Though 2001's ''Bridget Jones's Diary'' was a both-sides-of-the-pond hit (grossing more than $280 million worldwide), convincing Renée Zellweger to return for another go-round was a tough sell. ''I wasn't sure that her story hadn't already been told,'' says the actress, who earned a Best Supporting Actress statuette for her performance in ''Cold Mountain'' during the course of filming ''Reason.'' ''I was leery about the idea of making a sequel. Usually, it's not motivated from an artistic perspective...and the idea of compromising this character terrified me.''
What finally persuaded Zellweger to put on Bridget's knee-high boots again (not to mention her extra pounds) were the fans -- perfect strangers coming up to her asking about a sequel. ''I was surprised. It started to make me think that there might be some value in following up.'' The actress also saw some parallels between her own life and Ms. Jones': ''She's a little bit more grown-up, a little less naive, a little bit more assertive. It fit nicely because obviously I'm not the same person [I was] either.''
But fans needn't worry that their favorite fretful female is getting (gasp!) mature on them. ''It's a completely comedic exploration of what it's like to be in a relationship,'' says director Beeban Kidron (whose last notable feature was the drag comedy ''To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar''). ''And Bridget goes on some wild adventures before she works out that finding the perfect man does not mean you ride into the sunset.'' Also returning are Hugh Grant and Colin Firth as Bridget's caddish and gentlemanly beaux, respectively. ''Colin is indeed the man that every woman should marry,'' says Kidron. ''And Hugh is like the chocolate you shouldn't eat.''
Speaking of eating, this time Zellweger says she approached her weight gain more healthfully. ''I saw [the documentary] 'Super Size Me' and I was terrified about all the long-term damage the guy was doing by gaining so much weight,'' she says. ''Boy, I had to turn down the volume when those parts came on.''
WHAT'S AT STAKE Reviews for Bridget's literary follow-up were tepid. And Bridget's neuroses may not be as lovable now that she's got a boyfriend.