What Happened? “I’m very covetous of that character,” Renee Zellweger told FilmInk in 2003 of her eponymous party girl from the 2001 hit, Bridget Jones’s Diary. “That experience meant a lot to me from the moment that I picked up the book and brought it home, and from everything that’s happened as a result of it.” That role, however, was very nearly not even hers. When it was announced that a movie would be made of Helen Fielding’s popular novel – in which a smoking, drinking, slightly overweight London lass deals with life’s various ups and down – it was assumed that a Brit would score the lead role, with the likes of Kate Winslet, Emily Watson, Rachel Weisz, Kristin Scott Thomas, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Mortimer, and many, many more all floated as possible candidates. But according to Australian actress, Toni Collette, the role could have been hers. “I was doing The Wild Party on Broadway when I was offered Bridget Jones’s Diary,” she told The Scoop in 2005. “But I couldn’t do it because I didn’t know how long The Wild Party was going to play.” While many Brits were sceptical about the casting of Texas-born Renee Zellweger in the role, the film turned out to be a smash, and the actress received rave reviews for her funny, charming, relatable performance. Ironically, that success would lead to Toni Collette missing out on another high profile role to Renee Zellweger. “The producers of [the eventually Oscar winning musical] Chicago said, ‘We want you to do this! Don’t take anything else. We want to put you on tape just as a formality. Catherine Zeta-Jones is really excited to work with you.’ Then Bridget Jones’s Diary came out, and I guess that the Weinsteins [the backers of both films] had their way.”
Would It Have Worked? Yes, without question. Though Renee Zellweger surprisingly made the role her own (tarnishing her work slightly with the dire 2004 sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason, but recapturing a little of her original glory with the far better Bridget Jones’s Baby), Toni Collette is far more suited to the part physically, and her extraordinary gifts as an actress would have brought equal sass and charming cynicism to the much loved character.