Yes, it was terrifying. And if I could have run away, I would have run away, Zellweger tells USA TODAY, letting loose a hearty laugh.
The actress is earning Oscar talk for Judy (in theaters Sept. 27), which is showing at the Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by Rupert Goold and based on the stage musical End of the Rainbow, the movie centers on Garlands last concert run in winter 1968 at Londons Talk of the Town months before she died.
Renée Zellweger on the Daunting Task of Singing Over the Rainbow as Judy Garland
She remains a worldwide icon, but in the movie, Garland is broke and cant get a manager; shes fighting for custody of her children and in deteriorating health. Everything turns around when she hits that stage and performs tunes such as The Trolley Song and By Myself.
“There are a lot of reasons I wanted to make this picture—to look into the human side of this icon,” Zellweger says. “Theres a reason why were telling her story 40 years after her passing. That combination of spirit and beauty and humility and grace and empathy is so rare.”
One of the biggest emotional and cathartic moments in Judy comes when Garland steps on the stage, sits down and sings Rainbow, her legendary song from The Wizard of Oz.
Goold remembers that day of filming being pretty magical. Theres something in the structure of that song as a piece of songwriting that it kind of unlocks people.
Doing that scene, I was thinking about what that song meant to her at that point in her life, Zellweger says. “Together, we were creating this thing. So I didnt feel alone at all. We were sharing this experience that was interactive, and it sounds so corny to say that it was affection for (Garland), but it was.”
Goold kept Zellweger backstage and out of sight from the audience of actors up to the moment she came out to sing.
After the first time, I was like, Oh, Ive got lots of notes about that. We can improve that, the director recalls. As I was going in to do some of the notes, I could see all the extras and supporting artists were in tears. They were pretty close to Zellweger, which is pretty electrifying. But also I think they thought, Oh, my God, thats Judy. Thats Garland. They hadnt met Renee prior to that. They were part of something special.”
The project wasnt all solo singing for Zellweger. For the Judy soundtrack (also out Sept. 27), she recorded a pair of duets: Get Happy with Sam Smith, whom she calls a new personal hero, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas with her longtime favorite Rufus Wainwright.
Its dream-come-true stuff, Zellweger says about being spoiled rotten working with those two. I joked around with Rufus, and I said, Weve been singing together for 25 years. You should hear our harmonies on “Poses”! Theyre amazing. Especially in Laurel Canyon with the windows down.
Roadside Attractions and LD Entertainment have released a new featurette for their upcoming biopic drama Judy, highlighting Academy Award winner Renée Zellweger’s incredible performance of the iconic actress/singer. The film had its world premiere at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival in August. Check out the video in the player below!
Winter 1968 and showbiz legend Judy Garland arrives in Swinging London to perform in a sell-out run at The Talk of the Town. It is 30 years since she shot to global stardom in The Wizard of Oz, but if her voice has weakened, its dramatic intensity has only grown. As she prepares for the show, battles with management, charms musicians and reminisces with friends and adoring fans, her wit and warmth shine through. Even her dreams of romance seem undimmed as she embarks on a courtship with Mickey Deans, her soon-to-be fifth husband. Featuring some of her best-known songs, the film celebrates the voice, the capacity for love, and the sheer pizzazz of “the world’s greatest entertainer.”
Directed by Tony nominee and two-time Olivier winner Rupert Goold, Zellweger is joined by a terrific ensemble cast that includes Finn Wittrock (American Horror Story), Jessie Buckley (Beast), and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter).