Compared to Renée Zellweger’s feat of becoming Judy Garland for the biopic Judy, Jessie Buckley’s assignment—the role of Rosalyn Wilder—was perhaps more forgiving. For one, most audiences would walk in assured of their perception of Judy Garland but know nothing of the production assistant who, for a sliver of Garland’s later career, managed to get the star from point A to point B during her residency at London’s The Talk of the Town. But secondly, and more importantly, Buckley had the ability to meet her character face-to-face.
Over a few proper meet-ups, Buckley learned directly from the source what was required in caring for Garland during what would be one of the star’s final concert engagements: empathy, generosity, and delicacy. Wilder had another lesson to share from her time working at the London venue. “She taught me how to drink champagne at 12 in the morning,” Buckley says. “It was apparently one of the first things she was taught when she joined The Talk of the Town.”
Though Garland was center stage and Wilder was in the wings, their fleeting relationship rested on common ground. “She was a capable and efficient young woman, part of a male-dominated environment and had a job to do—and wanted to do it really well,” Buckley says of her character. “For Judy, it was the same thing. She had an incredible talent and an ambition to share every ounce of herself in a puppeteering world. Both of these women dealt with that in different ways.”
Buckley similarly found a companion in Zellweger. Despite the tense and somber instance they explore in the film, the two formed an emotional bond Buckley likens to living in a tree house, evoking a poignant moment in the film in which Garland embraces a young Lorna and Joey Luft in their wardrobe. Holding back tears as she hugs her children, she finds for them a home that’s too dark and too small, but free from outside tribulations.
This scene is one of several depictions of Garland’s generous spirit, which remains unbroken when with her children, with Rosalyn, and in a particularly touching moment, with a starstruck gay couple that takes her in for the night. Zellweger embodies this ethos throughout, and was no different when the cameras weren’t rolling. “Renée gave everybody the time of day,” says Buckley, calling her a leader as the full cast and crew rallied “to honor the woman we lost too early.”
Honoring Garland meant everyone “pouring every ounce of themselves towards this woman we lost too early,” which, as Judy makes clear, comes at a cost. Buckley speaks with candor of her own experiences facing anxiety and panic attacks, and, like her character, empathizes with the star’s struggles. “The fragility of the person is what makes them powerful. Judy wouldn’t be who she was if she didn’t turn her skin inside out for us and gave us her heart on a plate.”
But such vulnerability requires a deep level of care—care that Wilder could only provide so much in Garland’s final months. Fifty years after her death, Buckley holds onto a lesson still to learn: “Sometimes, there won’t be somebody around you to look after you, so you’ve got to make sure you do that for yourself.”
Sometimes, you have to be your own Rosalyn.