In her career, Renée Zellweger has portrayed an array of characters in comedies, dramas and even a musical. They include Jerry Maguire, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Cinderella Man and Chicago. For Cold Mountain she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
In 2010, she withdrew from acting for six years, returning to a familiar role last year in Bridget Jones’s Baby. Her new movie, Same Kind of Different as Me, is based on a true story and New York Times’ best-selling book of the same name.
The actress portrays Debbie Hall, who discovers that her husband is having an affair. He is an art dealer Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear, As Good as it Gets, Little Miss Sunshine, TV’s The Kennedy’s).
Confronted by Debbie about his infidelity, she asks him to join her at a homeless shelter where she volunteers, hoping the experience might save their marriage. It is there they meet Denver, an angry and violent homeless man (Djiman Hounsou, Amistad, Blood Diamond). It’s an encounter that changes each of their lives forever.
Renée met with journalists at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about the movie. It is written by Michael Carney and Ron Hall and directed by Carney.
Same Kind of Different as Me opens on October 20th 2017.
What was it about Same Kind of Different as Me that made you gravitate towards it?
This is a really easy question to answer. It was a very easy yes. I got a phone call from Michael Carney, and he said, ‘I heard you loved this story. I heard that you were inspired by these people’s lives and what they chose to commit themselves to doing. So let me tell you what we’re going to do. We’re not going to do what most folks in Hollywood would do, go and borrow the town, build a set and tear it down, and say thank you very much and leave. We’re actually going to find a mission in Jackson, Mississippi, that is unable to properly serve the homeless community and we’re going to refurbish it.”
And that’s what these guys did. They threw film budget money at the place. There’s a beautiful courtyard now where they can have gatherings and it’s been beautified on the outside. And they built a whole new commercial kitchen. That’s a really cool reason to make a movie.
What was it about the characters that intrigued you?
What to say about the qualities of these people, their courage, their compassion, their awareness with respect to the impact you could make; the power that you have to make a significant change in other people’s lives, if you just make up your mind to do it.
I loved the simplicity of the message of this enormous journey that Ron experienced with Debbie and Denver, about your capacity to leave a mark that is beyond what you might have imagined possible in its scope. That got me.
What an honor to play a woman who looks at life this way and had such a big heart that she was capable of seeing the value of starting again and second chances. Debbie was fearless. She truly believed that kindness begets kindness, and her mission was to make a change within the community, that it might look at homelessness and homeless people and their circumstance in a different light.
And it trickles down from there. You empower someone else, and they empower someone else, and it goes on and on.
What was it like working with Djimon?
Djimon is just a beautiful storyteller. He has his own experiences with homelessness at a younger age, so he’s got a pretty deep well of memories to draw from. He understands this character more thoroughly than anybody would ever hope to. Also, he brings gravity.
What inspires you most about this true story?
One of the things that I love about this story is that there are so many themes of healing.
There’s spiritual healing, there’s literal healing, and with Debbie and Ron, it’s about a long time relationship that is severely damaged, and worthwhile, and worth enough to make the effort to repair it. And by sharing this mission to help others they come together again.
What an exceptional person (Debbie was) that she was able to see people in their best light. She’s able to look past whatever damage causes them to be fearful in the world, and act out. It’s inspiring.
Why did you quit being an actress for several years?
I didn’t quit, I just needed to take a minute, because in making films you see that it doesn’t stop. John Lennon called it the merry-go-round. While there’s a lot of joy involved in that experience, there’s a lot that gets pushed by the wayside with respect to your personal life.
You don’t get to engage and nurture other things that are probably much more important than anything you might be doing with respect to your professional life. And when you do one long enough the other one tends to disappears a little bit. Then you have no reason to get off the merry-go-round, because there’s nothing that you’ve nurtured or built that’s more important than that. And that’s imbalance, and it’s not healthy.
I needed to take a minute and watch my niece and nephew turn from babies to toddlers to children and know them. Because they’re going to have a birthday party and understand that you can’t be there because your job won’t let you. But they’re having the birthday party anyway. And then it’s just your loss.
Same Kind of Different as Me SOUNDBYTE
Renee expounded on her reasons for leaving the business, and what she does now that’s she’s back that is different.
Click here to listen to her honest and touching response in the illustrated Soundbyte.
Also at the press conference were Greg Kinnear and Djimon Hounsou.
h5>I asked Greg about how closely he wanted to embody Ron Hall, a real person, but who isn’t known to the public.