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Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was ‘My Childhood Hero’

Variety logo Variety 2019-09-21 Angelique Jackson
Rufus Wainwright, Renee Zellweger, Sam Smith posing for the camera © Todd Williamson/JanuaryImages/Shutterstock

Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan.

“Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood hero, absolutely,” Zellweger told Variety on the red carpet for the premiere of “Judy” at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Thursday night.

In the film, Zellweger not only transforms into the legendary actress physically, but also vocally, doing her own singing and explaining how she found Garland’s voice.

“Instead of thinking about the inimitable, extraordinary quality of her voice, I just looked at it methodically and broke it down stylistically and tried to approach it that way to learn this style of singing to, like, just become familiar with the characteristics of her style that are definitively, uniquely Judy and go from there,” she explained. “And then of course, you know, learn how to make those notes come out of my face like they never had before.”

Zellweger also provided the vocals for the soundtrack, where she duets with fellow Garland super fans Rufus Wainwright and Sam Smith on a couple tracks. After posing with Wainwright and Smith on the red carpet, Zellweger gushed to reporters, “That’s the best thing that ever happened to me, are you kidding?!”

For director Rupert Goold, the best thing that could’ve happened to him was having Zellweger as his star, sharing the moment he first fell in love with her on screen.

“I mean, she had me at hello,” he laughed, naming Zellweger’s small role in “Dazed and Confused” as a favorite. “But I suppose ‘Cold Mountain’ was the one that I really loved…. that performance — the detail of it, her eccentricity, the uniqueness of it. I thought ‘Wow, that’s a really eccentric, quirky performer.’ And she reminded me of, like, Joaquin Phoenix — one of those performers that kind of lose themselves, whose strangeness becomes human.”

Like Phoenix, who is earning his own awards buzz for latest his performance in “Joker,” Zellweger is widely predicted to earn her fourth Oscar nomination for her work. But the actress says she doesn’t have time to worry about the buzz.

“I forget about all that stuff because in between these little (red carpet) things, I’m busy taking care of my dogs and starting a company… I don’t really have the luxury of sitting around and worrying too much,” Zellweger explained. “And you know, I got what I wanted from this experience and this shared sort of celebration of Judy that we had over the past couple of years and the rest of it is not really any of my business.”

In addition to making the press rounds on the red carpet, Zellweger spent 90 minutes after the screening surronded by a swarm of well-wishers, chatting, smiling and posing for photos. Guests at the reception, including Sharon Stone, Nia Vardalos, director Catherine Hardwicke, Adam Rippon and Billy Eichner, mixed and mingled over cocktails and a buffet dinner while gushing over Zellweger’s transformative performance.

“Judy” opens in theaters Sept. 27.

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