors who were more prominent in our adolescence.
So why did you want to portray her now?
Renee Zellweger: I love her eccentricities. I think she's completely complicated in the most wonderful way. I'd love to have known her. I don't think she's weird. I don't think it's strange at all that she speaks to her work when she's in that creative place in her mind, when she's conjuring this imaginary world. It's not strange at all to me. I think she's brilliant.
What was it like working with Ewan McGregor again?
Renee Zellweger: It was hilarious. We were working in a different way than Down With Love. We had no point of reference about whether or not we nailed it, because there's no way to tell. The scene where Beatrix and Norman are alone for the first time in her room, there's so much subtext to that, so much meaning compacted into the tiniest little gesture. I knew that Ewan would understand the delicate nature of that and the vulnerability that was necessary. He has such a gift for communicating those things honestly. It was just such an enchanting moment in my mind, and so it had to be with him.
You're a producer on this film. Did you always see it with all of the animation?
Renee Zellweger: I thought producing would be an interesting opportunity to learn how to collaborate creatively in a different way and to participate on a more substantial level; instead of just meddling and having opinions. Chris [Noonan, the director] and I began over a conversation in a hotel lobby in Santa Monica, California, about that very thing. I was curious about it. Having read the script, I didn't believe in how it was being conceptualized on the page at the time. I was afraid of it. I thought it was gimmicky and kind of silly. I wanted to hear what Chris's feelings about it were. We just discussed things. We got together and we sat on many couches, many late hours in many hotels in different parts of the UK and threw everything on the table until the sun was coming up. It was fantastic. I enjoyed it very, very much.
What kind of books do you like read?
Renee Zellweger: Do you mean like as a kid or do you mean now?
Renee Zellweger: I like African-American writers and I like Southern writers. There are elements of the subculture that are exquisitely rich. There's a musicality to Langston Hughes. His work jumps off the page and it makes me need a pen. I need a pen. He's probably my favorite. There's just so much emotion. It's kind of like in Latin cultures. You find this kind of passion for all elements of life. I find that the same in African-American writers, just this passion for things.
This is a sweet, light-hearted film. Do you think a cynical public will respond to it?
Renee Zellweger: I don't think that people are cynics. I think we're cynical about manipulation and things that are disingenuous. I'm not sure we're cynical about simplicity. I think if things are honest, I think that they're relatable. One of the things that we had discussed in the very beginning of this film was that there's a very fine line there. This was not a woman who was overly sentimental. We'd discuss it and I'd say, "Oh, Gosh, please just don't let me corny." I think that people will connect with a film that's telling a human story that, whether or not it's simple, is based on its truthfulness.
But you wouldn't call this a 'chick flick'?
Renee Zellweger: I don't think this is a chick flick at all. I think it's far more complex than that. It's not meant to be female entertainment. It's an important, important story, and it's a beautiful story. I don't think I've met a guy yet who's seen it and didn't connect to it, or cried. It's just real. It's a human story, the most powerful kind of story, making you self-aware in a way, making you recognize something different, making you question things, learning something, growing as a person. I don't think it's a chick flick. I think that underestimates it in a terrible way.
What's next for you?
Renee Zellweger:Case 39, it's a family film. (laughs sarcastically)
Miss Potter is in select theaters this week and opens wider on January 12th. The film is rated 'PG' for brief mild language.