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Scarlett Johansson, Saorise Ronan, Charlize Theron, Cynthia Erivo, and Renée Zellweger were all up for the Best Actress prize at the 2020 Oscars

By Dave Quinn
February 09, 2020 11:46 PM
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It was a big night for Renée Zellweger at the 2020 Academy Awards.

On Sunday, the actress won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in the film Judy — triumphing over fellow nominees Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story), Saorise Ronan (Little Women), Charlize Theron (Bombshell), and Cynthia Erivo (Harriet).

Taking the stage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, Zellweger, 50, gave an emotional acceptance speech, thanking her parents, father Emil Erich Zellweger and mother Kjellfrid Irene Zellweger.

“[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?”

The actress also thanked her “big brother, Drew” and turned her speech toward Judy Garland, who never won an Oscar.

Renée Zellweger
Renée Zellweger
| Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty

“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.”

Zellweger listed a few heroes she loved, saying, “Neil Armstrong, Dolores Huerta, Venus and Serena [Williams] and Selena [Quintanilla], Bob Dylan, Scorsese, Fred Rogers, Harriet Tubman.”

“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.”

She 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.”

This is Zellweger’s second Oscar win. She previously won a Best Supporting Actress trophy in 2004 for her work in Cold Mountain.

The Texas-born actress was also nominated for her leading role in 2002’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, and in 2003 for Chicago.

In 2004, the star told PEOPLE her parents came from Europe.

My mother came from Norway and my father was Swiss. My parents both immigrated to America in the 1960s,” she said, adding her parents eventually settled down in Katy, Texas, where she was raised. “Because my parents were from someplace else, they provided me with a window out onto the world.”

Her win this year came for playing Garland in the biopic, which chronicles the final months of Garland’s life — when the famed Wizard of Oz star arrived in London to perform sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub.

That transformative performance has earned Zellweger wins in all major acting award show categories this season, including the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and British Academy Film Awards.

Though she never won, Garland earned two Academy Award nominations in her life, one for Best Actress in 1955 for A Star Is Born and another for Best Supporting Actress in 1962 for Judgment at Nuremberg.

Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy (2019)
Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy
| Credit: David Hindley /LD Entertainment/ Roadside Attractions
Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy (2019)
Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy
| Credit: David Hindley /LD Entertainment/ Roadside Attractions

Zellweger found much in common with Garland when she played her, she has said.

I have a little bit of understanding about what it’s like to live with a public persona,” Zellweger told PEOPLE in September. “I understand the vast gulf between what is written about that persona and the truth of their life.”

To prepare for her role as the Hollywood icon, Zellweger studied hours of personal audio recordings, bootleg music performances and interviews.

“I tried to break it down from an intellectual perspective and look at the methodology behind it,” she told PEOPLE in February. “Like, okay there’s a style of singing here, and what octave she’s singing in, and what the damage at that time in her life in terms of her performances. What are those things that are defining characteristics in terms of her performance choices? And I’d try to study those.”

“I tried not to think too much about the obvious, which is how adored Judy is and has been through generations,” she added. “I tried to take that off the table and look at it as an exploration of trying to understand the human experience on the other side of that stardom … otherwise I would have just run away.”

Judy also marked a celebrated return to Hollywood for Zellweger after a mostly quiet decade.

She told New York Magazine she stepped away because “I wasn’t taking care of myself.

“I needed to not have something to do all the time, to not know what I’m going to be doing for the next two years in advance,” Zellweger said. “I wanted to allow for some accidents. There had to be some quiet for the ideas to slip in.”

RELATED: Oscars 2020: Here’s the Best Picture, Leading Actor/Actress and Director Nominees

Last year, Olivia Colman took home the Oscar for her role in The Favourite.

Other actresses to win the trophy over the past decade include Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Emma Stone (La La Land), Brie Larson (Room), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Cate Blanchette (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), and Natalie Portman (Black Swan).

Katharine Hepburn has won the most awards in this category, with four Oscars.

And with a whopping 17 nominations, Streep is the most nominated actress in this category. She’s won twice.

The 92nd Annual Academy Awards are airing live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.