Falling in love with a Hollywood icon

Renee Zellweger, seen at ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ in New York City this week, is getting rave reviews for her portrayal of Judy Garland in the film ‘Judy’
Renee Zellweger, seen at ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ in New York City this week, is getting rave reviews for her portrayal of Judy Garland in the film ‘Judy’
Image: GOTHAM/GC IMAGES

How do you play a Hollywood icon like Judy Garland? For Renee Zellweger, getting under her skin was like falling in love.

Zellweger, 50, has won rave reviews for her heartbreaking portrait of Garland in Judy, out in US theatres on Friday, and pundits are already predicting a fourth Oscar nomination.

Judy focuses on the period when Garland struggled with alcohol, prescription drug use and her broken finances on a trip to London in late 1968 for a series of concerts.

The Wizard of Oz star died at the age of 47 of an accidental drug overdose in June 1969.

Zellweger took voice lessons for a year before filming started and worked with a choreographer to capture Garland’s mannerisms in the final year of her life.

“I put the music on and then I started digging for the books and I ordered the books and then I dug around on the internet every day and I just took in very greedily everything I could find.

“I was just in love and I got more and more greedy,” Zellweger said.

“I didn’t want to be away from it.”

Zellweger’s transformation from the blonde actress who played the British singleton in Bridget Jones, sang in movie musical Chicago and won a supporting actress Oscar for drama Cold Mountain has been called a career-best performance by critics.

While the actress “hardly seems like a natural doppelganger for Garland, she subsumes herself completely in the role, without ever tipping over into some kind of gestural Judy drag”, Entertainment Weekly wrote.

Zellweger’s co-stars were also amazed.

“She was rarely not Judy. She had so much to do.

“She was often working before I got there and she was still working after I left.

“I rarely saw her outside of the character and so I kind of forgot who Renee was,” Finn Wittrock, who plays Garland’s fifth and last husband Mickey Deans, said.

While Garland’s children – Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft – were not involved in the making of the film, Zellweger hopes they will see “our intention to celebrate her”.

“When you understand what it is that she was able to overcome to continue to deliver and perform for her audiences, and connect with people and move them in the way that she did, is to then really understand how extraordinary she was,” she said. 

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