I like to joke that I “discovered” Texas native Renee Zellweger way back in 1995, when I singled her out for praise as “the most formidable scream queen since Jamie Lee Curtis went legit” while reviewing The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre for Variety at the SXSW Film Festival. (Come to think of it, I also “discovered” Matthew McConaughey in the same flick.) Unfortunately, by the time that film was theatrically released two years later as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, blockhead or blockheads unknown had decided to trim some of the best scenes – including an expository sequence that indicated Zellweger’s character had for a long time been forced to defend herself against the sexual advances of her mother's husbands and boyfriends. After those experiences, Return appeared to be saying, it would take something a lot more formidable than some masked doofus with a chainsaw to keep her intimidated for very long.
But never mind: Zellweger went on to earn praise and touch hearts as schoolteacher (and aspiring writer) Novalyne Price, the very special friend of author Robert E. Howard (Vincent D’Onofio) in The Whole Wide World. I was happy to chat with her (and D’Onofio and director Dan Ireland) when that unjustly overlooked drama premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. And I was downright overjoyed when, later in 1996, I caught up with her at the junket for one of my favorite films of the ‘90s – Jerry Maguire.