'Judy': Inside the Movie's Beautiful, Heartbreaking Tribute to Garland's Gay Fans (Exclusive)

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Renee Zellweger, Judy
Andy Nyman and Renée Zellweger in "Judy."

There's a stretch in Judy, a short bit in the middle of the biopic, when it stops being about Judy Garland and becomes about the people for whom Judy Garland meant -- and means -- so much. The films sees a near-destitute Judy (Renée Zellweger) take to 1960s London for a five-week engagement performing at a swanky supper club. One evening, after the show, Judy finds a gay couple of a certain age waiting at the stage door, eager for an autograph and a moment of contact with their idol.

To their surprise, she invites herself to dinner, an offer Dan (Andy Nyman) and his partner, Stan (Daniel Cerqueira), are only too happy to take Judy up on, though they know most restaurants had closed their doors for the night. Unwilling to let their star go hungry, they ask Judy back to their flat for an omelet.

"I suppose it came out of conversations we'd talked about about what is the legacy to the LGBT fans and why is she so important -- particularly to a certain generation," director Rupert Goold tells ET. "And how were we going to pay homage to that at some level?"

There's a reason "Friend of Dorothy" was long used as coded language to say a man is gay, a reference to Garland's iconic turn as Dorothy Gale in 1939's The Wizard of Oz. Garland is so beloved by the queer community that a connection has occasionally been drawn between her untimely death in '69 and the Stonewall riots breaking out mere days later. (RuPaul centered a Drag Race episode around the notion, claiming, "The patrons of the Stonewall used their grief over Judy's death to rise up and fight back and the gay liberation movement was born.") What's certain is that Garland inspired many members of the community in her resilience, her fortitude and her irreverence in the face of adversity.

Onscreen, the sequence begins lighthearted enough: Dan and Stan fussing over the Hollywood icon attempting to elbow her way into their kitchen to cook them eggs; Judy just happy for the company. Soon after, Stan falls asleep on the couch and Judy and Dan stay up playing cards.

"It's sweet that you come to see me," she tells him. "Sometimes I spy the two of you out there. I feel like I have allies."

"Well, we missed you in '64," he smiles sadly in reply. At that time, Stan was "otherwise engaged," Dan opens up. He was serving six months in jail for obscenity, though Dan notes the laws had changed since then. "Turns out we didn't do anything wrong after all." It's a reference to the Sexual Offences Act 1967 that decriminalized homosexual acts in the U.K.

The line was not initially in the script. Goold sent writer Tom Edge's screenplay to a colleague and fan of Garland's for his opinion. "I wanted to see whether he found it tasteful," Goold says. "He mentioned the [fact] that '69 was only, like, a matter of months after the repeal of the illegality of homosexuality and to reference that was potentially moving."

The night continues as Dan plays "Get Happy" -- a song made famous by Garland in 1950's Summer Stock -- for her. She begins singing along and he breaks down in tears at the piano. Without missing a beat, Judy wraps her arms around him and silently comforts him. It's a moment that never happened in real life -- "It was our imagination," Goold explains -- but is simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking, nonetheless.

"He's crying because he's so happy, but also because of how hard it's been," the director says. "[It's] not because the fairy godmother is in the room; I think they're already through that. She embraces him and they have this real connection. But she also feels incredibly lonely in that moment." It's a beat that feels complex in its simplicity. "Renée's performance is so brilliant in that moment. She's come seeking love or seeking some warmth and gets it, but then leaves giving it," Goold adds.

The sequence was shot early on in Judy's production, in an actual '60s-style flat in London. It was late in the day on day three when the team set up around the piano. "There are only about six of us in the flat at that point," Goold remembers. "We were all packed in there." It was him, his cameraman, his actors and a piano player hidden just around the corner in the kitchen, playing a keyboard that was piped into Zellweger's earpiece.

"In a way, it was the moment the film really took off," he recalls. "I remember thinking, 'This is special.' If this film does well or if Renée's performance gets the accolades it deserves, I will look back and go, 'I was in the room when she was singing that.'"

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