The forthcoming film Judy, starring Renée Zellweger, is an adaptation of my play End of the Rainbow, which follows Judy Garland during her tumultuous series of concerts at London’s Talk of the Town in 1968.
A film adaptation was first suggested to me when the show was playing at the Trafalgar Studios in 2010, which gives some idea of how long these things take.
During that nine-year period, there were changes of producers, directors, stars and screenwriters. At times the whole experience was invigorating as emails came through with casting plans or the first poster images. At other times, it was deeply frustrating as the screenplay, inevitably, altered my original script dramatically.
In the end, I learned to just go along with the ride. You have to accept that the movie is a different animal which, hopefully, will stand proudly alongside the stage play. It compliments it, rather than cancelling it out. The play remains exactly as I wrote it, while the film takes it in new directions.
Rupert Goold, the artistic director of the Almeida Theatre, is directing the film. He was a good choice and will not retreat from the theatricality of the story. As well as Renée as Judy the cast includes Rufus Sewell, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock and the great Michael Gambon. There is also a cameo by Andy Nyman who (for fans of useless trivia) I did panto with at Westcliff in 1988. I hope audiences will be drawn to it in the same way as they have embraced the stage show.
When I first wrote End of the Rainbow, many people told me that nobody would be interested in a play about Garland. They underestimated the audience. The play has been performed now in 26 countries and translated into 14 languages, with six months in the West End and another six on Broadway.
Judy’s personality seems to captivate people instantly. She was, at times, an emotional and physical wreck, but she was always an incredible talent and brilliantly, gloriously funny. The combination of tragedy and humour as well as great songs is what makes her story so compelling.
It also gives the opportunity for a tour de force performance by its star, most memorably on stage with Tracie Bennett who grabbed the role with both hands and all her teeth in London, Los Angeles and New York.
At the premiere next month, I will hit the red carpet and, as usual, nobody will know who the hell I am. That’s the writer’s life – your name plastered on all the posters but nobody recognises you. I’ve often sat in theatres next to audience members reading my biog in the programme, looking at my photo and still not knowing who I am. We live in the shadows.
It’s an exciting journey, and already there is much talk of revival productions of the stage show. So as Judy plays in cinemas and later on TV screens, End of the Rainbow will also live on. Movies can introduce theatremakers’ work to a whole new audience. Even if they still don’t recognise you.
Judy opens in cinemas on October 2