Renee Zellweger fell in love with Judy Garland for new biopic Judy
US actress Renee Zellweger immersed herself in playing Hollywood icon Judy Garland, including taking voice lessons a year before filming
How do you play a Hollywood icon like Judy Garland?
For Renee Zellweger, getting under her skin was like falling in love.
The 50-year-old US actress has won rave reviews and recent Best Actress trophies from the National Board of Review and Palm Springs International Film Festival for her heartbreaking portrait of Garland in Judy, and awards pundits are already predicting a Golden Globe victory and fourth Oscar nomination.
Opening here on Thursday, the biopic focuses on the period when Garland struggled with alcohol and prescription drug use addiction, depression, anxiety and a rocky custody battle on a trip to London in late 1968 for a series of concerts meant to refurbish her financial state.
She died at age 47 of an accidental drug overdose in June 1969.
Zellweger took voice lessons for a year before filming started and worked with a choreographer to capture Garland's mannerisms in the last year of her life.
"I put the music on and then I started digging for the books and I ordered the books and then I dug around on the Internet every day and I just took in very greedily everything I could find. I was just in love and I got more and more greedy," Zellweger said.
"I didn't want to be away from it," she added.
She called her portrayal of Garland a "continued sort of exploration" between the famous star's public persona and her private experiences.
"There are many parameters that are non-negotiable that have been said on the public record and through Judy's own words and things. So you kind of feel a sense of responsibility to represent that as authentically as possible."
She added: "And then the rest was pretty difficult to know because we're talking about very private moments that haven't been shared, and it's sort of an interpretation of what the experiences of the person who was living under those circumstances at that time might be like".
Zellweger's transformation has been called a career best performance by critics.
Her co-stars were also amazed at her method acting, where she did not break character even after a scene ended.
Finn Wittrock, who plays Garland's fifth and last husband Mickey Deans, said: "She was rarely not Judy. She had so much to do.
"She was often working before I got there and she was still working after I left. I rarely saw her outside of the character and so I kind of forgot who Renee was."
While Garland's children - Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft - were not involved in the making of the film, Zellweger hopes they will see that "our intention to celebrate her is evident".
"When you understand what it is that she was able to overcome in order to continue to deliver and continue to perform for her audiences, and connect with people and move them in the way that she did, is to then really understand how extraordinary she was," she said.