That’s how you get your movie made these days: you call it TV
Renee 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 m
HOLLYWOOD star Renee Zellweger is acting against type for her latest role which sees her debut on the small screen.
In What/If, the 50-year-old plays Anne Montgomery, a mysterious venture capitalist and financial guru who offers a cash-strapped pair of San Francisco newlyweds an “indecent proposal”.
In a gender twist on the film of that name starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore, she offers to help save the wife’s flailing medical company, for a night with her husband.
Anne asks them: “What if I made you an offer too extraordinary to refuse? For anything, and anyone, to be yours for the taking...What would you risk to have it all?”
Here, the Bridget Jones star tells us what attracted her to the role:
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 taken what’s been challenging in her life and used it to her benefit. If you want to talk about her as a survivor, 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 doesn’t recognise it as that. 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, that’s for sure.
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 just needed to know where it was going and what was going to happen to everybody.
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 a 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 h 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!
The show is set in Silicon Valley, involving these tech giants. You’re not on social media, why? I DON’T know a lot about it because I don’t really play, but I know it’s there, and I know that it’s very important historically.
I know that it has shifted societies and it’s enabled so much advancement, especially in medicine and things, but I don’t hop on there. I mean, 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.
Do you see it as a positive platform to speak out? ANYTHING that I might say, that is an opinion about what’s happening politically or socially or whatever, I want to talk about it at a dinner table.
I would be afraid that I would trivialise something that deserved more reverence by just throwing up a tweet about something that is of personal importance.
I don’t want to cheapen it like that; I don’t want to feel obligated to comment on things that I don’t need to have an opinion about, because it’s none of my business.
You celebrated your 50th birthday recently and here you are fronting a TV series. Is this proof that Hollywood is moving forward with issues such as ageism?
THERE’S so much opportunity now with this appetite for content, because there’s so many different outlets and things are happening so quickly.
I think that there’s this renaissance for writers; they can finally make their projects and original content that they’ve wanted to do for years, and where they go, we follow.
They recognise that women of my age are looking for something that they can connect to and fall in love with.
It’s smart business and we’re benefiting because more variety is exciting for people who love storytelling in this medium – in film and everywhere.
■ What/If is available on Netflix now.
Renee appears alongside Blake Jenner who plays Sean Donovan in the new Netflix series What/If
Renee Zellweger as Anne Montgomery
Renee with Bridget Jones co-stars Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in 2009