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Miss Potter - Renee Zellweger interview

Renee Zellweger in Miss Potter

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RENEE Zellweger talks about taking on the iconic role of Beatrix Potter and her own fond memories of children’s authors.

She also reveals what it was like to serve as executive producer for the first time and why perfecting an English accent for a second time required some assistance from a fellow cast member.

Q. What drew you to the role?
A. It’s a really boring answer actually. From an actor’s perspective, you don’t often read a script that’s as beautiful in its simplicity, and as rich, and yet not sensationalised in any way. It was so compelling, and then to come to the last page of that script and say: “Oh, I wanna see this film.” I just couldn’t believe that it wasn’t fiction.

I mean, what a fascinating life, and how could I know so little about this woman? It just drew me in and I wanted to know more. It’s just such a beautiful story. So, it started with that.

Q. How did you balance the acting with your duties as executive producer? Is that making the first steps for the future, perhaps?
A. It usually means abusing the actors! “OK, more fourth calls, OK, yes let’s work overtime!” When it would come time to do that seven-day week again, Chris [Noonan] would say: “Think like a producer!”

It was a terrible idea and I’ll probably never do it again [laughs]. No, I’m just joking. It was a really interesting learning opportunity and I asked the guys if they would be interested in that kind of partnership because I really wanted us to get through creatively with these guys. They said OK, so we did.

Q. Beatrix was very self-reliant, and didn’t need a family or a man in order to live her life and be a success. Is that something that struck a chord with you, in terms of your own life and career?
A. I didn’t think about it in terms of my own life, to be honest. I just had a keen admiration and affection for her right away. I was fascinated by her life, and I liked her.

I liked her a lot. I liked her rich, internal life. I liked that she was so witty and quick. I loved her wry sense of humour. I just thought of her as a person I’d like to know, that’s where a lot of the appeal came from – she made me smile.

Q. Were you privy to any of the love letters between Beatrix and Warne, and did you have a favourite character that Beatrix created that you identified with?
A. We did read some of the letters. There were a lot of letters actually between her and Millie that we read. And there were some with Fruing and Harold. And also with Norman… a lot of letters that she’d sent overseas to the United States. It was lovely to see.

And I like Jemima Puddleduck. I like that she’s so naïve, innocent and hopeful and she just thinks it’s all going to be great. And I love that dog that comes in and saves her.

Q. Which book did you cherish in your childhood?
A. Hans Christian Anderson books, obviously, from my Mum. I got a lot of books from Austria. In fact, one of my favourite childhood books was Blinky Bill. And a little older, I loved the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. We had a big red and gold compilation anthology, it was magic, because it meant that my Mum and I could read together.

I loved Ray Bradbury – is that weird? And I liked a book called The Mystical Beast. I think I’ve still got it on my bookshelf.

Q. How did this compare with your preparation for Bridget Jones? It’s a different type of English accent…
A. Yes, it was very different this time. It all begins and ends with Barbara Berkery. I never really perfect it, she does. She stands there with her whip and she makes sure that I’m not lazy. She tells me what to do and I have no choice but to listen to her.

Q. Did it help to have played someone English before?
A. It helped to work with Emily Watson, who has gorgeous diction. Sometimes I would ask her: “Say this for me please.” And I’d just repeat it really quickly before I forgot. I’m sure that it did, but it was very different. It was much more formal, and I couldn’t get away with certain things that I might have liked to.

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