"I think that the time away and the time in between has helped me to appreciate it in a different way," the actress told PEOPLE of her Sunday night win
Renée Zellweger scored her second Oscar on Sunday night — and the victory felt a little sweeter this time around.
The actress, 50, was honored with the Best Actress award at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards for her performance as the international icon Judy Garland in the biopic Judy. Zellweger previously won for Best Supporting Actress in 2004 for her role in Cold Mountain.
Speaking to PEOPLE backstage, Zellweger admitted that she felt “more present” for her current win, appreciating the achievement in a “different way.”
“I think I was so busy that I wasn’t actually in the moment,” she said of her 2004 win. “I think I had just flown home from something for Bridget Jones two or something. It’s different, different perspectives. I’m a little more present now. I think that the time away and the time in between has helped me to appreciate it in a different way.”
Judy marked Zellweger’s long-anticipated return to Hollywood after a six-year break from the industry. (She previously told New York Magazine she stepped away to take better care of herself.)
“I just look at it in a different way, what it represents is a little bit different,” Zellweger continued. “And, obviously, this isn’t ultimately — you know, this is about this wanting to tell that story and to celebrate Judy Garland and to shine a light on, perhaps, the nuances of the circumstances of her life, which people dismiss as tragic. And, you know, the opportunity to tell a story that challenges that narrative and says, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, you can’t know how extraordinary a person is until you know what they struggle with and what they overcome.’ And, to me, that, you know, that’s what this is.'”
After triumphing over her fellow nominees Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story), Saorise Ronan (Little Women), Charlize Theron (Bombshell) and Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Zellweger took the stage during the Academy Awards to give an emotional acceptance speech.
The Texas-born actress thanked her parents, father Emil Erich Zellweger and mother Kjellfrid Irene Zellweger, who immigrated from Switzerland and Norway, respectively.
“[Thank you to] my immigrant folks who came here with nothing but each other and the American Dream,” she said, holding up the Oscar and adding, “How ’bout this?”
Zellweger also thanked her “big brother, Drew,” before turning her speech toward Judy Garland, who never won an Oscar.
“I have to say that this past year of conversation celebrating Judy Garland across generations and across cultures has been a really cool reminder that it’s our heroes that unite us now,” she said. “The best among us who inspire us to find the best in ourselves. You know when they unite us when we look to our heroes we agree and that matters.”
“We agree on our teachers, and we agree on courageous men and women in uniform who serve we agree on our first responders and firefighters,” she continued. “And when we celebrate our heroes, we’re reminded of who we are as one people united. And now Judy Garland did not receive this honor in her time, I am certain that this moment is an extension of the celebration of her legacy that began on our film set, and is also representative of the fact that her legacy of unique exceptionalism and inclusivity and generosity of spirit, and it transcends any one artistic achievement.”
The actress added, “Miss Garland, you are certainly among the heroes who unite and define us. And this is certainly for you. I am so grateful. Thank you so much, everybody.”
Zellweger has also previously been nominated for her leading roles in 2002’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and 2003’s Chicago.
Her transformative performance as Judy also secured her a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award and British Academy Film and Television Award this past awards season.
The 92nd Annual Academy Awards aired live on ABC from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Feb. 9.