TORONTO — One of the most talked about films at the Toronto International Film Festival is “Judy,” starring Renee Zellweger as late-career Judy Garland and Lenox native Finn Wittrock as Garland’s fifth and last husband, Mickey Deans.
Twice nominated for Emmys for roles in Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime Story” and “American Horror Story,” Wittrock, 34, credits the Berkshires’ Shakespeare & Company for providing him his first acting home.
“My dad [Peter Wittrock] worked there, and I was part of a group of kids my age who performed [small roles] such as a pageboy in ‘Merchant of Venice’ — ‘a letter, my lord!’” Wittrock said in an interview at TIFF. “I delivered a lot of letters. I told of armies coming into the city. So that’s how I cut my teeth. I moved away to Chicago, and then LA, but I come back summers to Shakespeare & Company. It’s a nice homecoming.”
Wittrock, a Juilliard grad who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sarah Roberts, and their baby son, participated in a staged reading of “Julius Caesar”at Shakespeare & Company a couple of weeks ago.
“I literally was onstage with people who knew me before I was born,” he said.
“Judy” is set in 1968 when Garland performed an extended engagement at Talk of the Town in London during which time she married Deans.
“My main source was Mickey’s book [“Weep No More, My Lady”] which he wrote after [Garland] died, and a documentary that he’s in just for a little bit [for] his voice and mannerisms.
“He had a youthful, crazy exuberance. Many people close to Judy didn’t really trust him. He was a hustler, he knew how to operate, but I think his motives, at least initially, were pure. Later, who knows? She wasn’t easy to live with, either. They had knock down, drag out fights.”
In preparing for the role, Wittrock says he concentrated more on Garland, reading about her and watching all her films.
“That was the easy part. I definitely did fall in love with Judy,” he said.
Wittrock heads from TIFF to New York to shoot “A Mouthful of Air” opposite Amanda Seyfried. He’ll soon be seen in the Murphy-produced Netflix series “Ratched,” starring Sarah Paulson as the nurse from Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“I play someone close to her but I’m sworn to secrecy,” said Wittrock.
“Judy” opens in theaters Sept. 27.