Renée Zellweger’s ‘Miraculous’ Transformation for ‘The Thing About Pam’ Was ‘Surreal and a Little Scary’

Renee Zellweger The Thing About Pam
Premiere: Micheal Buckner/PMC; Series: Courtesy of NBC

Welcome to this week’s “Just for Variety.”

From “Bridget Jones’ Diary” to “Judy,” Renée Zellweger knows a thing or two about transformation.

The two-time Oscar winner’s latest, as convicted murderer Pam Hupp in NBC’s “The Thing About Pam,” is no exception. “It was a team of magicians,” Zellweger told me Monday night at a press event at the Maybourne Beverly Hills hotel. “What they’re capable of is pretty miraculous.”

The six-episode “The Thing About Pam” is based on the podcast of the same name and several episodes of “Dateline NBC,” which detailed the 2011 murder of Hupp’s friend Betsy Faria. Hupp has been charged with the killing. However, Faria’s husband Russ Faria was first sent to prison for the murder, but his conviction was overturned. Hupp is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Louis Gumpenberger. The real-life drama and the scripted retelling are truly bonkers.

If all is right in the world, expect to hear Zellweger’s name at the top of Emmy conversations. “Renée Zellweger is a beast,” said Josh Duhamel, who plays Russ Faria’s defense attorney Joel Schwartz. “That woman is unbelievable.”

Showrunner Jenny Klein signed onto the series after Zellweger was attached. “I have Pam Hupp burned into my brain. I studied her, watched everything there was to watch and more,” she said. “Seeing Renée walk on stage was really surreal and also a little scary. It wasn’t just the physical embodiment, it was also the way Pam talks, her mannerisms, the way she talks with her hands. It was the whole package.”

And then there’s Pam’s ubiquitous slurping of fountain soda from a straw in a Big Gulp-like cup. I asked Zellweger how much of slurp was done in post. “Oh, I don’t want to say. I don’t want to spoil the magic,” she said, laughing.

Klein said, “There are real slurps in there. Maybe we amped them up a little sometimes, but there was real soda in there.”

The sound even inspired the series’ music composers. “They incorporated Pam’s slurp into the theme. It’s part of the beat,” Klein said.

“The Thing About Pam,” produced by Blumhouse Television, NBC News Studios and Big Picture Co., premieres March 8 on NBC.

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Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino at the 2022 SAG Awards. Michael Buckner for Variety

Did the “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” reunion of Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow as SAG Award presenters bring us a step closer to finally getting a sequel to the 1997 comedy? “If it were up to me, it would have happened a long time ago,” Sorvino told me on the red carpet before she and Kudrow pulled their big surprise inside Barker Hangar. “Maybe tonight will spark something.”

Sorvino already has a plan if it ever comes together: “Make it multigenerational. Bring in the young audience. Have [Romy and Michele] have some young relatives.”

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THE NANNY, from left: Daniel Davis, Fran Drescher, Charles Shaughnessy, Lauren Lane, 1993-1999. ph: Cliff Lipson /© CBS/ Courtesy Everett Collection ©CBS/Courtesy Everett Collection

Speaking of reunions and reboots, Fran Drescher tells me that the comeback of “The Nanny” is something she’s been thinking about. Not only does she continue work on a stage musical adaptation of her hit sitcom — “God willing in the next couple of short years it will be on Broadway,” she says — but she’s also “certainly open” to a series revival “down the road.” What that looks like, she’s not sure. “It depends on whether or not we do a reboot with the original cast or we do a reboot where we bring it into the now and kind of redo it in a contemporary way,” says Drescher, who is six months into her tenure as SAG-AFTRA president.

Kevin Costner was at the SAG Awards supporting his Paramount Network drama “Yellowstone.” He reminisced about his early days in the business, when he was asked to audition to star opposite Paul Newman in the 1984 drama “Harry & Son.” “I always wanted to do a movie with him… but I remember I read the script and I thought, this isn’t the movie I want to do with him,” Costner recalled. “My agents were going, ‘You haven’t done a movie. You haven’t had a part, and you’re turning down this movie?’ I said, ‘I know,’ and I didn’t read for it.” Costner eventually worked with Newman in 1999’s “Message in a Bottle,” but he never told the Hollywood legend about his earlier decision. “I think we just got busy and got to work,” Costner said.

Will Smith recalled his first audition in Los Angeles. “There’s a tape out there somewhere,” he told me. “I auditioned for Arsenio Hall’s role in the first ‘Coming to America.’ It was awful. I didn’t get it. It was terrible.”

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Alden Ehrenreich at ‘The Godfather’ 50th anniversary event in Los Angeles. Gilbert Flores for Variety

Alden Ehrenreich is tight-lipped about his role in “Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s Universal film about J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and his part in creating the atomic bomb. “I can’t say anything,” Ehrenreich said, laughing, when I caught up with him at Paramount’s 50th anniversary celebration of “The Godfather.” But Ehrenreich has some knowledge of the subject matter. “I took a class on the atomic bomb in college,” he said. “It was on the making of the atomic bomb, and I studied the whole thing. It is an unbelievable story.”

Congrats to writer-producer-director Liz Hannah and her husband, screenwriter Brian Millikin, on the birth of their first child, Oliver, on Feb. 16. In addition to co-producing Oliver, Hannah is showrunner of Hulu’s upcoming buzzy “The Girl From Plainville” starring Elle Fanning. The couple learned of the pregnancy the day they arrived in Savannah to shoot “Plainville.” Oliver was born the day they locked picture on the series.

Nightlife alert! The West Hollywood Edition’s Sunset has reopened. Framework’s weekly It party launched late last month with DJ Harvey. Friday’s LoveSexy bash opens to the public on March 18 after it premiered with an invite-only preview with a performance by Diplo.