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The 80’s At 8!

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Jennifer Hudson: ‘You can’t just wake up one day and say, I’m going to be Aretha Franklin’

Written by on 16/08/2021

In his ‘At Home With’ conversation on Apple Music 1, Zane Lowe is joined by Jennifer Hudson who discusses depicting the legendary Aretha Franklin in the new biopic ‘Respect’. She tells Zane about her spiritual connection to Aretha and being personally tapped by her to play the role, her first introduction to her music, working with Carole King, and what she took away from the project.

Jennifer Hudson Tells Apple Music About Aretha Franklin Reaching Out To Say She Wanted Her To Play Her…
When I did the BET tribute to her, in my mind, I was like, this is my audition. Although we’ve had conversations about it long before then, our first conversation was right after I won the Oscar for Dreamgirls, It was a few months after that. And then she called me during Color Purple and was like, “It’s you who I want to play me, don’t say a thing.” I feel as though I was one of the last people to speak to her before she passed. I didn’t even realise just how sickly she had gotten. And I’m like, she called me. Wow. And that call to me was her saying, I hope you’re ready because it’s time. I was going through one of my phones the other day, and I ran across her messages. In it, there were certain songs like, “Jennifer, I want you to sing this. I want you to sing this. I want you to sing this.” So now, my only goal is to do whatever she asks me to do. And it was my dream to do it too, let me be clear on that. I wanted to play Aretha, that was my next idea of a role… I take this seriously and I respect it, and I just want to meet whatever her request was, whatever her wishes were.

Jennifer Hudson Tells Apple Music About Her Spiritual Connection To Aretha Franklin Dating Back To ‘American Idol’…
It almost feels spiritual. I keep saying that. So for you to put it in words, it’s like, thank you for that, first of all. But yes, it feels like every bit of that. It’s like it was already ordained, already happening. Even thinking back to when I auditioned for American Idol, they said, “What you going to sing?'” Share Your Love With Me’ by Aretha Franklin. Who would’ve ever thought? I didn’t know at the time that one day I would play Aretha Franklin.

Jennifer Hudson Tells Apple Music About Portraying Aretha Franklin in ‘Respect’…
This in particular was very personal. To me, obviously the most personal project ever, let alone adding the passion on top of it. And then the rawness. The rawness of the reality and the story like me, Jennifer, I can’t help but to resonate with it, and come from an honest, vulnerable place, which you will see in the music and in the film, it’s a lot of raw, real emotion. And for me, it’s bizarre. I don’t know what to call it, but at times it felt as if our worlds came together, especially in delivery. And then, but what made it challenging was when it’s times like in emotional scenes, that’s when I need to cut through. So I could deliver as an actress, but in a human way to make it feel real. I am still trying to find the words. You can’t just wake up one day and say, I’m going to be Aretha Franklin. And then when she says for you to do it is another thing, that’s another pressure, and the treasure that she is to all of us. I’m a fan too, you know what I mean? So add that on top of it, what do you take and do with such a gift? To do what? How? Which I again, still sit with. Every day I’m like, okay, am I doing what I need to do? What else can I do? What did I do to get here? You know what I mean?

Jennifer Hudson Tells Apple Music What She Learned Portraying Aretha Franklin…
My takeaway is owning your treasure, your voice, and trusting it. That’s where the power lies. Because, as soon as she did that, that’s when we got our coin to sell. So, it’s like, “Well, what does my treasure hold if I trust my voice, if I trust my way. And that’s where the song comes from. Listen to the words of the song – It’s like, “I’ve trusted so many too long.” And that song to me is like our world’s intertwining at times a year, this was written for her. But Jesus, I feel like I’m singing about myself. You know what I mean? Because, it’s so true. It resonates so well, but it gave me that, to trust my voice…

Jennifer Hudson Tells Apple Music About Channeling Her Anxieties Into The Role…
I remember people saying on set, “You’re really calm.” And it’s like, “No, I’m not. I’m really not. Not on the inside.” But, I use it and put it into the character. You know what I mean? When my existence in this experience right now, whatever I’m feeling in this moment, put it in the character and let it come through the character because in some form it would resonate to what she may have been feeling a lot. The music is live in the film. No, I want to experience it as she did. In the moment. So she sang ‘Amazing Grace’ live. Well, we’re going to sing it right here live. Let’s have church. If she was learning ‘Ain’t No Way’. Okay. Well, Jennifer has to unlearn the song as what we know it to be today because it’s not Jennifer Hudson, the singer. It is the actress whos portraying Aretha Franklin. And in this scene, she’s learning the song. She don’t know the song yet. It’s forming before your eyes. So allowing that whatever, okay, I’m uncertain in this moment. Well, of course, you will naturally be, so use it in that moment. So whatever I was feeling, whether it was anxiety, whatever emotion, I allowed it to come through the character or use it for the character.

Jennifer Hudson Tells Apple Music About Working With Carole King…
Beyond unreal, a legend in her own right. And, to know her, she wrote ‘Natural Woman’, for God’s sakes. And what better way to pay homage to Aretha Franklin, putting the cherry on top than to have Carole King come and write the title song. It was done over Zoom because it was during the pandemic and it was a lot of conversations about her experience, her personal relationship with Aretha and pulling from those things. And then my own as well, experiences with her. And also for me to say what I knew the narrative of the storyline of the film was, and they’ll put in all those things together.

Jennifer Hudson Tells Apple Music About Her First Introduction To Aretha Franklin’s Music…
Well, as far back as I can remember, ‘Dr. Feelgood’ comes to mind. But I remember hearing the adults talk about that song, what she was saying. And that to me is the power of a lot of her songs and music is because during the era like that, what woman was singing ‘Respect’ and demanding it at the same time in the era in which she grew up, which gave it even more power. And it resonates. And it stands out. And ‘Dr. Feelgood’ was the same for me because I remember hearing conversations about the song and the nature of it and the nerve of it. And it’s, “Wow, who was that?” Aretha Franklin. And then growing up in church, singing ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Precious Lords’ and every gospel song under the sun, and later learning, while researching a film, wait a minute, that was Aretha’s rendition?

Jennifer Hudson Tells Apple Music About What She Took Away From Portraying Aretha Franklin…
I feel as I’ve shared everything in every way, and I love doing that, but when is it my turn? And that goes just for me as overall, every aspect of myself and that’s the space I’m in, but that’s the gift that I felt I got from her. The permission, or the, okay, to say, “Young lady, it’s okay for you to be you and do you, now.”

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