By Ericka Souter
November 22, 2004 12:00 PM

Biscuits and gravy, crispy duck, Snickers. Milk shakes, pizza, butter-soaked potatoes. Sometimes it’s good to be Bridget Jones or, more specifically, Renée Zellweger, who played the full-figured singleton in the hit 2001 movie and reprises the role in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.

The perks? The first time around, Zellweger ate what she wanted, packed on 30 lbs. and earned an Oscar nomination—though she also noted an unexpected change. “Men,” she said, “look at my boobs when they talk to me.” The bad part of playing Jones? The aftermath—losing all those, as Bridget would say, “wobbly bits.” The solution, Zellweger told a pal, is simple if not much fun: “Eat bran, drink lots of water, indulge once in a while, and walk your ass off.”

If she sounds down to earth, her Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason colleagues say that is true to form for the Texas-born star. “Renée is very approachable,” says costar Colin Firth. Costumer Jany Temime agrees. “She’s not at all like you would expect a star to be,” she says.

When the cameras were off, Zellweger chatted up locals and ate burgers with the crew. Still, maintaining her expanded waistline—she went from size 4 to a 14—required focus. “I was afraid those pounds would disappear because we worked so much,” says Zellweger, whose assistant kept her supplied with snacks. It wasn’t always enough. “In one scene they had to pad out her bottom because it wasn’t large enough,” says a crew member. “I was expecting her to be huge, and she just wasn’t.”

After filming ended, Zellweger cut her 4,000-calorie-a-day diet, began exercising and caused a press frenzy with her super-slim frame (she also dyed her hair brown for the upcoming drama Cinderella Man). Bridget producer Eric Fellner says he doesn’t understand all the attention. “She puts weight on for the role; she doesn’t take it off to be Renée,” he says. “She’s naturally very tiny,” concurs Cameron Silver, owner of L.A.’s vintage boutique Decades, a fave of the actress’s. The weight gain, Fellner points out, was just part of the job. “She’s very professional, whether we had her falling out of an airplane or covered in pig poo.”

Her weight isn’t the only thing that’s changing. Zellweger, who has shot seven films in three years, says it’s time to focus on her offscreen life. She keeps mum about her on-again, off-again romance with rocker Jack White but admits, “I need to take a little time and just be a girl.” Adds Zellweger: “I think it’s essential that if you’re going to tell life stories, you have to have a little life to draw from.”

Ericka Sóuter. Alison Gee, Brenda Rodriguez and Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles, Constance Droganes in Toronto, Amy Longsdorf in New York City and Monique Jessen in London