Renée Zellweger took home the Oscar in 2020 following her performance in the critically-celebrated Judy. She brought out the pipes for twelve Judy Garland standards – including “Get Happy,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “The Trolley Song,” and more — while embodying each minute mannerism, facial expression, and performance gesture.
When it came to singing, Zellweger did not have to mimic Garland’s range at the height of her career. Because the film chronicled Garland’s sold-out London shows before her death in 1969, Zellweger had to aim for the vocal maturity that defined The Wizard Of Oz star’s voice later in life.
Renée Zellweger had never tried to sing such big songs before ‘Judy’
Prior to Judy, Zellweger sang her way through Chicago as Roxie Hart — a role perfectly suited to her “bright, little voice,” as she described her sound to Billboard. Zellweger shared:
“Well, I never tried to sing songs like this before because I just didn’t think that my voice was suited to it. I thought, ‘I have a tiny voice. I have a bright little voice, and these are songs that require a bit more power and resonance.’ I didn’t believe that, like going to the gym and building any other muscle in your body, that you could manipulate your vocal muscles…”
Though Zellweger was hesitant to believe that she could train her voice to sing Garland’s numbers, she did just that, despite the fact that Garland was operating in a lower register during the time the film takes place. Yet, Zellweger wasn’t trying to sound like Judy Garland in her prime, which changed the way she sang for the part, arguably making the vocal challenges just a teensy bit less demanding.
The sound Renée Zellweger had to aim for as Judy Garland
As Thrillist notes, Renée Zellweger remembers when those behind the production played a recording of Judy Garland singing on a night that wasn’t exactly her best. She shared:
“They played for me one of the later recordings on not a great night of one of Judy’s shows, and they said, ‘This is the goal right here where she’s not quite hitting that note and she’s cheating with the breath here, and she’s cut that short and she’s talking that part and the band gets big so that the fade is not noticeable…That was the goal. And I thought, ‘Right, okay. Now we have this year and I can go and I can build and I can work to maybe not hit that note once.’”
In the end, Zellweger captured the moment in Garland’s life with subtly, poignancy, beauty, and iconic song after iconic song.
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