Renee Zellweger on Taking on the Real-Life Role of Debbie Hall in Same Kind of Different As Me
Renee Zellweger segues from playing the much-loved singleton in Bridget Jones’s Baby to tackling the real-life role of Debbie Hall in Same Kind of Different As Me,based on the best-selling book of the same name written by Hall’s husband Ron.
The Oscar-winning actress, who is selective in the roles she takes, tells Parade.com in this exclusive interview that she agreed to play Debbie, a woman with an overwhelming amount of forgiveness, because “I admired who she was as a person in general, all of her. I wish I had had a chance to speak with her to ask her what it was that motivated her. I know that she had her faith. I also believe she was inherently good and saw the world from the inside out and not the outside in. The world didn’t reflect back at her so to speak.”
Same Kind of Different As Me is the inspiring story of international art dealer Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear), who at the behest of his wife and to save his marriage after she discovers he cheated on her, begins volunteering at a local homeless shelter in order to — as she says — put some shared purpose back in their marriage.
While at the shelter, the couple meets Denver (Djimon Hounsou), a homeless man that Debbie saw in a dream. As a result, she pushes Ron to become friends with Denver, convinced there is a higher purpose to their friendship. But just as her plan begins to bear real fruit, tragedy strikes.
Djimon Hounsou and Renee Zellweger
What do you see as the theme of the movie?
I didn’t think about it in terms of that. I thought about it and I recognized the message of the book and then the film as one of self-empowerment, forgiveness, compassion, the common denominator of our humanity, purpose in your life, and what motivates you to make the decisions that you do with respect to your personal life and what contribution you might make. I suppose that that’s more what I thought about in first reading the script and then the book, and then when I saw the film, what I walked away with was recognizing your personal capacity to make a significant change or contribution in someone else’s life if you just make up your mind to do it.
Deborah died before the book and the script, but were you able to talk to Ron about her and what did he share with you?
I asked about her humor, how she carried herself, how she walked, what he loved most about her, what he remembered most strongly, just little hints so I can read between the lines in the book and also fill in the blanks. She was strong. I admired her tenacity, her humor, and her kindness.
In real life, you get involved with politics. Do you hope that this movie will make other people take action to try to solve the homeless situation?
That’s exactly it. What was so thrilling about being part of this film is that it seemed like for everyone involved, it’s an extension of that. The book was Ron’s way of carrying the torch of her mission, which was to change the situation for homeless people in her community and then in the United States.
The book was on the New York Times Best Seller list for something like three and a half years, and I believe it’s in large part because people who have read the book, whom I’ve spoken with, say that they find it to have been transformative and they can’t help but share the book with a lot of their friends, and that it changes how they think about their own power to make a difference.
I think a lot of us are intimidated by the idea of the magnitude of the problems that we see, or the things that are wrong that are happening around us all the time, and we don’t feel like that it’s our place, or maybe we feel like it’s going to be too difficult, or that we don’t have the proper training to get involved, or we don’t have access in some way, and the message of this book and now this film is that, no, it is. It is within your capacity just by deciding that something doesn’t look right to you to make an impact.
If you don’t have a Ron in your life, there’s still things that you can do.
You don’t have to have military or medical training, you don’t have to be a part of a celebrity telethon, or you don’t have to be invited, you just make your way and choose to become involved. That human connection is so deeply rewarding.
Bridget Jones is a big part of your career. When you look back on it, what is the take away for you?
Oh, boy. It’s such a big part of my life both professionally and personally. It changed my life. I went from a sometimes recognized person to having anonymity dwindle away a little bit at a time with the release of each of those films. I learned a lot. I had an opportunity to live in a completely different culture, and it always broadens your horizons when you experience things that you wouldn’t have had occasion to otherwise. Those films and books, Helen Fielding’s creation, was a great blessing to me in that respect.
You took a hiatus from acting for a few years. Was Bridget Jones the reason you came back because you didn’t want anybody else to play her?
That’s probably it. That’s a really sweet question actually. It had not occurred to me how I would feel if somebody else might have played Bridget Jones. Yes, I think I would feel very sad about that. I didn’t want to miss out on that experience and it felt like it was the right time.
Would you be interested in taking on a limited series?
Oh, 100 percent. I’m a TV junkie. I’ve watched more television in the last two years than in the rest of my life combined and that is not color, that is just truth. Good is good. I’ve never been averse to doing anything in any medium if it’s good and, boy, it’s just so exciting what’s happening in television because the opportunities are there for great writers to do what they want to do. It’s so much fun to see the paradigm shifting, that now the writers, who’ve always been the foundation of this business, are having their moment. It’s wonderful.
Are you interested in also working behind the scenes?
Oh sure, that’s always been there. I haven’t done it publicly, but that’s always been there. A big part of my life when I was growing up, I was drawn to being a storyteller in general. So that’s always been there, I just haven’t done anything publicly for the most part because there was no time over the last couple of decades, and now, maybe, we’ll see.