The actor is generating awards buzz for her performance as Judy Garland. She opens up about handling fame, Harvey Weinstein and the future of Bridget Jones
No one could accuse Renée Zellweger of not giving everything she’s got. Watching her portray Judy Garland in her new film, Judy, it’s as though she dissolves, molecule by molecule, into the role. Directed by the renowned British stage director Rupert Goold and adapted from the Olivier and Tony-nominated play by Peter Quilter, Judy is set in 1969, when Garland, 46, broke, fraught, separated from her children, did a run of shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London. Garland is depicted drinking, pill-popping, impetuously getting married, hanging out with gay fans, sometimes wowing audiences, other times getting booed. There’s Zellweger’s physical transformation with contact lenses and prosthetics, but it’s also in her insolent swagger over to the microphone when Garland is too drunk to perform. The slightly wild stare that begs you to look at her, but also implores you to look away. Zellweger even sings in character – live! A climactic hoarse rendition of Over the Rainbow is particularly poignant. With every gulp, twitch and shiver, Zellweger, starring alongside Michael Gambon, Jessie Buckley, and Rufus Sewell, makes it her business to be Judy Garland, and at times it’s almost painful to watch.
It’s a turn that has generated much awards buzz. Variety magazine said: “Zellweger offers an all-singing, all-dancing, all-collapsing performance of a star at her lowest physical and psychological ebb.” At the recent Toronto international film festival, there was such an extended and rapturous standing ovation – one journalist later tweeting that she’d seen nothing like it in 15 years of attending the festival – that Zellweger eventually had to tell the audience to “quit it”, because her tears were “messing up” her makeup. While we Brits are hyper-aware of Zellweger from the Bridget Jones films, of course her resumé is far more varied than that, from her Girl Friday murmuring “You had me at hello” in Jerry Maguire (1996), to Roxie in Chicago (2002), where she proved she could sing and dance, to her spirited farm hand in Cold Mountain (2003), for which she won an Oscar, and, more recently, in What/If on Netflix – where she camped it up as predatory Anne Montgomery (think Barbara Stanwyck via Cruella de Vil). Now, with Judy, Zellweger offers a study in wrecked humanity – it wasn’t long after this film was set that Garland was found dead in her rented mews house in Belgravia following an accidental overdose of barbiturates.