It took more than a decade for Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson to finally portray Aretha Franklin in “Respect” after initial discussions began with the Queen of Soul herself. “We originally met 15 years ago right after I won the Oscar for ‘Dreamgirls,'” Hudson describes. “Back then, there wasn’t even a script. I remember her saying, ‘How are you going to portray me?’ and I was like, ‘How would you like to be portrayed?’ It was eight years after that when she called me and said, ‘I have made my decision and it is you who I want to play me.'” Watch the exclusive video interview with Hudson above.
Hudson says Franklin’s blessing gave her the “courage” and “ammunition” to dive into the role. Their frequent conversations allowed Hudson to navigate certain scenes with a better understanding of Franklin’s own experiences. “She ended up teaching me more about life while teaching me about her life,” Hudson explains. “It gave me more of a will, motivation, and passion because this is the most personal project to me for many reasons.”
“That was the trickiest part,” Hudson says of separating her own artistry from Franklin’s. “It’s the thing that I sat with the longest and contemplated the most about. How do I approach this? The first takeaway was, you’re Jennifer Hudson the actress. Not Jennifer Hudson the singer. You’re portraying Aretha Franklin, you’re not coming here as yourself. Jennifer takes a back seat.” Hudson worked with a dialect coach to then discover her voice is “built differently” than Franklin’s, but “can lend itself to the same things.”
“There was a lot of research involved,” Hudson continues. “There was a difference of when she would sing a song in church versus performing commercially on the stage. There’s also a difference in a radio record versus how that artist would perform it live. When you’re doing a biopic of someone, their fans are gonna come and see it. They’ve listened to the radio records and listened to the live performances, so those are the things they’re gonna look for. It’s my duty as an actress to study those things.”
Later on in our interview, Hudson discusses her Daytime Emmy, Grammy and Oscar wins and if she hopes to complete the EGOT with a Tony Award one day. “It outshined the Grammy for me, getting it from Whitney Houston,” she says of her 2009 Grammy for Best R&B Album. “As a little girl I used to sit in my mother’s hallway and I created my own duet between me and Whitney singing ‘I Will Always Love You.’ Then fast forward and I get my first Grammy from Whitney Houston? That still blows my mind.”
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