Judy Interview: Director Rupert Goold On Bringing Judy Garland’s Life To The Big Screen

There are few titans of the big screen that generations of audiences have all grown up on, and one such titan is none other than Judy Garland — a performing icon whose life was as fascinating as it was tragic. It was about time part of it got a proper film treatment.

I had a chance to sit with director Rupert Goold about the new film Judy, which stars Renée Zellweger as the iconic performer in the twilight of her career.

Below is the official synopsis for Judy:

Winter 1968 and showbiz legend Judy Garland arrives in Swinging London to perform a five-week sold-out run at The Talk of the Town. It is 30 years since she shot to global stardom in The Wizard of Oz, but if her voice has weakened, its dramatic intensity has only grown. As she prepares for the show, battles with management, charms musicians and reminisces with friends and adoring fans, her wit and warmth shine through. Even her dreams of love seem undimmed as she embarks on a whirlwind romance with Mickey Deans, her soon-to-be fifth husband. Featuring some of her best-known songs, the film celebrates the voice, the capacity for love, and the sheer pizzazz of “the world’s greatest entertainer.”

Check out our full interview below!

Judy hits theaters this weekend!

Nancy Tapia: For starters, awesome film!

Goold: Thank you.

Nancy Tapia: You definitely did a great job in getting the feel inside our core, and made us teary-eyed and cry at the end.

Goold: Yeah. I hope there’s a difference between a film that is moving and a film that’s depressing.

Nancy Tapia: No, not depressing. It was moving.

Goold: Yeah. Well, look, I mean her life is really moving, and I think that’s worth studying. I mean some people’s lives are super complicated. She was like a canary down the mineshaft, I think, in the sort of pre-Instagram age, of someone who was in the public eye from childhood, from young childhood. And no one had done that before. No one had been an international celebrity from childhood.

Shirley Temple, maybe.

But I’d say she was going… it was like being a sort of explorer or moon landing. And I think her sufferings were not just because of that, but they probably were partly because of that. And you know that sometimes is a precursor of my kids who were on social media from a really young age, and you wonder where they’ll end up.

Nancy Tapia: Yeah, but you covered some… You didn’t say a whole lot, you didn’t go into detail, but you did enough to give an idea on roots on Judy’s life story and how it all developed. You didn’t have to put the full details and for those you did were good enough.

Goold: Oh that’s good. Yeah. Well I feel like the thing is like all of us, the seeds of our finality and maturity are sewed in our childhood and our youth and that was particularly of Judy, who didn’t really get to get a normal childhood at all. And yeah, we just wanted to.. It was a difficult one because, various drafts of the script, we had her from two years old up to 30. It was very hard to try and give an organization to it. But that period around Wizard of Oz and you know, I think that’s meant to be the most watched movie in history, and that she was there in the middle of it, and you know what that must’ve felt like, and how she was a puppet of the studio, but also becoming a superstar and you know, prescribed all these medications and drugs that were pretty damaging to her. Tough life.

Nancy Tapia: Tough. You mentioned Wizard of Oz. That’s is a film that has been a part of everyones childhood’s upbringing. What was your experience when you first watched that film?

Goold: I think I saw it really young, and in England it’s a sort of Christmas film, you know, it gets shown over the Christmas season.

Nancy Tapia: Oh, really?

Goold: Yeah. So I think that’s when I would have seen it, in the Christmas holidays, which in itself is quite an intoxicating period anyway when you’re a child. And I remember seeing it and I have a feeling I was maybe sent to bed before the end, so I never knew whether she got home. But then I had this period of like maybe two, three years what I would dream about it. But I couldn’t remember whether it was a film I’d seen or some other universe I’d been in, or just of imaginative dream and kept coming back to the images in it.

The yellow brick road, poppies, the tin man, they just stayed in my dreamscape and then I saw it again probably about eight years old and “Oh it’s a movie. That’s what it was. It was a movie, not like my subconscious.” So it was very…I think it’s an extraordinary film.

Nancy Tapia: So let’s go back a little bit. How did you get involved in being a part of Judy?

Goold: The producer, David Livingston sent me the script and I was not any kind of Judy Garland aficionado or anything. And initially I thought I was probably not the right person to be doing it. It was quite unlike the work I was making. And so I kind of, it sat in my inbox for a while and I didn’t really look at it, and then he pushed me.

Nancy Tapia: Selective reading?

Goold: Yeah. And I read it and I thought, “Well it’s not really my kind of story or anything, but I do like the writing.” And I met the writer and I really liked the writer. And then I realized that like I’d spent most of my life in rehearsal rooms, as close as you and I are to performers.

And I thought actually I’d love to try and capture what that feels like to be a performer. The pressure of it and the sometimes loneliness and the ecstasy, weird stresses performers have to go through.

And I thought, “So I do have a background in this.” And I also know what it feels like to have a conflict between the calling you have towards your creativity and your artistry, and then your love and duty or family. And those things kind of began to speak more and more to me. And so I thought, okay, you know, here I am a middle aged straight dad, but I can make Judy Garland movie as well.

Nancy Tapia: Let’s discuss some of the scenes. I enjoyed seeing the joy in Judys face where you had the indoor fireworks. But why inside a building? How did that idea come? I mean, coordinating something like that must not be easy.

Goold: To shoot?

Nancy Tapia: Yeah. Well, especially in the timing. I imagine that was not a scene you could do multiple takes. 

Goold: Yeah, exactly. I think we had one go and we had three cameras. It’s interesting you picked that up because the visual effects because the fireworks got high enough so that they’re in the image and yet not hit the ceiling.

That came about like we want it to convey the joy she felt in that moment. However funky that marriage was that she did in her own eccentric way had this kind of euphoria. And I think when people don’t probably get from the film, which is a shame that the fireworks are in the bit, there’s the hall that she goes to the rehearsal for earlier.

Nancy Tapia: Okay, yeah, because in that scene when she’s rehearsing, we don’t see…

Goold: The ceiling.

Nancy Tapia: Yeah, the ceiling.

Goold: You do see the mark out on the floor. I don’t even think you get it.

Nancy Tapia: You do get the mark, yes.

Goold: But I sort of wanted that set up point, that scene of rehearsal where she’s really apprehensive about England and performing and uncomfortable and cold and that she’s gone on this journey and now momentarily has this sort of joy and you bring it back to that same space.

Nancy Tapia: Well I think it’s not so much that she doesn’t want to be there. I think she is just tormented at work because she is away from her kids. That’s what I got from the scene where she says, “Don’t have kids because you know what it’s like to have your heart outside of you.”

Goold: Yeah, well remembered.

Nancy Tapia: I loved that phrase and said a lot about her as mom. Although she had to be away. 

Goold: And we wanted to show that she was a mom. If you’re performing your work in the evenings, even if you’re in the same country. It’s like, it’s a real… If you do a musical theater run or something, it’d be like a year every night, six nights a week you’re out. It’s pressure. But what do you do? That’s your passion. I mean she was a single working mom.

Nancy Tapia: Any other challenges you came across when it came to the filming? Maybe with the musical part? Those scenes were great by the way.

Goold: Thank you.

Nancy Tapia: When you have Renée [Zellweger] singing and the camera work, the way everything was directed, I mean, very good direction.

Goold: I enjoyed that. I just like the… It was a labor of love from all of us, and the time pressure. we didn’t have a huge amount of time to film it.

Nancy Tapia: Was it filmed in London?

Goold: All in London. In and around London. Yeah. I mean the, those opening scenes that are in California. British locations are remade, some visual effects stuff. But, if I’m really honest, it was really hard work and tight schedule and budget, but it was fun. We had a real laugh making it.

Nancy Tapia: Tell me about the scene where she sings “Over the Rainbow.” Not to give too much away, but that was pretty…

Goold: Brilliant?

Nancy Tapia: Yes! Right at the end. It was like her goodbye and her way of saying have hope. And then the way you had the audience kind of reciprocate what she had been delivering for so long. I mean that gave me goosebumps. When I was interviewing Jessie [Buckley] we also discussed that scene. Here I am getting all teary eyed. How was it filming that?

Goold: Well, it was based on a true story.

LRM Online: Well, yes, but watching it while being filmed.

Goold: When we first shot it of course, you’re worried about it being sentimental or sort of not plausible in some way. And we did our first shot at it. It was a quite a wide shot. And the guys joined in and then everybody joined in and I felt incredibly embarrassed. I turned to the writer and said “I don’t think this works.” And I’d be back at the monitor and I kind of walked down the steps to Renée, who was sitting on the stage.

And as I walked through the extras, I could see they were all in tears and I thought, I said interesting. And of course they’d been really close to her and acing it. And then I went back and looked on the tighter camera and said, “Oh yeah, this is, there’s something really happening here. We just need to get right in with her and really connect.”

And of course it’s… I think Renée had always felt, she felt really comfortable singing the songs that were sat well in her voice, which Rainbow does, but to sing “Over the Rainbow,” that pressure on Renée’s huge there. And so I remember going in and saying “Look, I’m not interested in singing it because our Judy Garland in this moment is coming to terms with loss and isn’t striving for hope. She’s holding on to a possibility of maybe some impossible dream.

As I’m going through the song and said “Okay, this bit, I want you to picture this, this, bit I just want you to speak it, this bit I want you to picture this, break it up, beat by beat.” And so it felt like a little story that she was telling through song, and then after that we were in closer with the camera and it was really spine-tingling actually because she stopped worrying about how it sounded — and by the way it sounded great — and just took us through this story of her own relationship to dreams are broken. And I suppose what’s moving about it is that we know that song from the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy sings it with real hope and hope is a complicated thing as you get older. Because you get wiser and beaten down by experience, but that doesn’t mean it vanishes. And in some ways hope in the face with adversity, much later in your life is in a way more tender than hope at 16. It’s not quite as galvanized, but it is… It can be more moving in a way.

Nancy Tapia: I have to ask, how was it working with Reneé? Were you involved in the casting?

Goold: Yeah, it was great. She was just a dream. She had the perfect balance of vulnerability about whether she was up to it, which you want in an actor. You don’t want an actor who’s bulletproof, but equally courage. The thing that I was specially, I was like, okay, so she’s intimidated about playing Garland, she’s blonde, she has blue eyes, she can sing, but she doesn’t feel she can sing with a big belt. You know, this is not a diva I’m dealing with. And then I remember that she had played Bridget Jones. Bridget Jones is a beloved character in England and when they cast an American in that role, there was a real outcry.

And yet now no one even doubts it. And that takes a lot of courage on Rene’s part to go as an American, I’m going to claim this British role, as sort of the most British role. And I thought, “Okay, she must have something about her that is comfortable about taking on challenges, and boy she did, she was like, she worked, worked, worked, worked. And as a director, you want an actor to have all those qualities but you also want somebody you feel is a collaborator. And it just felt like we were sort of just building it brick by brick, and then it felt like a kind of huge, single thing.

And I was thinking, she… it’s a really great role for her, in all her qualities but also her own life experience coming to the role. I thought it was really powerful because she brings a sort of… there’s a reason that Judy Garland’s a gay icon, there’s also a reason Renée Zellweger is a gay icon. It’s their wit and refusal to be beaten down in adversity. And their glamor in the face of that adversity was, there’s a really good mapping together with that.

Judy hits theaters this weekend!

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