Renee dancing over recognition

GOOD MORNING: Remember when the casting of Renee Zellweger in the all-British, London-set “Bridget Jones’s Diary” “caused such a row (in the U.K.) not seen since Tom Cruise donned fangs to play the vampire Lestat” (Variety‘s Lael Loewenstein)? Well, Renee added 20 pounds for the role, further girded herself with a London accent tutored by Barbara Berkery. And this week, the British Academy of Film & TV Arts (BAFTA) named Zellweger a nominee for best performance by an actress in a leading role in “Bridget Jones.” Earlier, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. also nominated her in their “musical or comedy” category. And now, here in Hollywood, SAG has named her a nominee in the “lead role” category. No one could be more happy about this nomination recognition than Renee. I spoke with her as she was being made up for the dancing grand finale in Miramax’s musical version of “Chicago.” Zellweger, playing the lead role of Roxie Hart opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere, hopes to get the day off to attend the SAG Awards. The musical is also a challenge for her. Has she had any previous musical experience? “Hell no!,” she laughed. Also, she never saw the live “Chicago” and didn’t want to try to see it after she was cast in the film. “I didn’t want to emulate anyone,” she explained, saying she’s left the interpretation to director Rob Marshall — who is making his feature bow. Now well into the film, Renee laughingly tells me, “My feet are now four sizes larger — but I wouldn’t change this experience for anything.” As for Zeta-Jones, Zellweger says, “She was born to do it.” And about Gere, she says, “He plays the part with a gleam in his eye” … Following “Bridget” and just before “Chicago,” Zellweger did a one-week dramatic role in “Oleander” with Michele Pfeiffer. “What more can you say than to be in a drama with Michele Pfeiffer,” she asks. Answer: A musical, “Chicago” with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.

THERE’S LIFE IN “THE CHAIR.” ABC’s torture show with John McEnroe hosting has already outlived Fox’s (benched) “The Chamber.” And McEnroe tells me he’ll be back in L.A. next week to tape six or seven more shows to total the 13 ordered by the web. And ratings on Wednesday’s show were up from the second week’s. He said they’ve now made some “subtle” changes. I told McEnroe that Daily Variety’s Phil Gallo had panned the show, but noted he “shows potential as a TV personality.” He hadn’t read the review, fortunately, when I spoke to him. He’s enjoying the new experience, reminding, “I like ‘live’ audiences — and I think it’s a good concept.” He laughingly said he’d like to have one seg with tennis umpires “to give them a chance to get back at me!” Gary Swain, IMG chairman and senior VP of its North American events, is also McEnroe’s manager and has repped him in some capacity since 1981. He reminds that John also has the unique distinction of being on CBS, NBC, USA and BBC networks — for tennis commentaries. He also plays in 10-12 championship tours a year. He’s a spokesman for Nike, Heineken beer and Lincoln/Mercury — plus others. “John is incredibly loyal, extremely intelligent and honors his commitments,” Swain said. How’d McEnroe get the gameshow hostint? Swain said ABC’s senior exec of alternate series and specials, Andrea Wong, was looking for a host when her boyfriend, a tennis fan, mentioned John’s name. McEnroe’s response to Swain when told of the offer: “Don’t get me into anything where I’ll be called ‘Wink McEnroe.’ ”

UPCOMING PATRIOTIC SPECIALS are on the march: Gil Cates is just back from a visit aboard the U.S.S. Harry S Truman aircraft carrier as he and Dennis Doty ready to tape (May 2) “The U.S. Salutes the U.S. Military” — aboard the flight deck out of Fort Lauderdale. The CBSpecial also will boast an air and sea show with 4 million-5 million spectators on the Florida beach … Gary Smith is in preparations for an ABC super-special to salute West Point on the 200th anniversary of the academy. It will tape April 21 and air June 23 … Walter C. Miller segues from the Grammys to produce two specials for PBS from the Capitol’s west lawn: a Memorial Day concert on May 26, just cleared for a live audience of 250,000, and July 4 for “A Capitol Fourth,” which also will be a tribute to Richard Rodgers’ 100th birthday … Barbara and Marvin Davis’ Carousel Ball, Oct. 15 at the BevHilton, boasts Sting and Elton John, Jay Leno as m.c. and Sidney Poitier as recipient of the Carousel’s Brass Ring award from the Children’s Diabetes Foundation. The Davis Center for Children’s Diabetes treats 4,000 kids a year. Meanwhile, Nancy Davis’ Race to Erase Multiple Sclerosis on May 10 at the Century Plaza will star Don Henley with Kelsey Grammer and Sela Ward as m.c.’s … Tonight at the DGA, Taylor Hackford moderates a (soldout) program, ” The Art of Directing Computer-Animated Films,” headed by John Lasseter, Pixar’s executive director and director of “Toy Story” (1 & 2) and “A Bug’s Life.” P.S. Animated directors are not eligible for DGA membership — or DGA awards — yet … The 2002 Publicists Directory of Members will be dedicated to the AP’s Bob Thomas at the 39th annual Publicists Awards luncheon March 20 at the BevHilton — and distributed throughout the industry thereafter. Congrats, Bob.

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