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Dreamgirls - Jennifer Hudson interview

Dreamgirls, Jennifer Hudson

Interview by Rob Carnevale

OSCAR nominee and Golden Globe winner Jennifer Hudson talks about her dream role in Dreamgirls and how she overcame the challenges involved in stepping into such a challenging production…

Q. Not that long ago no one really knew who you were. Now that’s been remedied I’d imagine that the dream is continuing for you?
Jennifer Hudson: Yes, it is. I never would have guessed two years ago this time that I’d be here in this way. This is all very new to me. I’ve been singing my whole life, so this is a great place to be a part of.

Q. Congratulations on your Golden Globe. You cite your grandmother as inspiration, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Jennifer Hudson: Yeah, she’s my biggest musical influence. She chose not to go professional as a singer. She said she just wanted to sing in the church for the Lord and I feel that’s why they say I have her voice. So I attribute all of this to her. I hope she’s proud.

Q. Didn’t another member of your family get you employment in a fast food restaurant at one point? And weren’t you less than successful?
Jennifer Hudson: [Laughs] actually my sister was a super employee at Burger King and then there was me who couldn’t get nothing right at all. I was about 16 or 17-years-old, so I ended up quitting and from then on I promised myself that I would use my gift and my talent to make my living. And ever since I’ve been singing and now acting.

Q. Those of us of a certain age watching Dreamgirls will think that’s Florence Ballard. Can you tell us a little bit about the research that you did. Did you look at specific singers or anything else?
Jennifer Hudson: Yes and Florence was definitely one of the people I looked at and probably most closely to. But I feel like Effie’s story and I guess the Dream story in itself is a bit of everybody’s story in the industry. As far as the music, I would say I looked at Aretha [Franklin], at Whitney [Houston] and Jennifer Holliday [original Dreamgirls star]. I tried to [pay] tribute to all the great female vocalists in almost every song that I did.

Q. What’s your feeling about getting Oscar nominated and receiving that kind of recognition for your first role?
Jennifer Hudson: For the most part I try not to think about it. This is something that was totally unexpected. Last year at this time I was just trying to get my lines right and not disappoint Bill. So it’s an honour just to be a part of the awards season and just seeing my name mentioned in that is enough for me.

Q. Apart from your old pal Simon Cowell, has anyone else offered you guidance? I believe he offered you a form of guidance?
Jennifer Hudson: If you want to consider what Simon does guidance, I don’t know! I think I’ve been blessed. I think my cast mates have definitely been a source of guidance for me, to be able to sit back and watch them and how they formed their greatness. So I take them as a lesson and just try to learn from them.

Q. Two years ago in Burger King where was acting on the agenda? Was it ever a part of it and did it help to be able to sing most of your role?
Jennifer Hudson: Acting never occurred to me until I got the call to come out and audition for this role. Back then I was just singing. I did participate in school plays but I always did do the solo. But once the acting came about I fell in love with it and it’s something that I want to continue to do.

Q. People that have seen Dreamgirls may be waiting or building up to the And I Tell You I’m Not going Moment. What was it like building up to that moment where you have to do it for the final take on camera?
Jennifer Hudson: Well, it was definitely something that I felt I really needed to focus on. I felt a huge responsibility so I tried my best to live in that moment and to tell that story that so desperately needed to be told.

Q. Can you tell us about how long your director put you through that moment?
Jennifer Hudson: Oh God it felt like forever. How long was it? Four days.
Bill Condon: Part of it, you know, we pre-recorded these songs. Jennifer went in a few times and the last time was when we were ready to do the scene. But Jennifer sang every… we must have done it 65 times or so, but she sang every take full out so her voice was gone after three of four days. We’d planned to do it over two days. Her talent is so from right in here that when her voice was gone she couldn’t pretend. Her voice had to be coming from deep inside. So then we had to scramble and ask for a lot more money so that we could continue through the week because it became clear that was the way it was going to happen.

Q. Were you more nervous standing up in front of Simon Cowell [on American Idol] or sharing a screen with Beyonce? Did you manage to learn from each other as well? And how was the kiss with Jamie Foxx?
Jennifer Hudson: I was definitely nervous about that! God, I think because Idol was first, I’d have to say Idol because it helped prepare me for this. I walked away saying that if I can get through American Idol, I can get through anything. So any time I would get on set and got nervous I would say: “OK, come on, you did American Idol – the way they got you on that stage and judged you and devoured you to pieces, if I can stand that and still survive then I know I can get through this. It cannot be that much harder.”

Q. Jennifer Holliday made the role of Effie her own on stage. Was there any trepidation about stepping into her shoes?
Jennifer Hudson: Definitely. That was the most intimidating part for me – to think that I had to come behind Miss Holliday. I was like: “Oh my God, do I have to go behind that?” But after a while I had to realise I was portraying Effie White and I needed to create my own Effie just as she created her own. Once I got past that I was like, “phew, I can do this”.

Read our review of Dreamgirls