Academy Award-winning actress Renee Zellweger is leaving audiences stunned by her transformational performance as the late Judy Garland in the biopic Judy. In fact, many are listing her as a leading contender for an Oscar nod. While the film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in August, it will be seen by larger audiences after its theatrical release on September 27th. 

Directed by Rupert Goold, Judy is an adaptation of the Oliver and Tony-nominated play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter. Set in the winter of 1968 in London—30 years after Dorothy walked down the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz—the movie follows the iconic Judy Garland as she prepares for a run of sold-out concerts at the famous nightclub Talk of the Town. She struggles with a weak voice, is plagued with problems in her personal life, and spends time with her soon-to-be fifth husband, Mickey Deans, played by Finn Wittrock.

Some fans had reservations upon hearing that Zellweger would be filling the giant shoes of such a beloved star and exceptional singer. Indeed, Garland is sometimes referred to as “the world’s greatest entertainer.” But remember, Zellweger sang, danced, and starred as Roxie Hart in the 2002 film adaption of Chicago and earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Now, almost two decades later, Zellweger takes on the ambitious task of singing Garland’s legendary songs including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and in doing so, is garnering high praise. In fact, during the shoot her vocal performances were so strong, virtually all of the singing that made the final cut was performed live.

The 50-year-old actress said she wanted to portray Judy Garland for many reasons, one of which was to look deeply into the human side of the legendary star. She told the Associated Press, “It’s that period in her life that not a lot of people know about. It’s one of the most important sort of phases, I think, in terms of setting her apart and regarding how extraordinary she is.” 

Describing the shoot schedule as grueling, if not impossible, Zellweger found it astonishing and inspiring that the cast and crew committed to the workload. She shared, “It was one of the most special experiences that I’ve ever had—to go to work every day with a crew full of people who are giving it everything that they have because they’re in love with this woman, including me. We were all in love and celebrating her every day. It was so special. I wish she could’ve seen it!” 

Zellweger’s 30-year career started off in a manner that might sound familiar to many actors. Early on, she did a Coors Light commercial; she had two lines in a horror movie that ended up on the cutting room floor; she repeatedly postponed moving to Los Angeles because she doubted she had enough talent and experience to compete as an actor; she had an uncredited role and cut her teeth in horror flicks. But Renee persisted, continually refining her craft and moving up the ranks with good reviews for her work in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation in 1994, starring in Bridget Jones’s Diary in 2001, and becoming well known by audiences for playing Dorothy Boyd in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire alongside Tom Cruise. To date, Zellweger has received three Oscar nods, winning one for Best Supporting Actress in Cold Mountain in 2003. And she’s received six Golden Globe nominations, winning three for her performances in Nurse Betty, Chicago, and Cold Mountain

But Zellweger admits she eventually stopped taking good care of herself. By 2008, she started to see a decline in her career and ended up taking a six-year hiatus from acting to check back in with herself and to set healthy boundaries. But now Renee is back! She returned to star as Anne Montgomery in the Netflix thriller What/If and, of course, to portray the great, late Judy Garland in Judy. Welcome back, Renee!

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