Renee Zellweger became a student of all things Judy Garland to master biopic role
Renee Zellweger spent a year studying Judy Garland before stepping into her ruby slippers and playing the legendary singer and actress.
The Cold Mountain star is receiving early Oscar buzz for her portrayal of the late star in Judy and Renee insists her committed research had a lot to do with her nailing the role.
"I wanted to look at those in-between moments that seem to get left out when you’re telling the story of a person you think you know," the actress said.
"I had many moments in the car when, for that whole year, Judy was riding shotgun. I listened to her music and her speaking, I researched the stories - the whole thing.
"It was such a process, getting as close as we could to creating a believable likeness without stepping over into something that felt like it was inauthentic."
She also took regular singing lessons to strengthen her voice, so she could hit Garland's notes during performance scenes in the film.
"I’ve never been asked to sing several belters in a row, let alone do a live performance anywhere," Renee adds. "I just figured we’d start a year before and work regularly to see if there was any truth to the saying that you really can strengthen your vocal chords like any other muscle.
"The big thing to remember was that I wasn’t doing an impersonation or trying to emulate this great icon. I started with a voice coach, Eric Vetro, in L.A.; he’s an old pal and I love him, so any excuse to stand next to his piano and hang out with his poodle, Belle, is a good one!
"Then I came over to London and I worked with Eric on Facetime and with Mark Meylan at his studio. Mark actually came to set quite a few times to make sure that I didn’t damage myself, because if you could do it to your voice, I did it during this process! There was laryngitis, vocal strain, inflammation, and plain old fatigue.
"Throughout, I continued training with Matt Dunkley, our genius maestro musical director. Those people I worked with took all the fear out of it. I didn’t have time to think about being judged; I just had to hush the critics in my head."
Meanwhile, Dunkley has credited Zellweger with mastering a completely different vocal style for the role: "She trained with a speaking voice coach to get the sound of Judy’s voice and her pronunciation and she worked with a choreographer to get her mannerisms, but Renee naturally has a higher voice - what we call a head voice - whereas Judy, at this stage of her life, had a very low voice, down in the chest, so we worked with Renee to get her singing in that way. She’s done a remarkable job."