HOLLYWOOD: Renee Zellweger’s best actress Oscar on Sunday for her portrayal of Judy Garland on a late-in-life comeback tour in “Judy” marks a stunning renaissance for her own wide-ranging career.
The diminutive blond Texan had climbed quickly to Hollywood’s upper echelons in the early 2000s, earning three consecutive Academy Award nods — including one win for her performance as a feisty farm girl in 2003’s “Cold Mountain.”
But after that remarkable string of hits, her career took a downturn, and Zellweger went on an extended hiatus from acting in 2010.
“I got sick of the sound of my own voice: it was time to go away and grow up a bit,” she later explained, adding that she had craved normal human interactions and “found anonymity.”
“You cannot be a good storyteller if you don’t have life experiences, and you can’t relate to people,” she added.
Rejuvenated, she returned in 2016 with a number of smaller projects.
But her flamboyant yet vulnerable turn as showbiz legend Garland in “Judy” marked a major return to form for the 50-year-old.
“Judy Garland did not receive this honor in her time. I am certain that this moment is an extension of the celebration of her legacy that began on our film set,” Zellweger told the audience at the Dolby Theatre.
Zellweger cleaned up during awards season, winning a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild award, a Bafta and a Spirit award for her engaging work.
The film portrays Garland arriving in Swinging London in the winter of 1968 to perform a five-week sold-out run at The Talk of the Town nightclub.
Although the singer was only 46, Garland had been a movie star for three decades thanks to “The Wizard of Oz.”
The Hollywood lifestyle — and four failed marriages — had taken their toll, as highlighted in Zellweger’s visceral performance.
But “Judy” sees Garland throw herself into the concerts, in defiance of her own fading health.
Zellweger, who was born in April 1969 to parents of Norwegian and Swiss origin in a rural part of the Lone Star State, got her start in background roles in independent low-budget films.
After coming to Hollywood, she took a number of minor roles before being cast in Ben Stiller’s 1994 film “Reality Bites.”
But she was first noticed by the public two years later when she played a single mother who tamed a brash sports agent, played by superstar Tom Cruise, in “Jerry Maguire.”
Since then, her career — in a parallel to Garland’s efforts in London — has been defined by a host of risky roles that sometimes even she doubted she could pull off.
In 2001, she put on 20 pounds (roughly 10 kilos) and adopted a convincing British accent to play a bumbling but lovable single woman in the smash hit “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”
The performance stunned those who had doubted that she could pull off the accent or play the very unsleek Jones. She has since reprised the role in two sequels.
Zellweger had to learn to sing and dance to play would-be nightclub singer Roxie Hart in 2002’s “Chicago” — for which she earned another Oscar nod.
“I like to do stuff I don’t think I can do,” the actress said at the time. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”
Zellweger’s first Oscar glory — for best supporting actress — came in Civil War love epic “Cold Mountain.”
She played a rough but practical North Carolina girl, who befriends Nicole Kidman’s sheltered and love-starved Southern belle, in Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s book.
Zellweger married country singer Kenny Chesney in 2005, but that union was annulled after only a few months.
After “Cold Mountain,” her roles became decidedly less high-profile and she vanished for several years in 2010.
Before “Judy,” she returned to television in 2019 to star in the Netflix anthology series “What/If.”