Five minutes with Renee Zellweger on her first leading TV role

Renee Zellweger attending the Vanity Fair Oscar Party held at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California. Picture: Ian West/PA Wire

Renée Zellweger, 50, takes on her first leading role in television thanks to new Netflix miniseries What/If, a social thriller that explores the ripple effects of what happens when acceptable people start doing unacceptable things. Gemma Dunn finds out more.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER, ANNE MONTGOMERY.

I don’t think I’ve ever played anyone quite like her. She’s a lady with a plan and it’s a very meticulously calculated plan. She’s diabolical and I love her. She’s the product of her life experiences, as we all are, but it hasn’t been an easy road.

She’s a survivor at any cost and I find her sympathetic. She’s got great taste, great style and she’s so determined that she’s unflappable. Even when most others might feel that they’re facing a moral dilemma, she only sees the goal.

IS IT MORE FUN TO PLAY A FIGURE THAT IS NOTHING LIKE YOURSELF?

Usually. You know, the more different they are, the more creatively satisfying it is. And I think it’s probably easier to lose yourself in a role when she’s a departure from what you know. The show is well written, the characters are unusual and it’s a world that’s unusual.

It pushes the boundaries about morality. You want to know what’s going to happen when people make outrageous choices. That’s how I felt when the scripts came in. I needed to know what was going to happen.

DID ANYONE IN PARTICULAR INSPIRE YOUR PORTRAYAL OF ANNE?

Oh sure. [Creator] Mike Kelley and I discussed Anne Bancroft quite a bit. And Mrs Robinson and The Graduate.

He said, ‘Take that, all that power and that sexual energy and her self-loathing and her disappointment and, instead of channelling it into alcoholism and affection for the boy down the street, what if she was to be proactive and build something like an empire so that she could manipulate circumstances and the people in her life instead?’ I thought, ‘Yeah! Wardrobe!’.

IT ALSO MARKS YOUR FIRST BIG TV ROLE. HOW DID YOU FIND IT?

Well, I guess we didn’t have all the words in advance, so the preparation process was a little bit different. But other than that, it felt very cinematic in how Mike chose to shoot it.

There are all these film noir references that you can see and a little wink to those ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s movies that they don’t make anymore, that heightened reality. It felt like we were making a film. We were joking that that’s how you get your movie made these days: you call it TV!

YOU’RE NOT ON SOCIAL MEDIA, WHY?

I’ll never say never, because it might be interesting to explore some day for something, but the things I might get from it that I value, I get in other places.

Like I call my friends, or I get together with my friends and we take photographs and share them in a different way.

What/If is on Netflix now.

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