Transforming Renée Zellweger into Judy Garland in “Judy” was a process of trial and error for hair and makeup designer Jeremy Woodhead. He and his team began developing the character’s look three months ahead of production, propelled by the pressure to get the iconic performer’s aesthetic just right.
“You can’t get it wrong,” says Woodhead, speaking at the Soho Hotel in London. “I mean, it’s very easy to get it wrong — everybody will either be familiar with the iconography of Judy Garland or of Renée Zellweger, so you’ve got half the audience looking for one thing and half the audience looking for another. It’s a matter of finding a middle ground that turns one into the other.”
Woodhead, who had recently wrapped “Stan and Ollie,” a similar project of turning contemporary actors into aging celebrities of a time past, started with numerous prosthetic elements, mostly because Zellweger and Garland had such differently shaped faces.
Over the course of the testing process, he eventually pared the look down to the bare minimum, opting only for a prosthetic nose, false teeth and brown contact lenses in addition to the brown wig, which was lowered slightly over Zellweger’s forehead. Additional effects, such as crow’s feet and sunken eyes, were added with paint. Her black eyeliner was purposely smudged to appear as if the character had done it herself (and to make Zellweger’s eyes look bigger).
“It was so apparent that it was going to be a performance film, so it had to be absolutely right for Renée to shine — as she has,” Woodhead says. “We tested two or three versions of the cheeks and dumped them. We kept the nose, because even though it was tiny, it just took Renée out of Renée’s face and gave us Judy.”
“It was a long process of working out what works with what she wants to do with her performance and how she wants to move her face. Everything had to be balanced so one was not the dominant factor — everything just became a whole.”
He adds, “It was a long process of working out what works with what she wants to do with her performance and how she wants to move her face. Everything had to be balanced so one was not the dominant factor — everything just became a whole.”
Although much of the film is based on historical truth, Garland’s look in the film dates back two years before the actual events of her performances in London at the nightclub Talk of the Town. In the six months before Garland died, her appearance shifted away from the recognizable Judy Garland guise, which Woodhead believed might have been jarring to the viewer. Every element had to work with the story and be almost imperceptible to the audience.
“We tried and tested literal and specific hairdos from the six months before she died, which didn’t work, because nobody knew that as part of the Judy iconography,” he explains. “It was a look she adopted very late. So we decided to back up a bit to give it more of an iconic look with the upswept sides and the tucked in at the nape look. We wanted anybody with any kind of reference to Judy Garland to think, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that.’”
The same held true for the other characters, particularly Liza Minnelli, although people such as Talk of the Town assistant Rosalyn Wilder and Garland’s husband Mickey Deans are very much grounded in the actual year. A wig and sideburns were used on Finn Wittrock to replicate Deans’ youthful hair, which is juxtaposed with the combed-down look of actor Michael Gambon’s club owner Bernard Delfont.
“It’s quite a distinct period, the late ‘60s, because it’s transitional,” Woodhead notes. “Older people would have still had hair short on the sides, where the younger people were growing the hair over their ears. With anybody under 40, we tried to reflect the idea that hair was growing and becoming less based on a military look.”
For Woodhead, who recently wrapped work on the Marvel vampire film “Morbius” and will begin production on the third “Fantastic Beasts” film this winter, the biggest challenge on the entire film was Garland’s teeth. Seven sets of teeth were built for Zellweger, and she was allowed to borrow them to rehearse her speaking and singing off set.
“Judy had quite snaggled teeth,” Woodhead says. “We had to find a way of suggesting rather than ramming it down the audience’s throat that she had rotten teeth. It was part of it, but it wasn’t a distinguishing characteristic of her face. That was probably the trickiest thing to get right. I hope we found that balance.
Ultimately, for this film, there were two objectives, really: one to take the Renée out of the face, and one to put the Judy into it. It’s a bit of both.”