Renée Zellweger has appeared in more than 30 movies over the past 25 years, scooping up an Oscar and three Golden Globes along the way. But to hear her castmates in the upcoming Judy Garland biopic Judy tell it, you haven’t seen the half of it yet.
In a four-minute featurette posted over the weekend in advance of the film’s Sept. 27 release date, Judy director Rupert Goold says Zellweger’s performance leaves so little space between the actress and Garland that “there’s no mask, there’s just her.” The film covers the madcap six week engagement Garland had at The Talk of the Town in London in 1968, a career pinnacle after years of wildly swinging, tumultuous personal and professional ups and downs.
It’s so believable that Rosalyn Wilder, a producers’ assistant at the club, says, “I was absolutely stunned. I’ve never seen such a transformation. It’s literally like Judy’s in the room.” Actress Jessie Buckley, who plays Wilder in the film, adds that Zellweger was practically unrecognizeable on set, fully shifting her voice, wit and physical bearing to match that of Garland.
“There were a lot of reasons I wanted to make this picture…to look into the human side of this icon,” Zellweger explains, as actor Rufus Sewell, who plays Garland’s ex-husband Sid Luft, notes of her scene-stealing performance of Garland’s signature Wizard of Oz number, “you feel like you’re getting a glimmer of something so much bigger…the song [‘Over the Rainbow’] is the tip of the iceberg.”
The film’s screenwriter, Tom Edge, recalls seeing Zellweger sing “Rainbow” unaccompanied as everyone in the room was “spellbound” by her heartbreaking take — the memory of which Zellweger says made her “stomach flip” when the featurette’s director mentioned it — with Goold noting that “pretty much” all the vocals in the movie were recorded live. “I’ve never done that before…ever,” she says.
“There’s a reason why we’re tellin’ her story 50 years after her passing,” the star says. “That combination of spirit and beauty and humility and grace and empathy is so rare.” Decca and Republic Records recently announced that Zellweger will be joined by Sam Smith and Rufus Wainwright on a pair of duets on the Judy original soundtrack album, also due out on Sept. 27, with the actress singing a version of Garland’s iconic tune “Get Happy” with Smith and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with Wainwright.
Watch the featurette below.