How Renée Zellweger Embodied The Hardest Time in Judy Garland's Life
Renée Zellweger’s transformation into Judy Garland already feels like the stuff of Hollywood legend. After winning an Oscar for Cold Mountain and landing nominations for Bridget Jones’ Diary and Chicago in the early aughts, Zellweger has been mostly absent from the Hollywood spotlight. Stepping into the shoes of one of the most iconic entertainers of all time has the makings of a bold and career-defining comeback. In addition to crafting a performance that pays homage without shying away from painful truths, the star worked closely with the film’s costume and makeup designers to create a faded portrait of a legend in decline.
The movie, Judy, in theaters now, follows The Wizard of Oz star near the end of her life, when financial troubles led her to accept a gig at the posh cabaret Talk of the Town in London, where her star shone brighter than it did stateside. By 1969, the Golden Age that Garland came to define had past, and her struggles with substance abuse were quickly catching up. Zellweger's performance has already drawn awards-season buzz, but the film's costume, hair and makeup artistry are equally worth a closer look.
Every fitting was a collaboration with the actress, according to costume designer Jany Temime, who began her research with a mood board of stage looks from the last 10 years of Garland’s life (which ended in a drug overdose months after the film is set). Director Rupert Goold, known for his work in London theater, was most interested to start with the looks Zellweger would wear while performing as Garland onstage, Temime says. The emotional color of each musical number and its place in the story are what inspired the show costumes, which Temime designed after looks Garland wore herself.
“Judy Garland is eternal; every dress I chose as an inspiration for her costumes could also be worn now,” Temime says. Garland was renowned for her impeccable style; she loved couture and often designed her own looks. For off-stage scenes of the star’s private life, shuttling her kids between hotels or stepping out with her fifth husband-to-be Mickey Deans, Temime sourced vintage looks from the late-1960s rather than construct items from scratch. “I wanted to always make sure that even if they were old, or they were dirty, or they have seen better days, her clothes were always very classy.”
The film’s tight budget and her desire for pieces with a story behind them shaped much of Temime’s work. For example, actresses have often been known to keep costumes after movies wrap, so Temime imagined that a fur coat or beautiful dressing gown Zellweger wears in Judy, Garland may have pinched from one of her own films. Temime also turned to a uniquely personal source — her own late mother. A Chanel bag, Hermès scarves, and various jewelry the designer inherited appear in the film as well. “I wanted people to feel that what [the character] was wearing had a life behind it,” says Temime. “Once upon a time, it belonged to somebody.”
Zellweger’s slightly hunched posture in the film is remarkably close to Garland’s as well, an artistic choice that shaped the costumes and vice versa. Temime explains that she constructed and altered clothes so they only fit right when Zellweger hunched over (for example, shorter hems in front and longer in back). The work of reimagining Garland’s other distinctive physical features went to hair and makeup designer Jeremy Woodhead.
“Everybody has their own real or perceived image of the person you're trying to emulate,” Woodhead says of recreating famous stars like Garland onscreen. “So you have to be faithful to that image without being slavish to it.” For Judy, that meant experimenting with substantial prosthetics before paring them down to Garland’s distinctive upturned nose and a modest set of false teeth. (“In real terms, her teeth were quite poor by the end of her life, but we didn’t really want people to be staring at them,” Woodhead says.) Chocolate-brown contact lenses and arched eyebrows also went a long way toward creating a strong resemblance, Woodhead says.
To achieve a look that aligns with fond memories of Garland in her prime while also tracing her decline, Woodhead drew on an amalgam of images from the ‘60s in place of being totally faithful to how she looked by decade’s end. “Judy was forever having fun with her look, so we felt it was fair game to be equally liberal with how we approached it,” the designer says. From her signature false lashes, above-and-below eyeliner, and bold red lip, “she would always present herself to the world in the best way she possibly could, even if that image might have been slightly out of focus,” due to emotional turmoil or the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Ultimately, Judy is a film about a star who’s out of her element in many ways. “I wanted her makeup to appear slightly out of place, like she was caught in the wrong time,” Woodhead says. “A throwback to Hollywood glamour, when a woman would never go out of the house without a full face on,” an era the swinging ‘60s had put to rest. Temime echoes that Garland was also an American star abroad, representing different cultural mores. “I really wanted to accentuate the fact that she was wearing American slacks; in 1969, not so many women were wearing trousers in England,” the designer says.
Both designers praise Zellweger as a brilliant performer and collaborator, intimately involved with even small details. “She was part of the journey to where we got,” Woodhouse says. “Her performance makes whatever I did look so much better than it could have.”