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Zellweger, 36, once told PEOPLE, "I've never been the kind of girl who sits there and dreamily says, 'Oh, when I get married ...' " So it came as a surprise when she wed country star Kenny Chesney, 37, on May 9 after knowing him for less than four months. Perhaps they shared a sentiment expressed in both Zellweger's famous line from Jerry Maguire and the song it inspired Chesney to write: "You Had Me From Hello."
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For her role in the Bridget Jones sequel, Zellweger gained almost 30 lbs. by increasing her dietary intake to 4,000 calories a day (with a little help from eggs Benedict, fish-and-chips and other treats) and not exercising. It took her three months to gain the weight (left, in London in 2003), which she has since taken off (right, in Toronto last year).
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Zellweger is very close to her parents, who emigrated from Europe to rural Katy, Texas, in the 1960s. "Because my parents were from someplace else, they provided me with a window out onto the world," she says of her Norwegian mom, Kjellfrid (in London in 2004), and Swiss father, Emil.
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LIVING THE DREAM
During her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech at the Oscars in 2004, Zellweger thanked her longtime manager John Carrabino for "dreaming so much bigger than I would have ever dared to." Of winning for her role as feisty Civil War-era farm girl Ruby in Cold Mountain, Zellweger told PEOPLE, "It's not something you're thinking about when you're hauling timber and shoveling manure," as she did on the set.
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As a teenager, Zellweger (in her 1987 senior-year picture from Katy High School) laughs that she "had big hair with tons of spray. I won't even go into the investment I made in Final Net." She later studied acting at the University of Texas at Austin, and one of her earliest roles was in 1994's The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
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Award shows for Zellweger are "little reunions. We get all gussied up and get to see our friends." Some of her fashion highlights from past shows include (from left) her '50s-era Jean Desses gown at the 2001 Oscars, her embroidered silk chiffon Carolina Herrera dress at the 2003 Academy Awards and a dramatic strapless floor-length frock at the 2004 Screen Actors Guild Awards.
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"She's amazing in the film and definitely deserves (an Oscar nomination). I'll be rooting for her," gushed Nicole Kidman about her Cold Mountain costar and pal Zellweger (in Los Angeles in December 2003). Just a year earlier Zellweger had lost out on a Best Actress Academy Award for Chicago to Kidman for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours.
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ON A MISSION
Zellweger shows her support at the Revlon Run/Walk for Women's Cancer in New York City in May 2002. The actress is an avid runner, though a painful bone spur in her left foot led her to consider surgery in 2003 (she opted not to have it).
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"You could see that he really flipped for her," says director Bobby Farrelly of Zellweger's relationship with Jim Carrey (at the Golden Globe Awards in 2000). The couple began dating while filming Farrelly's 2000 comedy Me, Myself and Irene, but parted ways after a year together.
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Zellweger met White Stripes rocker Jack White on the set of 2003's Cold Mountain, in which he had a small role as a troubadour. Although White was six years her junior and preferred his hometown of Detroit to Hollywood hot spots, the couple quietly dated for more than a year and a half. After they split in September, a source close to the actress told PEOPLE, "It was mutual. No scandal. No new relationships."
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Zellweger (at a movie premiere in New York in 1998) is a dog lover: She often takes her mixed-breed pup Woof with her on three-mile runs in the hills near her Los Angeles house.
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MUSIC TO HER EARS
Early on in rehearsals for 1996's Jerry Maguire, Zellweger was still in financial trouble from her years of struggling as an actress. Costar Tom Cruise (at an L.A. party in 1998) surprised Zellweger for her 27th birthday by buying her an expensive stereo system. "He did all this research to find out what I wanted," she recalls.
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Next up for Zellweger (in Tokyo last year): She'll promote her June 3 film Cinderella Man, in which she plays the wife of Russell Crowe's Depression-era boxer, and she'll portray Janis Joplin in the biopic Piece of My Heart. But eventually, she hopes to take "a little time (off) and just be a girl. I think it's essential that if you're going to tell life stories, you have to have a little life to draw from."