Renée Zellweger 'never' felt sorry for herself while working as a strip club cocktail waitress to pay for college

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

Renée Zellweger said working at a strip club during her college years taught her life-long lessons.

The star of Netflix’s What/If, opened up in the August/September issue of AARP The Magazine about waitressing at the so-called jiggle joint, Sugar’s, in Austin while attending the University of Texas to help pay the bills.

Renée Zellweger, at Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Annual Grants Banquet on July 31, talks about her pre-fame days. (Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

“I worked as a cocktail waitress in a strip club,” the Oscar-winning actress, 50, recalled to the magazine. “One gentleman would tip me $100 every time he came in because I think he felt sorry for me. He saw me as a poor student.”

But any type of pity party was unnecessary, she said.

“Did I feel sorry for myself? Never,” Zellweger said. “Financing my own way through college was a defining marker for me.”

It also made her a great tipper, she noted.

“Now I overtip,” she said. “I know the difference I can make in someone’s day.”

Zellweger told 60 Minutes in 2003 that she’s “not embarrassed” about her cocktail waitress job “at all,” noting that it “taught me so much.”

And, for the record, Zellweger was always clothed during her shifts.

"There are certain things about myself that I know to be sure and taking my clothes off and dancing or doing things that I felt were compromising my convictions, that's not an option,” she told the CBS show. “It was never an option.” (After she was famous, the bar’s manager told a tabloid that she was asked to go topless, but she declined.)

She went on to call the experience “invaluable,” adding, “In fact, I would say that I got as important an education cocktail waitressing as I did in the halls of the University of Texas.”

During college, Zellweger started appearing in small-budget films — Dazed and Confused, Reality Bites — and after landing a part in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation the year she graduated, moved to Hollywood at age 24 to fully pursue an acting career. She won her Academy Award in 2004 for Cold Mountain.

Zellweger, who stars in the upcoming Judy Garland biopic Judy, premiering Sept. 27, actually went back to school amid her big-screen success. During her break from Hollywood that started in 2010, she took classes again.

“Public policy fascinates me,” she told AARP The Magazine, “so I went back to school to study international law. I love it! I love understanding what motivates people. And unlike 18-year-old me in the classroom, I know that not everything hangs in the balance. You’ll be OK even if you don’t get an A.”

She also said that that break from Hollywood was good for her soul.

“I was always spoiled with the opportunities I’ve had and the people I’ve gotten to work with,” she said. However, she became “caught up in the cycle of obligations and pressures — the next project, the next product.” Her time off was a chance to “learn something about myself” and to start “to do things for the sake of doing them.”

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