The actress talks about her humble beginnings as she's inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame

By Alicia Dennis
March 12, 2011 12:05 PM

Before she was Oscar-winning actress Renée Zellweger, she was a Texas girl who started her career out small.

Among her first roles: appearing in a beer commercial in her home state of Texas and getting chased by a chainsaw on one of her first movie sets. At the time, Zellweger never imagined the skyrocketing Hollywood career that would be ahead of her.

“I have never had those thoughts before,” Zellweger, 41, told PEOPLE before being inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame at the awards ceremony hosted by the Austin Film Society. “I moved to L.A. because I just ran out of things to do. If Austin Studios had been here at the time, I might not have gone anywhere.”

Zellweger – who was born and raised in Katy, Texas, and attended the University of Texas in Austin along with Matthew McConaughey – was part of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused cast early in her career.

“I felt really lucky to be a glorified extra on [Dazed and Confused],” Zellweger said. “I learned so much about how a film set works and how it breaks down into different departments and what your responsibilities are as a performer when you are participating in a collaborative effort.”

Working in horror sequel The Return of Texas Chainsaw Massacre also had it’s own teaching moments. “[It] was the best five-week workout plan of my life,” she said. “Nothing like a live chainsaw to motivate you to run faster.”

Zellweger attended the event in Austin Thursday with her mother, Irene, and shared the spotlight will fellow inductees Rip Torn, Oscar-nominee John Hawkes, the cast of Friday Night Lights and band members from Austin-based Spoon.

The Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards kicks off 2011’s South By Southwest Film and Music festival, now in Austin through March 20.