Zellweger: Fans Want Strong Females

02/10/2004 AT 01:00 PM EST

Renée Zellweger is not afraid to take on the meaty roles. And she says movie audiences demand it from females.

The actress, 34, who recently reprised her role as Bridget Jones for the sequel to "Bridget Jones's Diary" -- a part that required Zellweger to pack 20 lbs. onto her smallish frame -- says the time has come for stronger, deeper female characters in movies.

"People making films are recognizing there is value in portraying female characters that way, audiences are interested and there's a market for those sorts of films," she told Reuters.

For Zellweger, her Jones character is no different than Robert De Niro's portrayal of boxer Jake La Motta in "Raging Bull." De Niro gained close to 50 lbs. for the role. More recently, Charlize Theron packed on the pounds for her Oscar-nominated role in "Monster."

"You do what you think is necessary to authenticate an experience creatively," Zellweger said, adding, "Hopefully the old beater in there is doing okay with all the cholesterol that I've been introducing into the system the last few months."

The formula has worked well for Zellweger. The actress has nabbed her third Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, for her portrayal of Ruby Thewes in Anthony Minghella's Civil War epic, "Cold Mountain." She was previously nominated for Best Actress for her roles in "Chicago" and the original Bridget Jones film. Last month Zellweger received the supporting actress Golden Globe for "Cold Mountain."

Golden Globe winners get a boost with their Oscar chances, but don't expect to learn a great deal about the publicity-shy Zellweger in the pre-awards buildup. "I can't imagine my personal life holds any value to people who don't know me," she said.

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