Renee_Zellweger; JUDY, Photo: Armando Gallo in Toronto
  • Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2020: Renée Zellweger, “Judy”

It may seem counterintuitive in this hyper-saturated modern-day celebrity landscape, but it sometimes takes a break to most remind an audience of what they love about a popular performer. Such certainly seems the case with Renée Zellweger, who in 2010 stepped off the constant merry-go-round of back-to-back productions and put a six-year pause on her acting career, to reflect and regroup. Her well-received comeback vehicle, for which she received her seventh Golden Globe nomination, and first in 13 years, is Judy, in which she stars as actress-singer Judy Garland.
Director Rupert Goold’s biographical drama is meticulously crafted to showcase a lot of Zellweger’s strengths as a performer – her pluckiness and determination, her innate relatability, her gift at conveying the strong work ethic and inner drive of someone counted out or overlooked. But there is also a certain overlap to the life stories of these two women, each having had to sometimes bear the harping and condescending criticisms of men who told them they didn’t possess the necessary qualities to merit the careers they were otherwise already quite capably earning themselves.
For Judy, Zellweger endeavored to capture not only Garland’s private anxiety and neuroses, but her more flamboyant and affected public persona as well – a difficult juggling act. “It felt really different to any other film that I’d made. It felt like a series of experiments,” she shares in a special conversation with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. “It was just trying things, and it was always a collective of people from different departments who were all trying to achieve a particular goal – to see if we could find the little things that mattered and made a difference for the story, and extract whatever didn’t. It was that way with Jany (Temime) in costumes and it was that way with Jeremy (Woodhead) and Robb (Crafer) in the makeup chair, and onward, from the composer and the song producers to Andrew (Kinney) playing the piano when we were rehearsing. It was always in motion – it was very alive, this experience.” 
Though seeded with some flashbacks, Judy is mostly concentrated around a series of highly publicized “Talk of the Town” concerts in the spring of 1969 at the Hippodrome in London, England, which would, unfortunately, turn out to be the last of Garland’s life. Working in tandem with cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland, Goold uses this professional inflection point as a representative stand-in for much of the tumultuousness Garland experienced in life. He stages these scenes as live-action, in-the-round set pieces, which lend them a highly charged quality. In order to pull these off, Zellweger had to train not only to sing but also walk an emotional tightrope while singing in real-time. The actress claims she had some additional special help, however.
“Because we had (a limited amount of) time, there’s no time to think about it, you just do it. And luckily, throughout those sequences, there were a couple of hundred actors who were playing the audience, and throughout that filming period of I guess a week or whatever it was, we became pals,” says Zellweger. “We were true collaborators, recreating this ‘Talk of the Town’ environment and sharing stories and favorite things about Judy. And the common denominator was affection. It felt like a very active display of that affection. So, it didn’t really feel like you are going it alone – it was us all recreating this moment, and more than anything propelled by affection and admiration for Judy. It was really special, actually.”
Just like Zellweger’s performance itself.