Sometimes all you need is a break. A break from work, a break from the drama, a break from the constant scrutiny. For Renée Zellweger that self-imposed Hollywood exile started in 2010 and lasted six years.
Following the 2010 flick, My Own Love Song opposite Forest Whitaker, Zellweger gave it all up on some sage advice from her friend Salma Hayek: “The rose doesn’t bloom all year . . . unless it’s plastic.”
“I got it. Because what does that mean? It means that you have to fake that you’re okay to go and do this next thing,” Zellweger said in a recent interview with Vulture. “And you probably need to stop right now, but this creative opportunity is so exciting and it’s once-in-a-lifetime and you will regret not doing it. But actually, no, you should collect yourself and, you know . . . rest.”
And rest she did. We thought we could never forget Zellweger for some of her most iconic roles: Gina in cult favourite Empire Records, the romantic lead Dorothy Boyd opposite Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, as Roxie Hart in Chicago, everyone’s imperfect big screen bestie, Bridget Jones. But the thing is, we kind of did. Because when she made a brief appearance at the 2014 Elle Women in Hollywood Awards, her face was unrecognizable. At first some thought it was plastic surgery, something Zellweger called out in an essay called We Can do Better. As it turns out, she’d just been away from the big screen for that long.
“Six years. It was important, that time. You’re not in people’s consciousness anymore, so they don’t immediately make the connection. It’s a quieter life, and I love it,” she told Vulture.
Now, after all those years of quiet, some travelling to countries like Thailand and Liberia, and a stint at an L.A. university to learn more about international policy, Zellweger is back in the swing of things thanks to films like Bridget Jones’ Baby and Here and Now alongside Sarah Jessica Parker. As far as we’re concerned though, those were just lead-ups to 2019, which is definitively the actress’s comeback year.
The 50-year-old showed back up on our radars in May when she debuted in the limited Netflix series What/If. Although the show itself was addictive, Zellweger’s performance as a mysterious and morally ambiguous investor with a gorgeous wardrobe was what made it worth watching as the storyline grew more twisted.
View this post on Instagram
But her true tour de force comes this week with the release of Judy. The Toronto International Film Festival selection has Zellweger taking on the iconic Judy Garland during the last full year of her life (she died of an accidental drug overdose when she was 47) and to say it’s a revelatory role is an understatement.
Early critics of the film seem to agree that the movie itself is strong, it’s currently sitting at an 87 fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but that Zellweger alone is the reason to watch. She manages to give the role an equal mix of charisma and vulnerability that make her the perfect casting choice, never mind that she embodies Garland’s physical presence and never broke character on-set.
It’s no wonder Judy and Zellweger’s performance received a giant standing ovation (seriously, it lasted about three minutes) during its TIFF premiere, to the point where Zellweger nearly broke down in tears.
In 15 years at #TIFF I have never seen a standing ovation like the one for Renee Zellweger at JUDY. I started this about a minute into it and it only stopped because she made us. pic.twitter.com/NGXWLMbDxm
— Jenelle Riley (@jenelleriley) September 11, 2019
Add in the fact that she sings all the Garland songs and that she worked her butt off to do so, and we could see her joining the Oscar-winning ranks of leading actors playing memorable music icons like Reese Witherspoon (June Carter Cash), Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury) and Jamie Foxx (Ray Charles). An Oscar would look nice up on that shelf next to her supporting statue for Cold Mountain.
“It’s a different sense of responsibility that you feel to represent things as accurately as you can by digging through the historical and public record of the legacy of Judy’s life,” Zellweger said after the TIFF screening earlier in the month. “In reading those things and considering the source, I learned a little bit about the [difference] between the person’s true history and the public account, and tried to find the balance in between.”
As if there weren’t enough buzz around the movie’s opening, Zellweger is also (technically) releasing an album in conjunction with the release of Judy, and she’s managed to snag a two-year deal with MGM Studios (the same folks that produce The Handmaid’s Tale) for future projects. According to Zellweger, those projects could even include directing.
“Why not?” she said to Vulture. “I might not have been ready to do it 15 years ago, but I feel like I’m ready now.”