For an actor, playing a real-life person has to be both exciting and daunting, and this was the task set before Jennifer Hudson, who portrays music icon Aretha Franklin in the upcoming biopic Respect. The Oscar winner is certainly stepping into some massive shoes, but her biopic casting is a bit more personal than that of other actors. This is because Hudson was actually hand-picked by Franklin herself to play the role. Just thinking about it is enough to give you chills, and Hudson reflected on the moment.
Jennifer Hudson recently spoke to CinemaBlend and other news outlets during a Q&A for Respect, which also featured director Liesl Tommy. During the discussion, Hudson spoke about when and how the Queen of Soul asked her to play, well… the Queen of Soul. And based on how the actress and singer describes it, it was a sweet exchange:
Well, it was definitely a process. We originally sat down, now almost 20 years ago. It was right after I won my Oscar for Dreamgirls, we met in New York, and we had to talk about it. And there was no script at the time, but she wanted to meet with me. And obviously, we stayed in contact after that. And it was when I was on Broadway when she called me and said, ‘I've made my decision, and it is you young lady who I want to play me, but don't you tell a soul now.’ I was like, ‘Yes ma’am, I won’t.’ [laughs]
Getting a call from Aretha Franklin sounds crazy enough, but the fact that she personally called to tell Jennifer Hudson the news is just so special. And like Hudson did, I’m sure most of us would have absolutely heeded Franklin’s words and not told anyone. Hudson would go on to discuss the sweet way Franklin has influenced both her life and career and how it helped inform her portrayal:
I just sit back and think about how much of a blueprint that she's been in my life and in my career, and so many others, you know? So I feel as though that's been a part of it... that led to me portraying her. But it wasn't until being in the thick of things that I got to even understand her that much more for myself as a person. Not necessarily as, ‘Oh, my God as Aretha Franklin, the icon, or the voice or this or that song,’ but to be able to learn of the individual while developing the character … And it makes me think back to our conversations that we would have, and I realized while filming and doing research at home, I’m like, ‘Wow, she taught me more about life while teaching me about her life.’ And then to realize what she was speaking about, she was speaking from her real life experiences and that didn’t hit me until later when I'm like, ‘No, she was really schooling me in those moments based off of her experiences.’
Jennifer Hudson’s comments are a true testament to the impact Aretha Franklin had on so many. The late singer, actress and activist was so many things to so many people, but it’s nice to hear that Hudson had the privilege of knowing her as a friend and mentor. And based on what we’ve seen of her in the role so far, Hudson is channeling every aspect of the beloved songstress. You can check out the new trailer down below:
It goes without saying that Jennifer Hudson will continue to hold those memories of Aretha Franklin close to her heart. And while Franklin sadly won’t get to see the actress play her on the big screen, it’s safe to say she’d be proud of the work Hudson has put in.
Respect opens in theaters on August 13, 2021.