Winning the Oscar for playing Judy Garland in the biopic Judy cemented Renée Zellweger’s Hollywood comeback. The portrayal also taught Renée how important it is to follow her heart. Judy’s life story “was not completely tragic,” says Renée, 50, of the iconic performer who died of an accidental barbiturate overdose at age 47. “She was hopeful, and she got so much joy out of connecting with her audience and performing. She never gave up. Never.”

92nd Annual Academy Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Feb 2020
David Fisher/Shutterstock

This confident, can-do spirit is something Renée’s worked hard to emulate. “I love acting; it’s my bliss,” says the star, who won a previous Oscar for her supporting role in 2003’s Cold Mountain. “Like Judy, it’s Renée’s passion for performing that drives her,” says a friend. “She feels that this is a new chapter in her life and she’s eager to make the most of it.”

Despite her dedication to acting, Renée has developed a healthier work/life balance than most. She took a break from Hollywood between 2010 and 2016 to make her private life a priority. “I watched my niece and nephew grow up, went to a shelter and adopted a couple of dogs,” confides the divorced actress, who says she’s not actively looking for new love. “I’ve always been kind of open to whatever may be, curious to see what’s next,” she says. “I’ve never been that deliberate about my life and the things that I would require in order to be happy.”

Judy Garland

The biggest lesson Renée learned from starring in Judy is that magic happens when she puts her heart into a role. “I came to understand what [Judy] had to overcome in order to continue to perform on the highest levels,” she says. “Coming to know about that, you look at her differently. It’s not tragic, but triumphant.”

Read more about Renée and other stories in this week’s issue of Closer Weekly magazine, on newsstands now!