NEW YORK — Renee Zellweger is known for acting but you could easily write a thesis about her love for music.
The entertainer won her second Academy Award for portraying Judy Garland in last year’s “Judy,” for which Zellweger did her own singing in front of live audiences. She was praised for her performance in 2002’s “Chicago.” And she’s an avid concertgoer and live-music appreciator who jumped up and down in her gown when Eminem surprised the audience at last year’s Oscars and despite being an A-list star, sneaks out to concerts just to get her music fix.
She’s also a card-carrying member of the Beyhive.
“She raises the bar when it comes to work ethic. I admire with her that if she’s going to do it, she’s knocking it into the stratosphere or she’s not going to do it,” said Zellweger, who gushed over Beyonce’s groundbreaking performance at the 2005 Oscars. “She was the north star on that one … She’s the one carrying that gift we’re all so blessed to experience in one way or another.”
So it should be no surprise — unless you’re Zellweger — that she’s earned her first Grammy nomination this year. The “Judy” soundtrack, which features Zellweger covering songs like “Over the Rainbow” and “The Trolley Song,” is nominated for best traditional pop vocal album — an award Tony Bennett has won a dozen times.
“I don’t guess that’s something I thought about, to be honest,” Zellweger said in a phone interview about hearing the words “Grammy-nominated” before her name. “That’s not something I walked around imagining. It sure was a thrilling surprise.”
She is competing in a category with musicians whose concerts she’s attended and songs she’s played for years. Nominees include Burt Bacharach, James Taylor, Harry Connick Jr. and Rufus Wainwright, who performs “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with Zellweger on the “Judy” album.
“It was scary to ask Rufus, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Want to come sing a duet with me?,’ ” she recalled. “I know people say that all the time, but it’s the truth: I really have been singing with Rufus for 20 years-plus in my car.”
Zellweger remembers seeing Connick Jr. live, describing the crooner as “an authentic person and performer.”
“What you see is what you get,” Zellweger said. “Stomping his foot up there onstage at the Hollywood Bowl and you feel like you’re in the living room with him or something.”
Convincing Zellweger she’s a real singer is a tough job. When she’s asked when she knew she could sing, she replied: “I still don’t know.”