After a hiatus from her on screen work, Renée Zellweger returns to the big screen as one of the biggest stars of all: Judy Garland. Judy, the biopic directed by Broadway’s Rupert Goold (Ink), hits theatres September 27. Zellweger and her co-star Finn Wittrock recently stopped by The Today Show to talk about working on the film.
“I didn't know about this chapter in her life, and I was really surprised to learn about the challenges she was trying to navigate,” Zellweger said. The actor said that “denial” was one of her biggest tools in tackling the role—not consciously thinking about Garland’s legacy—and instead having conversations about her life and doing her research. “In learning more you start to fill in the blanks between what was reported about her life at the end of her life and what you can assume is the truth of her experiences.”
She and Wittrock both agree that the strength of the movie is that it zooms in on the last six months of Garland’s life. “I think the movie's not a conventional biopic in that it's honing in on this final chapter of her life and getting really specific about it,” said Wittrock, who plays Garland's fifth and final husband, Mickey Deans.
“We really just wanted to contextualize the circumstances of her life in that time,” Zellweger added. “To subvert the notion that she was tragic and to show how really heroic she was actually in carrying on ... in order to keep performing.”
Of course, Broadway fans may be more familiar with this period of Garland’s life if for no other reason than it was the focus of Peter Quilter’s drama End of the Rainbow, which hit the Main Stem in 2012. And theatre continues its exploration of Garland’s life as the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz, about Garland’s early years, begins performances this month.
The stars also boast theatrical roots: Wittrock made his Broadway debut in Death of a Salesman alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman. He returned to Broadway in 2017 at the Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie starring Sally Field and Joe Mantello. Though Zellweger has never appeared on Broadway, Judy does not mark the first time audiences have witnessed her singing and dancing talent. She starred as Roxie Hart in the film adaptation of the musical Chicago.
Watch the full interview below.