Interview: Rupert Goold on Judy, deleted scenes, and how he made the musical moments stand out.
About two weeks ago, I got to sit down and have a lengthy chat with Rupert Goold, the director of Judy. This was shortly after the premieres at Telluride and Toronto where the film received a ton of praise as Renee Zellweger transformed into Judy Garland. I spoke to Rupert about that experience and what it was like to cast and direct a film about a Hollywood icon during a specific period in her life. He had a lot of interesting things to say, some of which truly surprised me.
Scott Menzel: Ah, so man, how the hell are you? Are you coming down off of your film festival high?
Rupert Goold: Yeah. I still have to pinch myself with the whole glamour of it, to be honest. But there’s something also about kind of having a movie that, I mean, it’s an independent movie made for not a huge amount, but the fact we were on a festival circuit and actually it’s about somebody famous and he’s got somebody famous in it. It just feels a bit rose-tinted.
Scott Menzel: I can only imagine as a filmmaker how it must feel to you. This is kind of a whirlwind experience, right? And even before this movie played at Telluride or Toronto, there was already some award buzz for it.
Rupert Goold: I know that seems crazy to me, but I don’t know why that was…
Scott Menzel: The trailers, right?
Rupert Goold: The trailer was great. I remember somebody said to Mark Rylance you should have played Richard the Second, at Middle Temple in London, and the Chair of the building wrote to him saying, “This part has been waiting for you.” And I sort of feel like it just made sense with Renee as Judy Garland. Like did it make sense? Oh, it does make sense as an idea or at least it all seemed enticing. And I didn’t really appreciate that at the time we’re making it or to that degree anyway.
Scott Menzel: Just to be honest, I would have loved to see some more of the younger Judy in this film. The Wizard of Oz and her doing the auditions and being treated so poorly. I liked the scenes where the one woman goes “oh, you can’t eat that but eat this instead.” I would have loved some more of that in the film. I really connected with that stuff.
Rupert Goold: That’s really funny because I really like all that stuff as well. But people were split on that. So s were like, Oh the flashbacks, they hold it up. And, I’m like I love that stuff.
Scott Menzel: People said that? Really?
Rupert Goold: Absolutely. The first script that I inherited only had one scene of that in it. There was just one scene and it was magical to see the backstage life of that moment and what it meant for her. So we wrote four or five more, but it was always a fight in terms of pacing and whether we should be doing this at all?
Scott Menzel: That’s fascinating to me because while watching the film, I felt having those elements in it gave the character more depth.
Rupert Goold: Yeah, and structure.
Scott Menzel: Absolutely. Like I did not know that aspect of Judy Garland’s life. So seeing that in the film has now tarnished my view of The Wizard of Oz.
Rupert Goold: Oh, by the way, there are stories that we didn’t put in that were really great. There was one scene that we shot and I really loved, do you know who Margret Hamilton is?
Scott Menzel: Yeah.
Rupert Goold: So, after the scene when Louis Mayer is threatening her and she ran out into the Wizard of Oz woods, and then the Witch turns up. She goes, “Judy, what’s wrong?” And she talked about like what it was like to have to be a witch and there was this really bonding moment between the witch and Dorothy and it’s great. It’s a really sweet scene and kind of interesting. It was about being a woman in Hollywood at that period. Judy and Marget Hamilton were close but it didn’t make the cut.
Scott Menzel: That’s a shame. I mean, do you think since you’ve seen filmed all that stuff. Do you think that’ll be like added onto the Blu-Ray and DVD? Will there be extended cut or just an added feature?
Rupert Goold: At the moment, I think there are like three or four really lovely scenes that didn’t make the final cut. There in the DVD extras.
Scott Menzel: Okay, great because that really sold me on the film. That being said before you actually got handed this script, did you know all these stories about her life and like how dark it really was?
Rupert Goold: No. I’m trying to remember a time before the script, but I certainly didn’t. I just thought she was like an addict at some level. Yeah, I didn’t really know. I didn’t know the childhood stuff at all. And it’s nuanced as well. It is hard to totally convey at the moment. She was like force-fed drugs, both uppers, and downers. And was sleep-deprived, harassed, bullied and abused. And yet there was also a part of her that was an absolute addict to performing and to the audience from a really young age. There is this great story of her coming on stage with her sisters and just upstaging them. So it’s not totally black and white.
Scott Menzel: For a film like this, when you have to tell a certain chapter in someone’s life, was all that originally in the script or did you do your own research and add some things to it?
Rupert Goold: Most of the research was done by the writer. I always thought the director’s job is to try and make the story clear. To tie it into the bigger thematic ideas that you’re trying to put through. I felt my job was to try and this might sound perverse, but I think the writer and the actor have to do an enormous amount of work and go, “Who was the real Judy Garland?” And be that. The director’s job is to go, “What’s the story?” Like it’s treated more like a fiction. “What is the parable of this story?” And also for Renee to go, yes, we’ve got the voice. And we’ve done all that work and the characterization, but who are you? Who is the character that we’re going to call Judy Garland? Yes, it is Judy Garland, but it’s also the character of our movie and what’s her journey.
Scott Menzel: So at what point, did you know, that Renee was the perfect fit for the role?
Rupert Goold: I remember at first thinking, “Who could it be other than Renee?” I thought, who else is there? I mean you need a movie star and you need them to be about the right age. I thought that was very important. You need them to be funny. I love Cate Blanchett, but does she sing? Is she vulnerable? It was like as soon as we began to work through it, the only thing I didn’t know is whether Renee would have the kind of darkness that Judy had. That’s why there’s a vulnerability. There’s a kind of selfishness and damage and a little bit of the depressive, you know, kind of like a bipolar quality. And I felt I’d seen Renee be really kind of joyful. And she had an innate sweetness in a lot of her movies. So I didn’t know whether she had that in her locker. And when you meet her she isn’t and she’s so lovely. So where is that fury going to come from? But yeah, it was fun working on that.
Scott Menzel: She pulls it off, she gets dark, very dark. The moment where she has that breakdown on stage is fantastic.
Rupert Goold: She was really responsive to that scene. She’s pacing around that dressing room and I was kind of whispering to her from behind the camera the whole time. That was kind of a stolen section that we went back in and was like, we need to generate more feral kind of distress. She really sank into it. That’s great.
Scott Menzel: She’s really good. She’s been an incredible actress. There is no denying that. I was telling her that I’ve been a fan since Empire Records, which I’m sure like nobody ever brings up. But like that was the first thing that I saw her in. And to kind of see her transition throughout the years and play all these different characters and a lot of them are very memorable. I mean, Bridget Jones is probably like one of the most iconic female film characters of the last like decade or two. People really loved that character.
Rupert Goold: But the thing about that is at one point I thought, she’s blonde, blue-eyed, and doesn’t have a big belt singing voice. She seems to have a really sweet, but not an obvious Judy Garland. And then I remembered when Bridget Jones came out and the outrage that American was going to play this British character where she was written off before it even came out. But then she completely conquered, not only well, but particularly great I thought. The courage to do that, the courage to say, “I can play this sort of quintessentially British role.” And so I thought, okay, there’s a real fighter in there and a risk-taker.
Scott Menzel: No, she’s phenomenal. I mean, you also assembled a great supporting cast. Jessie Buckley, of course, who just came off of Wild Rose. I forget so please forgive me, but the young girl who plays the young Judy is simply incredible.
Rupert Goold: Darci Shaw, she’s really great.
Scott Menzel: Yeah. How did you get her for the role?
Rupert Goold: Oh, that was my single biggest worry about the whole movie. I was always concerned if whether we’d find a young Judy. With the 1969 Judy Garland, the fans know what that means but I don’t think the general public knows exactly what that means. Everybody knows what Dorothy looked like it. And how she was, I thought, how are we going to find a British actress because we knew, I was like, we’ve got to bring one from the States. We’ll never find anyone, I don’t know. We can’t afford to, we can’t afford to. And we had a great casting director. We saw hundreds of tapes. I’m really honest, I mean we say Renee with any person, but like Darci was the only one and I thought, “We’re never going to find her, we’re never going to find her.” And saw this tape, this girl, if you just, it felt like it had been filmed in the 30s herself tape, a really old fashioned quality to her and I couldn’t believe it. We taped her again. We got her audition to like three times and each time she was mesmerizing and I think she’s a star.
Scott Menzel: I think she is too. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Rupert Goold: By the way, she wears these dark contact lenses in the film. Her eyes are the most unbelievable piercing blue, so you know someone will shoot that. I’ve had someone else make reference to her the other day and I said she is going to be a world star. If I was a producer, I would book her because she is just, wow!
Scott Menzel: It’ll be interesting to see what she does next. So, Judy Garland is not only a film icon but someone who means a great deal to the LGBTQ community. How important was that for you to make sure that that was part of the film?
Rupert Goold: Really Important. I mean like, central. I wanted her to be a woman and to also play to a female audience. I was very mindful of that and at my theater, the theater I run, we’d had a performance artist named Dickie Beau come. He was very interesting and did a Judy Garland lip-sync show on YouTube. You can look for it. But he wears this incredible makeup. And I got him in and said, listen, Dickie, I just want to really have a deep dive into why she’s so important to the gay community. And what else do you feel like a story about her would tell. I don’t know if it’s true in the States, but in England, she means a huge amount of certain generation, but then there’s another part of the gay community, a younger generation, who might reject that because of the certain values that she represents towards, you know, the world’s changed.
And we talked a lot about that and it was on his suggestion that we added that stuff about the fact that the legislation around the guardian was actually that year or six months earlier. And that was an interesting moment to try and kind of pinpoint. But yeah, being gay was actually illegal or had just ceased to be illegal. And that was what they’re holding onto, what she’s representing comes from a position of a much greater struggle than we now associate with gay rights. And it was tricky though, those two fans, you know, kind of to make them affectionate and not be afraid and them being a comic but also try and make that movie. We had a weird response to that scene at a screening where Andy is playing the piano and bursts into tears. And it was a big laugh from the audience. I couldn’t work out but it was quite a gay audience. That was weird because I find that really moving.
Scott Menzel: Isn’t it weird when you’re watching movies because certain scenes make people feel awkward so they laugh when they are uncomfortable.
Rupert Goold: Yea, it was a big laugh and then it changed as she embraced him.
Scott Menzel: My wife and I have these conversations about when people don’t feel comfortable with a scene, they burst out laughing. So when I was at Marriage Story at Telluride, there’s an emotional scene and literally, someone started laughing in the middle of it and I’m like, there is nothing funny whatsoever about this moment. But I think it’s just people feeling uncomfortable. I remember that scene you’re talking about, it’s a very emotional moment. There’s nothing really funny about it.
Rupert Goold: Yeah, I saw the audience response at Telluride, I saw the audience response at Toronto and then again last night and they’re all quite different. You know, I don’t really know what the standard Midwestern response is going to be.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out there. I love the whole bit with the gay couple where they can’t find any place to eat so they go back home and make Judy eggs. I thought that was great. Did you film any additional scenes with those characters?
Rupert Goold: No, it was always quite a self-contained bit. They weren’t a late addition to the script, but a newer addition. Of course, you could totally use them for the plot. And, arguably with more conventional storytelling the film would focus on the relationship with Rosalyn and she’d go back to her house and they’d be able to do the girlhood thing or something with Finn’s character, the husband. Whenever I was reading the pay this the script before we started shooting, I was thinking, I love this material, but it is, I hope it isn’t out for the cutting floor because it’s 8 or 9 pages in the middle of the film with two characters who are not central to the action, who were made up as well. So no, we didn’t shoot more than there is of them, but I think they’re some of the most popular scenes in the film for people.
I don’t know-how on board the producers are about this, but this sort of paradigm that she’s a long way from home trying to get back to her family and that it’s some sort of echo of Oz as a structure. And I kept saying to them that the movie I want to make is that she meets a scarecrow and a tin man and these strange characters, who become her companions but ultimately cannot be with her at the end in the way they’d do with Dorothy. And so I suppose, they are kind of nod to that in a way.
Scott Menzel: I can see that. I could totally see that. The last thing I want to ask you is the way that you film the musical performance scenes, they’re grand, but not extravagant if you know what I mean. Like they’re not like the big Hollywood musical moments. How did you decide that? How did you know it was the perfect way to capture those moments?
Rupert Goold: I thought long and hard about it. The first musical moment “By Myself” is pretty much the full song and its a single shot. It’s a live vocal. I remember saying to Ole Birkeland who’s my cinematographer, Renee has a great voice, but she’s not Kelly Clarkson. We see so much talent singing on the screen like on American Idol and The Voice where it’s been 10 years of “Oh my God, they can sing.”
Scott Menzel: It’s almost like 20 years at this point.
Rupert Goold: Yeah, exactly. We’ve got to do something different. We’ve got to be in a different visual language to what people habitually get spoonfed. And I think the thing that defines what they’ve got is they’ve got multi-camera shots from out front in a proscenium. So they get in and out or they move around with their cranes. But the coverage means you cannot get really close because they go where the camera’s going so they can cut. And I said if we get really close with the lens, then I think that’s going to be unusual because you’re not used to seeing that. So that was one principle. I read this quote from Fred Astaire about choreography that the moment you cut away to a reaction, subliminally that’s kind of a lie because when you come back, it could be to another take. Have you seen that movie, Free Solo?
Scott Menzel: Yes.
Rupert Goold: You know in that film, what differences does it make that he doesn’t have ropes? Everything, because he might die. There’s something about knowing it’s happening for real in front of you. I felt that was important about that single take because we can’t cut away. So you know she did this, you may not think it’s perfect but it’s really happening in front of you. And yeah, I suppose because I’ve been around opera and music musical things is seeing like literally what happens to the throat and the eyes and close up. You just don’t normally get that kind of music performance. Like where’s it going to get quite close really.
Scott Menzel: Oh that’s awesome. I really appreciate you explaining that because it does say a lot about how that scene is captured. It feels like something that you don’t normally see in a film when you’re watching a performance. It felt very authentic and true to life. Well, thank you very much. It was nice meeting you and great chatting with you.
Rupert Goold: Nice chatting with you as well.
Judy is now playing in theaters