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December 2006
DREAMGIRLS: An Interview with Jennifer Hudson

DREAMGIRLS: An Interview with Jennifer Hudson
By Wilson Morales

December 11, 2006

I can’t recall the last time, or for that matter, any time, an actress has entered the film industry with so much hype other than Jennifer Hudson. Hudson was knocked off American Idol during the 3rd season and in just a short time is about to show Simon Cowell how wrong he was. From the minute she won the coveted role of singer Effie is the most anticipated film of the year, “Dreamgirls”, the Oscar talk began long before rehearsal. It is such a coincidence that JH is the same initial as the person who played the role on Broadway, Jennifer Holiday, and Hudson plays the role with so much passion, you would think that she was already a veteran. For those who never knew so much of the musical, the one thing that ALWAYS stood out was the song, “And I’m Telling You”. One song captured so much attention that whoever would sing the song, would have knock it out of the park, and Hudson did so as if she were Barry Bonds. The girl has the pipes. As most of us should know, Effie was the lead singer of the Dreamettes, when he then-boyfriend Curtis, played by Jamie Foxx, and her brother C.C, decided that Deena, played by Beyonce, should be lead to attract a larger audience. Everything went down from there until she picked herself up and sang her way back to stardom. Hudson has already captured the Breakthrough artist award from The National Board of Review, as well as New York Film Critics Online, in what is the first of many accolades to come. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Hudson talks having the time of her life, singing the song, and of course, the Oscar talk.

Are you having fun?

Jennifer Hudson: Yes, I’m having a blast.

Can you talk a little about your preparation for this role? Did you speak to any of the Broadway folks behind the production?

JH: No, I didn’t have a chance to speak with any of them, but I researched the Supremes and read books about them and footage and watched the DVDs of their old performances. I had a billboard of the Supremes bill put in my room. And I would sit and study Florence Ballard, who Effie is patterned after.

So, do you believe this is their story?

JH: Um, I think a great deal of it is. Maybe not all of it. The storyline of the industry in the movie is very parallel to what goes on in reality to the music industry. I think it’s a bit of a lot of different artists’ stories including me.

What was done directorially to help you sustain your composure during I am telling you?

JH: He (Bill Condon) would just come and set it up for me. And it was all like emotional terms. He would say for the opening as I turn around to Curtis he would say here, Effie, you know, has a sense of pride and doesn’t want to let it go, but he breaks her down. So, she’s trying to hold on to it but you’re breaking down at the same time. That’s something he would say and I could understand that. And then by the end of the song she’s completely desperate and out of control at this point. That was another direction, so he would just come and give me that. Or he’d let me know that was too emotional. We don’t want all of that as of right now. He’d pretty much just tell me exactly what he was looking for.

Was this a nerve-wrecking experience for you given that it’s your first film and so much of the weight was placed on you?

JH: Well, I didn’t realize how much weight was on my shoulders until after I saw it. Thank God I didn’t know because then I think I would have been a nervous wreck. But I was so excited and so happy to be a part of the project that it never occurred to me that Oh God, you have a lot to do here and this is your first film and in it with all of these all stars. It really never occurred to me.

Everyone is talking about you and the golden boy. All of this Oscar buzz. How’s that make you feel internally—excited, nervous?

JH: I can’t believe it! I’m like are they serious?! People are really serious, they’re not joking! I feel very honored because that’s such a high accolade to receive and to think back to last year when I just got the part, it never crossed my mind. So, to be here today and hear that, I can’t even grasp it all.

Did you think you’d be winning Grammys before Oscars?

JH: Yeah! I thought I would have an album out. I don’t know if I even thought of myself as an actress. And I didn’t pursue acting actually to be honest. I’ve always been following a musical path. And to get my big break in acting and then to hear that, it’s like omigod! So, I can never get used to hearing that.

Growing up how much did you know about the show and did you ever sing it before getting the part?

JH: Well, I never really knew about the show up until maybe a year or two before Dreamgirls. I only knew of And I’m Telling You and I did sing it, but I thought it was original material by Jennifer Holliday. That’s how much I knew and before a few years up until Dreamgirls I thought the character was Jennifer Holliday. I used to say I want to play Jennifer Holliday on Broadway. I didn’t even know it was Effie White.

What challenges does fame present for you?

JH: Well, to whom much is given, much is required—you know what I mean? I don’t think of it like that—like Oh My God, what am I going to do next—I don’t put limits on God. But, I feel like my main problem is how am I going to balance both worlds because I’ve been thinking that I am just going to sing for years. And then now I’m in between both industries. So now my main issue for myself is to decide on making the right next decision, the right move and how am I going to go between movies and music and balance them out. That’s my biggest concern.

What is your next move? What do you want to do next?

JH: Record my album will be next because I did just sign my record deal, which is very fresh and we haven’t started the whole process and know what kind of material I have. But my album is next and then I’d like to do another movie behind it. I don’t know what that will be yet, but that’s how I feel.

Would you consider doing a non-musical?

JH: Definitely. That’s why I’d like to continue to do both movies and music but separate the two.

Is there an actress out there you’d like to pattern your career after?

JH: Goodness. I know this might be a little odd, but Oprah. I think she’s a great actress and she’s a good role model to pattern my career path after.

How did you feel about getting Simon Cowell to eat crow on Oprah?

JH: (Laughs) Wow. I was very surprised because I didn’t know what to expect on the show. It was a surprise. I didn’t know basically…they have me on the Oprah Show and what is Simon going to say now. I didn’t know to expect, but it was nice. It felt rewarding to see that.

Watching the Supremes?

JH: Well, it’s definitely difficult to shimmey because I don’t dance well. But it was what the role required and it’s Effie. I didn’t look at it like it was me in the background shimming. It wasn’t difficult for me at all.

How was it singing the songs. Did you hold back or did you give it your all?

JH: In some songs—one song in particular like Dreamgirls, the theme song, I had to hold back. So, that was kind of hard because that seems like a part you want to belt out. And then for the most part in “Heavy”, they wanted me to really sing out. And all the solos I gave it whatever they instructed me to do or whatever was required for the song or at least what I felt was required for the song.

Did you work off set to create a good vibe within the cast?

JH: Well, for the most part we were always together. When we were filming it felt like 24 hours a day. It was just a natural bond. We didn’t even need to create one. Keith and I—Jennifer and Keith seemed like brother and sister for real as well as Effie and C.C. Beyonce felt like a friend or a sister or something. We all really connected really well.

What strength did you draw from Beyonce?

JH: Just her ability not to give up and to stay so focused was amazing to me. I would tell everybody that while everybody else was at home sleeping at night this girl is up working. She gave us a great push to see because it was like if Beyonce can do it then I can do it. And it’s funny because we were actually on set one night and it was a long night and our feet were hurting. My thinking was that if she can do it, I can do it and I went to tell her and then realized that you are Beyonce and I can’t tell you that! She’s always been an inspiration for me and I was like what can I say to lift them up and I’m getting ready to forget that it’s Beyonce I’m talking to and I’m like if Beyonce can do it, you can do it, too, but it’s Beyonce I’m talking to. She’s definitely a great inspiration.



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