'Nurse Betty'

Playing a slightly ditzy waitress from Kansas whose presence at the murder of her husband spins her off on a deluded quest for the love of a Hollywood soap opera star, the title role in Neil LaBute’s “Nurse Betty” presented some confusing acting challenges for Renee Zellweger.

According to producer Gail Mutrux, Zellweger handled the role masterfully, time and again conveying a series of emotions from blind determination to deep tenderness to outright confusion — sometimes all at once.

“It’s someone who has to be likable, vulnerable, and someone you can care about and take the ride with her,” says Mutrux, describing character Betty Sizemore. “She’s someone who sees the glass half full.”

Zellweger has excelled at playing sweetly disposed characters who come up against male boorishness (“Jerry Maguire,” “A Price Above Rubies,” “The Whole Wide World,” “Me, Myself and Irene,”) and emerge wiser and even happier, if not always unscathed.

She gave a powerfully moving performance in “One True Thing ” as an ambitious, emotionally removed daughter of a couple played by William Hurt and Meryl Streep.

In “Betty” — which earned Zellweger her first Golden Globe nomination — the Texas native seems at home.

“You think of someone who’s the all-American girl next door,” Mutrux says. “She does a terrific job.”

Zellweger’s shining moment in the film is the scene in which she finally meets the object of her desire, a soap actor who she believes is a real doctor (Greg Kinnear).

“They totally believe what they’re doing,” says Mutrux. “No one winks at the camera. It’s all real to them, even though it’s as crazy as it is.”

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