Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson joined me virtually as part of the MGM/United Artists Releasing presentation at the Deadline Contenders Film: London event taking place today in front of an audience of awards voters in England and serving as a launch to this Oscar season.
If there was ever a performance deserving of consideration it would have to be what Hudson does in this role, but it was no easy journey to get to a place where it could actually happen. Well it has, and Hudson clearly made her mark in portraying the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin in the movie biopic Respect.
It comes on the heels of NatGeo’s limited series Genius: Aretha, which earned Cynthia Erivo an Emmy nomination. Ironically, both stars appeared on Broadway together in The Color Purple, but Hudson had a unique advantage, one she told me about when we spoke about taking on this assignment that has been many years coming to fruition.
“It has been a long time coming. We initially met back over 15 years ago right after I won the Oscar for Dreamgirls and that was the start of it all in terms of having a conversation, and at the time there wasn’t even a script,” she said. “It was my dream also to play her as well, and so we had an initial meeting about it but it wasn’t until eight years later when [Franklin] said, ‘I have finally made my decision and it is you who I want to play me.’ And it was another eight years before finally making it to the screen, so it has been a long time in the making, even longer for us as we have all had to wait through the pandemic as well, but I have been waiting for this for 15 years.”
The connection between Hudson and Franklin goes back further, even to both essentially getting their start singing in church, but Hudson’s first appearance before a national television audience also was tied to Aretha.
“My American Idol audition song was ‘Share Your Love With Me’ by Miss Aretha Franklin. I’m a fan. I think we all are a fan of Miss Franklin. If you are a singer that is who you aspire to want to be. I was already familiar with a lot of her music, being a fan and singing my audition song, and stuff like that,” Hudson said, noting that that wasn’t the only Franklin classic she performed in the earlier days of her career. “It was also one of my tour songs, ‘Sweet Baby Since You’ve Been Gone’ which also ended up on the soundtrack of this as well. That helped me with the process of developing a film for it, but the trickiest part was it is Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul! It is kinda scary but it’s exciting at the same time. When you look at it from the perspective of an actress playing her rather than just singing a song it is a completely different thing in developing the character and discovering who she was, why she was, the way she was, what era she grew up in, and what it is like to be a woman in her time growing up. So it is all those things that played into the Aretha Franklin in this film.”
Hudson revealed there were 83 costume changes and 11 different wigs in the movie role, but that it was one particular part of the film that really made the difference in capturing the essence of what made Aretha who she was, and it was pointed out to her during filming of a scene with Audra McDonald, who plays a key role in her life.
“One of those moments was in the middle of her singing where her mother comes to her in her dreams, and in that moment I remember Audra McDonald saying, ‘This is a very heavy life to tell,’ and I was drained in that moment, and it really is. For me that is when it clicked that this is why she chose me rather than it be simply about the singing. I don’t think I would have been able to tell her story with so much honesty or come from a place with so much vulnerability and honesty without my own life’s (experiences). And I feel that that was another connection that she saw that I didn’t necessarily see before until learning more of her story.”
Check out the panel video above.
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