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The latest on the ''Bridget Jones'' casting controversy

Hugh Grant defends the choice of American Renée Zellweger as Britain’s favorite single gal

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Hugh Grant
Jim Spellman/Ipol

Renée Zellweger tried on her brand-new English accent Monday, when rehearsals started for the London-set romantic comedy ”Bridget Jones’s Diary.” Let’s hope Zellweger’s dialogue coached accent is smoother than the response to her being cast. When the Texas native landed the lead role in February, many Brits were upset that a Yank had beat out top English candidates Kate Winslet (who supposedly got sick of waiting for an offer and decided to star in the period drama ”Therese Raquin”), Helena Bonham Carter, and Emily Watson to play the quintessential London Singleton. ”Yet another British role falls prey to U.S. star power,” wrote Empire Magazine.

For her part, Fielding left the Universal-Miramax coproduction in March and has had little to say about the casting of the 29-year-old Zellweger: ”I’ve never met Renée, but I’m told she’s very funny and learning to speak English with an English rather than Texas accent.” Not the greatest of endorsements. But Zellweger’s ”Bridget” costar Hugh Grant has taken on the tough new role of her gallant defender. ”I’ve met Renée a couple of times, and she is bang-on,” Grant told EW Online last weekend while promoting the upcoming Woody Allen film. ”She’s very funny, and she’s been living in England a long time now, mastering the accent. It’ll be a triumph. I know it will.”

Not all of the casting decisions caused such a stir for the $8 million project. Grant, 39, says at least one star was perfect for the part: Colin Firth (”Shakespeare in Love), who plays one of Jones’ prospective love interests, Mark Darcy. Apparently Fielding so loved the 39-year-old’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s 1995 miniseries ”Pride and Prejudice” that she named the ”Jones” character after his role. In the book’s recently released sequel, ”Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” Firth even factors into the plot, when Bridget tries desperately to interview him about ”Pride.” ”She only asks him about getting his shirt wet in the swimming scene,” Grant recalls. And what does Grant think of his own role? ”Well, I play a bastard,” he says. ”It’s all very appropriate.”