How Renee Zellwegger Changed Her Voice To Play Judy Garland

Judy in her hotel lobby

Biopics are a tried and true genre in the film world, especially around Awards Season. Plenty of actors and filmmakers have been praised for telling a real-life stories on the big screen, often leading to nominations and trophies. Just look at last year's Bohemian Rhapsody, which made a ton of movie and won countless awards. The next musical biopic heading to theaters is Judy, starring Renee Zellweger as the beloved icon Judy Garland. It's a role that required the Chicago actress to whip out her singing voice again. But this time, she had to change her voice to sound like the "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" singer.

Cinephiles will already be familiar with Renee Zellweger's singing voice ahead of Judy, as Rob Marshall's Chicago was a huge success that earned plenty of awards nominations and wins. She earned an Oscar nomination for playing Roxie Hart, and sounded killer in the soundtrack. I had the chance to speak with Zellweger about Judy at the Toronto International Film Festival, where I asked how she changed her singing voice to inhabit the great Judy Garland. She told me:

It was really methodical. I didn’t have a belting voice, and I had to learn how to build toward that. I had a lot of time to prepare which was great. Because it’s like going to the gym. You can’t just bench press whatever, 120 lbs today. You might in six weeks, you might in six months, you might in six years. I didn’t believe that but apparently it’s a real thing. So I learned about that. And she sings in a much lower octave, especially at this time in her life, than I do. So it was just process, it was just learning how to learn. And then committing to it, and doing it every day.

While Judy isn't the first movie requiring Renee Zellweger to sing, the Oscar winner did have to drastically change her singing voice in order to inhabit the world of Judy Garland. Her voice had to be deeper and stronger than what we've previously heard from Zellweger, and it required a ton of work on her part.

Renee Zellweger might have a lovely voice, but attempting to imitate the iconic and stunning voice of Judy Garland is another beast entirely. What's more, she was playing Judy in the final months of her life, where the beloved film icon had aged quite a bit. So she didn't need to just sound like Judy, but sound like an older version who was struggling with her health. And that's no easy task.

Related: Judy Review: A Tour De Force Performance From Renee Zellweger Is Just Enough

You can see my conversation with Renee Zellweger below, where she discussed the vocal regimen she was put on during and before filming Judy.

That's certainly a lot of work, but it seems to have paid off for the actress. Renee Zellweger has been getting almost universal praise for her portrayal of Judy Garland. Judy tells a dark story about the title character's life, but Zellweger plays it with joy and hope, helping to buoy the biopic and ensure it isn't judging its subject. And she's an early favorite for a possible Best Actress nomination this year, as so much of the film is on her shoulders.

You'll be able to hear Renee Zellweger belting out Judy Garland's biggest hits when Judy hits theaters September 27th. In the meantime, check out our 2019 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.