Renee Zellweger's mom Kjellfrid grew up in Norway, where she lived through World War II as a child

By Ale Russian Mary Park
January 09, 2020 02:46 PM

Renée Zellweger learned a surprising fact about her mother’s childhood when the two visited a World War II museum.

Speaking to PEOPLE on Wednesday’s red carpet at the National Board of Review Awards in New York City, where she was honored as best actress for Judy, Zellweger named her mom Kjellfrid as her hero. Zellweger’s mom grew up in Norway and was a child when the country was occupied during World War II.

“She was a tiny girl in World War II,” Zellweger, 50, tells PEOPLE of her mom. “There’s a World War II museum in New Orleans, it’s an extraordinary experience. We walked it all and we were looking in the glass cases and my mom’s like, ‘Oh,’ and she pointed at a series of hand grenades. There were a bunch of hand grenades in the case and she said, ‘We used to play with those ones. Not those ones, not those ones, but those ones. We used to play with those!’ “

“She was living in an occupied country and there were bullets falling from the sky and you had to run inside because that was part of your day. And you’d find one every now and then,” Zellweger continues. “It was a real treat apparently. ‘Don’t pull the pin! You better run!’ And when you think about that being your reality as a child, can you imagine the value system that you establish? And my brother and I have been the beneficiaries of that. She’s cool.”

RELATED: Renée Zellweger Thanks Golden Globes for ‘Inviting Me Back to the Family Reunion’

Zellweger’s honor comes just days after she picked up the 2020 Golden Globe for best actress in a drama for Judy. The actress’ long-awaited return to Hollywood after a few years out of the spotlight has been successful, with Zellweger thanking Globes for welcoming her back.

“Wow, I really am up here. Well, hi everybody, it’s nice to see you. Y’all look pretty good 17 years later,” Zellweger joked. “Thank you to the [Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Globes’ organizing body] for inviting me back to the family reunion, especially with all these extraordinary ladies this year.”

“I mean it, your work moves me. It moves me,” she continued of her fellow nominees. “And I’ve been cheering for y’all from theater seats for a long time.”

Renée Zellweger
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

She also honored Judy Garland, whom she plays in the film.

“Celebrating one of the great icons of our time with you has been one of my great life blessings,” she said, “and the conversations I’ve had with people internationally who just want to express their love for Judy Garland and tell about the great personal significance of her legacy and humanity has been a great reminder that the choices we make matter, what we make matters, and how we choose to honor each other in our lifetimes can matter a great deal down the road.”

Zellweger won her first Golden Globe back in 2001, for best actress in a motion picture musical or comedy for her role in Nurse Betty. She last won in 2004 for Cold Mountain.

She’s next up for a Critic’s Choice Award for her performance in Judy. That show airs on Sunday.

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