Renée Zellweger has showed off her singing onscreen in several films — tackling rock songs (Empire Records), Broadway show tunes (Chicago), and ’50s big band pop (Down With Love) — but the prospect of performing Bob Dylan tracks for her latest film, My Own Love Song, which premiered last week at the Tribeca Film Festival, was “terrifying, absolutely terrifying,” she tells Rolling Stone. Her director concurs: “She was nervous about singing,” adds Olivier Dahan, “which is a little bizarre. I love her voice.”
Dahan (whose last film of note was the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose) had originally approached Dylan to write “Life Is Hard” for Zellweger to sing at the film’s climax and was surprised to get a yes. But Dylan didn’t stop there. He just kept writing, enough to fuel his album Together Through Life (half of which ended up in the film) and enough to provide a score for the rest of My Own Love Song. “He asked if we could use [the extra material], and I said, ‘Of course!’ ” Dahan says.
As a result, there are 16 pieces of previously unreleased Dylan songs on the soundtrack, some of which are only instrumental. “Life Is Hard” arrives in two versions: one sung by Dylan over the end credits, and one by Zellweger at the film’s climax. In that scene, her character (a former country star) is reunited with her 10-year-old son, seven years after she abandoned him following a car accident that had killed his father and left her in a wheelchair. She starts singing the tune at a garden party without knowing for sure which of the children in attendance is hers, accompanied only by costar Forest Whitaker’s guitar strumming.
“[My version] is a lot different [than Dylan’s],” Zellweger says. “It’s meant to be an apology, and it’s meant to be a lullaby, a song to a child.” Zellweger also sings Dylan’s “Precious Angel” in a quiet moment when she stares at a starry sky with Whitaker, who gets to sing tackle his own Dylan track, “What Good Am I?”
With a bit more musical experience under her belt, Zellweger admits she’s started writing her own songs. “I don’t know what you call it [genre-wise],” she said. “It just comes out sometimes, and I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to share them with anybody, except my neighbors, who unfortunately don’t have a choice!”