The film is a screen adaptation of Peter Quilter’s musical “End of the Rainbow.” Zellweger, in her first leading role since 2016’s “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” portrays Garland one year before her death from an accidental drug overdose at age 47 in 1969 as the “Wizard of Oz” leading lady arrives in London to launch a comeback in a series of sold-out concerts at the Talk of the Town nightclub.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times about the role, the actress admitted that she was conflicted about whether or not to get in touch Garland’s children for advice on playing the part.
“I wanted to reach out not to ask questions, except to maybe ask what they would like or hope to see,” she said. “I figured that whatever was for public consumption, they had already shared at this point. I could find that. I wouldn’t dream of calling and asking, ‘Hey, what else can you share here? Because that’d be so helpful.’ To me, what they haven’t shared is treasure and that belongs to them and that’s where it should stay.”
She admitted that she did make an attempt to reach out to Garland’s oldest daughter, Liza Minnelli, through a mutual friend, to no avail. Meanwhile, Garland's other daughter, Lorna Luft, was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly before filming on “Judy” began.
“That was a time for her and her family, not for work and professional questions and a stranger to approach her about things that ultimately don’t matter, right?” Zellweger explained.
Minnelli previously spoke out against the movie after a report falsely claimed she bonded with Zellweger as she researched the role.
“I have never met nor spoken to Renee Zellweger,” the 73-year-old actress wrote on Facebook. “I don’t know how these stories get started, but I do not approve nor sanction the upcoming film about Judy Garland in any way. Any reports to the contrary are 100% Fiction.”
Just because Zellweger did not speak to Garland’s children, it doesn’t mean she didn’t do her research for the part. The “Chicago” actress dug into publicly available information about Garland and her life during that time in London.
“Every night, there was something new to go to sleep with — reading and watching to make sure there wasn’t a tiny little gemstone hidden in the mix,” she said. “But considering the source was an interesting challenge — trying to understand the truth or the depth of the relationship. Having had some experience with that myself, maybe I knew to sniff it out and be a little bit more skeptical about ‘firsthand accounts.’ Everybody has a bad day and can be misunderstood.”
Zellweger recently spoke to Fox News about playing Garland.
When asked how she managed to completely channel the legend, the Academy Award-winning actress paused to think about Garland’s life and talent, then explained that her goal was to present what hasn’t been shown about the iconic performer.
“I approached it really humbly with curiosity and lifelong admiration – awe, really,” said Zellweger. “And I just wanted to learn as much as I could and read between the lines because I think that a lot of what we sort of address in the film has gone unaddressed or not.”
The “Jerry McGuire” actress continued: “It's just what isn't in the article that was written about her. What'd they leave out? What are the extenuating circumstances that nobody wants to talk about? What's happening in the private moments? And so I just – I sat with all of the facts and all of the sort of linear history of this period in her life, and I tried to understand from my own personal experiences and everything else that I read and what was missing in the telling of this part of the story of this part of her life.”
“But again, just I wanted to be careful because I, like generations of people, I have loved her a lifetime. And so it's just a special experience it was thought to be able to live in that exploration for a couple of years.”
Fox News' Julius Young contributed to this report.