LONDON – The angelic girl from the Wizard of Oz lived her last months in London in ruins, depressed and reliant on medication. In the film Judy, arriving soon to theatres, Renee Zellweger aims to humanize the icon.
Metamorphosing into Judy Garland to play the Hollywood legend battling through her lowest moments has awarded the American actress - so far - with a Golden Globe and rave reviews. Zellweger also received a BAFTA nomination and is an Oscar nominee for the upcoming awards.
Zellweger is more than used to altering her physique with radical changes if the script demands it, but she admits that getting into Garland’s skin for this role has felt like a whole new experience.
“It didn’t feel like preparing to play a role, it felt like an exploration and this need to understand,” explained Zellweger.
“I was curious how a person who works at that level for such a long period of time, and who has made some of the most important films in cinematic history... how she could find herself grappling with such difficulty toward the end of her life,” she added.
In a constant search for love, Garland had five husbands, she experienced stratospheric levels of fame, went broke and became dependent on drugs.
Her last months were a spiral of destruction and anxiety which Zellweger manages to capture.
Judy is centred around the winter of 1958 when the precarious economic situation of the Over the Rainbow singer forced her to move to London to give a series of performances.
The move meant leaving two of her three children, the youngest - Lorna and Joey, from her third husband, Sid Luft - in the United States.
In the midst of a social media era, Zellweger puts into perspective the level of global attention that the legend received since she was a child.
“(Judy) became iconic at such a young age, internationally celebrated at a time when we didn’t have the internet and you really had to do something significant to have your name (known) across the ocean.”
That’s why the unforgettable protagonist of Bridget Jones sought to connect with the human side of Garland’s story: “I just wanted to humanize that persona, that iconic superstar persona, to tell the story about the person and the cost of performance... I don’t think that you can really appreciate how extraordinary she was without knowing what she had to overcome in order to perform.”
For many, Garland, who died at age 47 from an overdose, will always encompass a unique talent, “It’s one in a million years, and it’s intangible and it’s magic and its the thing that one human is blessed with to resonate with generations,” said Zellweger.
The film’s director, Rupert Goold said the choice to cast Zellweger was easy: “People feel like they want to care for Garland, like she’s a family member or something, people love her and I think Renee has a similar thing, she’s seen as a quirky figure... a girl next door... and in the same way, Garland, she wasn’t Ava Gardner or Elizabeth Taylor, she was the real girl.”
He added that Zellweger “had also experienced some of the great things of Hollywood but also stuff that she needed to get away from and I thought that was interesting in relation to Garland.”
This undoubtedly had a role in the choosing of the Texan actress.
“When we were filming she (Zellweger) had the technical expertise of someone who has made loads of movies, just a great actor but with a re-found hunger, like a 21-year-old actor... and she’s funny, she sings well, she’s petite and the right age, it’s important,” said Goold.
As for Garland, “she was like Neil Armstrong going onto the moon, the first person to really experience what that fame did, and they weren’t looking after her. and I think that’s interesting in this Instagram age where nowadays so many people can be accessed from their childhood.. she was the first to go through that,” he explained.
“Garland was always an outsider, a rebel, who found friendships with all diverse parts of her fanbase, I think in this sort of ‘age of identity’ politics she more of an interesting, transgressive icon now than some of the purely aesthetic ones,” said Goold.