Renee Zellweger: Jim Spellman/WireImage.com
Brian Hiatt
May 16, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Tired of superhero movies? Try one that stars a real-life powerhouse: Renée Zellweger. The 34-year-old Oscar nominee who helped rescue the movie musical with ”Chicago” is now battling to make Doris Day/Rock Husdon-style movies cool again. The soft-spoken Texan costars with Ewan McGregor in ”Down With Love,” a pastiche of Jackie Kennedy-era fashions and campy double-entendres that couldn’t be more different from the summer’s smash-bang blockbusters. Zellweger, whose next film is this winter’s civil war drama ”Cold Mountain,” talks about her duet with McGregor, the painful side of Hollywood beauty, and her Oscar night jitters.

Do you enjoy the glamour of movies like ”Down With Love”?
It goes back and forth. When you have a severe allergic reaction to false eyelashes for the third day in a row, and your eyes swell up like pursed lips, not really. Then you can’t wait for your days in the dirt in ”Cold Mountain.” They throw some dirt on your cheeks and you’re done. But I like glamour, ’cause it’s fun to play someone far removed from how you live your life, which is brush your teeth and go. But the hardest part of the job for me is the beautification process. I’m so not interested in that part. I just wanna go, dude — are we done?

How did you create your character, Barbara Novak?
This is a girl who is such a girl, in every way. She has her hair and her nails and her lipstick and her dresses and she really embraces her femininity. She just felt like that to me. When I put on those dresses and those shoes, she just showed up. It’s such a girly thing to sit in a certain way and to appreciate your curves in a certain way.

How hard was it to nail the movie’s campy tone?
It was scary some days because it was all faith. You don’t know if what you’re doing is working, because you’re playing heightened reality, It’s about the banter and the color that comes from the double entendres. Usually you can feel if something feels genuine to you, and you couldn’t depend on that here. But [director] Peyton Reed was really certain about how it needed to be, and that gives you confidence. You go, ”Well, he knows, at least!” [laughs]

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