Zellweger's 'New in Town' role made her shiver

January 29, 2009 

LOS ANGELES -- The wardrobe department saved Renee Zellweger's life during the filming of the romantic comedy "New in Town." It was so cold while filming in Canada that she needed extra help to keep warm.

"I never imagined that I would rejoice at the pantyhose laid out on the bed by wardrobe every morning. They were essential. I would not be here today without the Hanes," Zellweger says during an interview at the W Hotel to promote the film. She accents the comment with a soft giggle.

Winnipeg, Manitoba, was the city stand-in for New Ulm, Minn. And pantyhose provided her another layer of clothing to help fight off the freezing weather. In the movie, New Ulm is the small community where her character, hot-shot business executive Lucy Hill, goes to make the town's big factory more profitable for the faceless owners in Miami. She's expected to lay off people.

Many of the jokes have to do with the Florida transplant trying to deal with the cold, snow and bad weather.

Zellweger usually has some light, funny moments in movies. But she experienced a first on this film. There's a scene in which Hill is talked into going hunting. The comedy in the scene comes from the zipper in her snowsuit getting stuck. The zipper actually froze shut.

"I did not know cold like that," says Zellweger, a Texas native. "That was a whole different kind of experience. It was also a wonderful exercise in developing new survival skills. And a whole new language for the biological things that happen."

Zellweger giggles again.

Her co-star, Harry Connick Jr., takes the opening to joke, "Let's just be real. It is not human to live in a town like that. That is just crazy cold. That is colder than you can even conceive. Don't go to Winnipeg between October and March."

The average high temperature in the Canadian city in January is 9 degrees Fahrenheit while the average low is minus 10.

The best way to deal with the cold, Zellweger says, is to have four parkas and wear them all at once.

At that moment, the room begins to shake. Zellweger asks if it is an earthquake. It is not. The shaking is the result of some equipment being started a floor below.

Even if it had been Mother Nature on the move, Zellweger isn't the kind to let that stop her. The frigid Winnipeg temperatures didn't stop her from going out to enjoy the city. She compliments everything from the ice sculpture downtown to the tenacity of the people.

"You look outside, and you can't see the road. And you think, 'guess there is no driving today.' But that's not the case. Everybody gets up, and they get on with it. It's normal. It's commonplace that your face freezes two seconds after stepping outside the door," Zellweger says.

And she got out a lot. The actress completely understood the fears and anxieties her character faces as the new person in town. That's Zellweger's life every four to six months when she starts a new movie. Filming for her previous two movies, "Leatherheads" and "Appaloosa," took her to North Carolina and New Mexico.

And at each new stop, she has a ritual. As soon as she puts her bags down, Zellweger takes a walk around the city. She tries to learn what she can about the community. That curiosity also manifests itself through being a news junkie.

No matter if it is a hilltop in Romania or a frozen forest in Winnipeg, the place Zellweger always feels at home is on the set.

"There is that whole immediate intimacy, to some degree, because you come into a project with a whole lot of people with a common goal. So it is this big, huge cooperative effort that everyone is really passionate about," Zellweger says. "It is very strange because you become like a high school class or something by the time you wrap a picture. It is very strange to leave it behind.

"It is a very strange, nomadic, circus life. You are perpetually new in every respect."

And as nomads and circus people will tell you, there are times when those travels take you to cold climates.

The reporter can be reached at rbentley@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6355.

The reporter can be reached at rbentley@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6355.

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