Renée Zellweger took home her first Best Actress Oscar for her starring role as Judy Garland in Judy at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards on February 9, 2020. The actress gave a moving speech about her years in the industry and her formidable co-nominees.
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It's been awhile since Renée Zellweger has been to the Academy Awards. In fact, it's been 16 years since she last walked the Academy Awards red carpet as a nominee. On that night in 2004, Zellweger took home the prize for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Cold Mountain. Knowing this, you can't blame Zellweger for getting sentimental throughout this awards season, which has seen her cleaning up thanks to her portrayal of Hollywood legend Judy Garland in the biopic Judy.
Zellweger has won at the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, the BAFTAs, and now, by all accounts, will take home her second Oscar at the 92nd Academy Awards. It's also a meaningful return for someone who chose to leave the Hollywood spotlight, putting her successful career on the back burner to work on herself.
In the early aughts, Zellweger was an Oscar mainstay. In 2002, she received her first nomination for Bridget Jones' Diary, which some have argued should have also earned her her first Oscar. She lost Best Actress to Halle Berry for Monster's Ball, who is the first and only Black Woman to win that award. But by the following year, Zellweger's name was once again being called in that same category, this time for playing Roxie Hart in Chicago. While that movie and her co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones took home gold, she lost to Nicole Kidman in The Hours, a year after they both lost the same award.
In 2004, Zellweger earned a Best Supporting Actress nod for Cold Mountain, a Civil War epic starring Jude Law as a wounded Confederate army deserter who is trying to get back home to the woman he loves (played by Kidman). Zellweger's portrayal of spitfire Ruby Thewes won her gold, which she keeps in her office "next to all the photographs of people that I love the most," she told Entertainment Tonight in 2019.
Following her win, Zellweger broke her three-year Oscar nomination streak. She appeared in a string of flops (Bee Movie, Leatherheads, Appaloosa, New In Town). She also became a tabloid staple after annulling her 2005 marriage to Kenny Chesney after just four months. Following 2010's My Own Love Song, she ultimately decided to take a break, returning six years later in 2016's Bridget Jones' Baby.
The reason for her hiatus, Zellweger told New York Magazine last year, wasn't a professional one, but a personal one. “I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t taking care of myself," she said. "I was the last thing on my list of priorities.”
Zellweger said that it was an airport run-in with Salma Hayek that made her realize she needed a self-care break. “She shared this beautiful … metaphor? Analogy? ‘The rose doesn’t bloom all year … unless it’s plastic,’” Zellweger said. “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. 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.”
The decision to leave Hollywood is a risky one for any actress since it's not always easy to find a place in it when they do return. There are too many stories of actresses who have a string of hits only to disappear after a few misses. (Hilary Swank, who won two Oscars in the span of five years, comes to mind.) The ability to take a break and take care of herself was something Judy Garland also didn't get.
As Zellweger's biopic Judy shows, the Hollywood legend, who long struggled with addiction after getting hooked on pills at 15, had to perform in London in the final months of her life because she had no other choice. She never got a chance to just rest because the risk of losing all she had was way too high.
Zellweger's portrayal of Garland shows what happens when Hollywood gets the best of you. When it convinces you that the risk of losing fame is greater than losing yourself. But her harrowing performance in Judy gives Hollywood the best of a revitalized Zellweger. It also gave her a reason to return to the Oscars all these years later with hopes that she'll take home another little gold man.