Renée Zellweger Says Depression Led to Her Retreat from Acting: 'I Wasn't Taking Care of Myself'

On the heels of her big-screen return, Judy star Renée Zellweger is looking back at what led her to step away from the spotlight

Renée Zellweger is opening up about what inspired her Hollywood hiatus.

In a wide-ranging interview with New York Magazine, the 50-year-old Oscar winner explained what was behind her decision to step away from acting back in 2010 — revealing that she had slipped into a depression and needed a break to regroup.

I wasn’t healthy,” Zellweger said, calling the break crucial. “I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was the last thing on my list of priorities.”

Realizing that sent Zellweger into therapy for the first time in her life, she revealed. There, her therapist helped her navigate the emotions she was feeling during her retreat from the business.

“He recognized that I spent 99 percent of my life as the public persona and just a microscopic crumb of a fraction in my real life,” she recalled. “I needed to not have something to do all the time, to not know what I’m going to be doing for the next two years in advance. I wanted to allow for some accidents. There had to be some quiet for the ideas to slip in.”

Around that time, Zellweger was in an airport where she bumped into pal Salma Hayek, who gave her a word of advice.

“She shared this beautiful … metaphor? Analogy? ‘The rose doesn’t bloom all year … unless it’s plastic,’ ” Zellweger said. “I got it. Because what does that mean? It means that you have to fake that you’re okay to go and do this next thing. And you probably need to stop right now, but this creative opportunity is so exciting and it’s once-in-a-lifetime and you will regret not doing it. But actually, no, you should collect yourself and, you know … rest.”

Renee Zellweger
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images

Resting, for Zellweger, meant walking away from making movies, walking red carpets, and doing major interviews.

Though she said the rough patch only lasted a year, her hiatus mostly lasted until 2016, when she eased back into movies with Bridget Jones’s Baby.

“I had a good five-year period when I was joyful and in a new chapter that no one was even aware of,” she told NY Mag.

“Six years. It was important, that time,” she added. “It’s a quieter life, and I love it.”

2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Radhika Jones - Arrivals
John Shearer/Getty

Before her big-screen return, Zellweger attended the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards in 2014 — and quickly incited widespread chatter online with what many viewed as a new look.

The talk about her appearance led Zellweger to defend herself, first to PEOPLE in an exclusive statement and, years later, in a first-person essay in The Huffington Post.

“I’m glad folks think I look different! I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows,” Zellweger told PEOPLE. “My friends say that I look peaceful. I am health. For a long time I wasn’t doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn’t allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion. I was aware of the chaos and finally chose different things.”

Looking back at it all, Zellweger told NY Mag that the conversation around her looks actually helped free her.

“Nothing like international humiliation to set your perspective right! It clarifies what’s important to you. And it shakes off any sort of clingy superficiality … that you didn’t have time for anyway,” she said.

“One of the fears that maybe, as artists, we all share — because we have this public experience of being criticized not just for our work but as human beings — is when it gets to be too much, when you learn that your skin is not quite as thick as you need it to be, what is that gonna feel like? Well, now I know,” Zellweger added. “I got the hardest kick. And it ain’t the end.”

Renee Zellweger in JUDY
Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland. Roadside Flix

Zellweger is back on movie screens this month, playing Judy Garland in the highly anticipated biopic Judy.

Garland’s struggles were something to which Zellweger could relate.

“There was so much that was not allowed for,” she told NY Mag. “You’re not allowed to be human. There’s no room on the schedule for her sanity — the choices that were made for her and how she was exploited and … robbed, basically.”

Judy hits theaters Sept. 27.

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