She's a single girl from Texas who runs in Central Park. He's a married father of three girls with a passion for motorcycles. But René Renée Zellweger...
NEW YORK — She’s a single girl from Texas who runs in Central Park.
He’s a married father of three girls with a passion for motorcycles.
But Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor prove that opposites do, in fact, attract as they team up for the second time to play paramours in “Miss Potter,” which opened in limited release Dec. 29.
Zellweger, 37, produced and stars as author Beatrix Potter in the film, and she handpicked McGregor, 35, to play Potter’s editor and fiancé, Norman Warne.
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To get him on board, says Zellweger, “I groveled. I wrote him a really good e-mail. But it had to be Ewan. He has a way of emoting that’s just so honest.”
“That,” says McGregor with a shrug, “was the e-mail, more or less.” His answer: “I’m in!”
The actors — sitting down for their only joint interview to promote the feel-good retelling of Potter’s unconventional life — appear to share a genuine camaraderie. Zellweger, bouncy in herringbone pants and a white shirt, playfully high-fives McGregor, clad in all black, when he tells her he just wrapped his thriller, “The Tourist,” the night before. “Isn’t he sweet? I don’t know how that’s possible,” she says.
The pair played romantic rivals in 2003’s “Down With Love,” a romantic comedy set in the ’60s that was barely a blip at the box office. But the actors clicked. “We had such a good time working together,” says McGregor.
At the time, Zellweger was coming off her career-making and Oscar-nominated turns in “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Chicago,” while McGregor had just co-starred in the first two “Star Wars” prequels as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
While shooting “Miss Potter,” the actors hung out on and off set. Now, months later, Zellweger and McGregor are clearly at ease with each other. During a photo shoot, they ham it up, hug and compare notes about their favorite late-night interviewers.
The photographer asks them to get closer, and McGregor jokes, “We don’t do none of those cuddly shots,” before putting his arm around Zellweger.
“He’s too tall for me!” she giggles. “We have fun together. We’re comfy.”
What surprised McGregor the most about working with Zellweger the second time? The two share a look, she claps her hands, throws her head back and screams with laughter.
On set, says director Chris Noonan, Zellweger and McGregor were “like two peas in a pod. They love to have a good time, and they would always joke with each other. Ewan particularly was getting Renée to break into giggles in the middle of a scene.”
They’re no goof-offs, Noonan is quick to assure: “They’re both completely dedicated to getting the work done, but making it as pleasurable as possible for all the crew and me.”
Part of that work involved McGregor sporting facial hair.
“I was surprised by your massive ability to grow such a stunning mustache,” she says. “Surprise!”
McGregor humbly accepts the praise. “It took me a couple of months. It’s quite difficult to pull off in contemporary life, a big mustache like that. People wonder what you’re playing at.”
Both stars are at similar points in their careers, mostly opting for character roles in smaller movies, with the occasional would-be blockbuster thrown in.
Zellweger has worked virtually nonstop for two years, including “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” “Cinderella Man” and a voice in “Shark Tale.” Coming up are the thriller “Case 39” and a voice in the animated comedy “Bee Movie.” She’s no stranger to awards attention, picking up her sixth Golden Globe nomination for the “Potter” role and winning a supporting-actress Oscar for 2003’s “Cold Mountain,” her third nomination.
While McGregor’s awards attention tends to come from different quarters (he has been up for seven MTV Awards along with a Golden Globe nomination for “Moulin Rouge”), he is equally busy, with seven films opening this year and next.
And, though their personal lives are very different, they share the challenge of balancing stardom with privacy.
Zellweger married country singer Kenny Chesney in an ultra-private beach ceremony in May 2005 but split from him four months later, filing for an annulment.
McGregor lives in England with wife Eve Mavrakis and daughters Clara, 10, and Esther and Jamiyan, both 5. Jamiyan was adopted from Mongolia earlier this year. McGregor declines to discuss anything about his family.
“This is what we have to put up with in order to be allowed to do this job,” says McGregor. “I ban it from my house, all those magazines. To me, it looks like porn.”
McGregor still flips out when the paparazzi go after his kids. “I’ve spent a great deal of money trying to protect my children from it, especially recently. My wife doesn’t let it get under her skin as much. She’ll get the kids in the car and drive away.”
Says Zellweger: “If you have something really tragic or really great happening in your life, you can count on some company.”
Zellweger recalls an incident years ago. A magazine editor called her rep to ask about a wedding rumor. Her publicist answered that it wasn’t true.
“In fact, we had been split up since that summer,” Zellweger says. “We just didn’t make a big announcement to the world. And they still wrote it.”
Her New Year’s resolution? To make peace with the paparazzi and “to find a way to not let it ruin your life.”
McGregor finds that fame, in some ways, undermines simply getting to know someone new. “I don’t like it when I meet people who don’t know me, and I sense they have a preconceived idea of who I am,” he says. “It’s really uncomfortable. That’s one of the things that disappears when you become known. Meeting people on an even page is gone. People come with a whole bag of ideas of who you might be.”
But there are, of course, a few perks.
Zellweger says the best one is being able to spend the money to have kinfolk close by on a moment’s notice. “I can’t make long-term plans and commitments, so at the last second, I can buy a plane ticket and bring my mom, because there’s a window of opportunity. I can see my family or my friends.”
But the money, they both say, is secondary.
Zellweger says doing a movie purely for the cash (she pulls in around $15 million a picture) would be “an absolute disaster. I don’t have any dependents so I can say that pretty cavalierly, but it doesn’t even factor in. It’s a terrible idea to use that as a variable when you’re making a creative decision. To commodify the work that you do — the idea of it is yucky.”