Renee Zellweger's Shocking Accent Explained

After taking an extended break from the spotlight, actor Renée Zellweger rejoined the award show circuit at the 77th Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 5, 2020. And let's just say the Bridget Jones's Diary star didn't disappoint, strutting down the red carpet looking better than ever in a baby blue Giorgio Armani gown and sporting a flawless up-do. The cherry on top? The actor won her fourth Golden Globe — her first one in 16 years, as a matter of fact — for killing it as Judy Garland in Judy. "Wow, I really am up here," she quipped in her acceptance speech for best actress in a drama. "Well, hi everybody, it's nice to see you. Y'all look pretty good 17 years later."

But it wasn't Zellweger's reentrance into Hollywood that captivated viewers. Nope, her curious Southern twang ended up stealing the show. "Has Renee Zellweger always had a southern accent or is she just drunk?" one person tweeted about her noticeable drawl. Another viewer quipped, "Is Renee Zellweger like Christian Bale in that we always forget what she sounds like or is she doing an accent??"

As it turns out, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Zellweger had a strange accent at the Golden Globes.

Did fans forget Renee Zellweger's roots?

For those who aren't too familiar with Renée Zellweger, you might not know she hails from Katy, Texas, and attended the University of Texas at Austin. In fact, she's frequently sporting a baseball hat championing UT's athletic teams, the Longhorns. "You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can't take Texas out of the girl," she said in October 2017 about her favorite accessory, according to InStyle

Needless to say, Zellweger's Southern upbringing perfectly explains her use of "y'all" and her thick twang in her Golden Globes acceptance speech. "She's always had a Southern accent," the Hollywood vet's rep reiterated to Page Six in response to the award show controversy. "Perhaps viewers who haven't heard it before haven't heard her speak before. Google interviews with Renee and it's clearly her normal usual accent."

There ya have it, folks. Zellweger is a Texas gal through and through. So the next time you see her hanging out with her dear friend and fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey, you'll know it's not totally random. 

Blame it on Bridget Jones

An interesting factor to consider in accent-gate is the existence of Renée Zellweger's lovable character, Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones's Diary. Zellweger, who played the clumsy Brit struggling to find love in three separate installments, initially sparked controversy for landing the role due to her American background. The backlash made sense, considering the series was penned by British author Helen Fielding and was a big hit in the U.K. One writer for the Evening Standard referred to the choice as "clunking, Hollywood idiocy" (via The Guardian.) Even the film's director, Sharon Maguire, said 'Oh f***, she's a Texan,'" after realizing Zellweger was perfect for the part (via Yahoo! Entertainment). 

Zellweger soldiered through the criticism and nailed the character on every level — including the British accent. Plenty of credit goes to voice coach Barbara Berkery, who helped transform the actress from a Southern girl to a full-blown Londoner. "She learned very well. We would go and have tea in various places, and she would use the accent," Berkery explained to The Telegraph. The Texas native even went undercover working at a publishing house to fine-tune her impression. Her dedication impressed co-star, Hugh Grant, who told the Los Angeles Times that she "nailed" the voice.

The point: When one makes their living embodying different characters — and their voices — it's very possible the end result could be a muddled baseline accent like the one we glimpsed at the 2020 Golden Globes.

A linguistic expert weighs in...

Funnily enough, Renée Zellweger's country accent has been the focus of speculation and debate for quite some time. In fact, it even spurred an investigative article published in the Texas Standard, featuring analysis from Lars Hinrichs, director of the Texas English Project and associate professor of English linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin. As Hinrichs noted in the interview, Zellweger's upbringing with immigrant parents (her mom is Norwegian and her dad Swiss) and her time spent in public school alongside Texas natives is probably what gives her accent "flexibility." 

The linguistic expert also suggested her come-and-go twang is a testament to her rich life. "It's like going into your walk in closet and picking out what you're going to wear, except it's more flexible than your clothes because you can change it from minute to minute," Hinrichs said. "The more you're exposed to different influences, the less homogeneous your linguistic environment is, the more you're likely to project different identities given contexts and situation you're in."

Another factor to consider here is nerves, as being jittery has the potential to alter someone's accent. This might have been the case for Zellweger, who admitted after the Golden Globes ceremony that her "brain was scrambled" during the speech, according to USA Today.

Now that we've provided some context on Zellweger's drawl, here's an interesting list of other celebs you didn't know have accents.