The year was 1996, and a star was about to be born.
In Hollywood, independent films received renewed interest, thanks to breakout hits like "Pulp Fiction" and "The Usual Suspects," among many others.
Renée Zellweger wasn't the Oscar-winning star we know her as today, but her journey along that cinematic path was set in motion as she starred alongside Vincent D'Onofrio ("Men in Black," "Full Metal Jacket") in "The Whole Wide World."
Directed by Dan Ireland, the film tells the story of the prolific pulp writer Robert E. Howard (played by D'Onofrio) who attracts the attention of a young, female teacher. The film ran to glowing reviews and racked up wins at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Seattle International Film Festival. At the Sundance Film Festival, the film picked up a Grand Jury Prize nomination.
After the film's reception, Zellweger would go on to cement her status as one of Hollywood's leading ladies in films like "Chicago," "Jerry Maguire," and "Cold Mountain."
In celebration of the film and Ireland, who passed away suddenly last year, the Louisiana International Film Festival will screen "The Whole Wide World" at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Following the film, Zellweger will hand out the festival's "New Voices/New Visions" award, which honors a visionary filmmaker as well as the spirit of Ireland, who helped start the Baton Rouge festival five years ago.
In an exclusive interview with The Advocate, Zellweger spoke about her time working on "The Whole Wide World" and her memories of Ireland.
What was your experience like on set of "The Whole Wide World"?
It was unforgettable. Life lessons in a period of enormous transition, while filming in high summer Texan sun on a dime ... it was joyful. I learned so much with Dan and Vincent D'Onofrio. As partners in crime, they introduced a deeper purpose in the storytelling and a better understanding of the creative process and how to explore possibilities I hadn't imagined before. We laughed every day ... especially about the elements and whether we might survive them.
Do you have a particular favorite memory of working with Ireland?
A million favorite memories. Everything with Danny was memorable. He approached everything with so much enthusiasm and his love for and encyclopedic knowledge of cinema made him a wonderful director. He knew what he wanted to see. His appreciation of powerful human moments in subtleties made the work an adventure. His effortless joy on set made everyone feel safe to try, safe to fail. It was so rewarding. Wherever he asked you to go emotionally, he went too.
For those who didn't know Dan, how would you describe him?
Dan Ireland was a walking celebration of life. Kindness personified. Dan was just good. Authentic, loyal, generous and so loving. His humor was wicked smart and sharp. He was such a funny, gentle person. He was the first to show up for his friends, every one of his friends.
I don't know how he managed to consistently give of himself as much as he did, to as many people as he did. That was just his way. Dan was an original. He was magic.
How did "The Whole Wide World" affect your career?
Aside from all I learned, "The Whole Wide World" was one of the first widely released, critically recognized films that I'd been part of. I'm sure that affected the course of future opportunities. I'm so grateful that Dan took a chance in trusting me. So many extraordinary experiences and beloved friends came along as a result of that film, and I feel so blessed for them and for having shared that time in life with Dan.
Any feelings about seeing the film again on the big screen?
It's been a while. I'm sure it'll be a very special and emotional experience. I'm bringing tissues.
"The Whole Wide World"
A special presentation of the 1996 film starring Renée Zellweger and Vincent D'Onofrio, directed by Dan Ireland; part of the Louisiana International Film Festival
When: 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Cinemark Perkins Rowe and XD, 10000 Perkins Rowe, Baton Rouge