Mariel Turner thegrio.com
Jennifer Hudson is an Academy Award and Golden Globe-winning actress, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t apprehensive about playing the Queen of Soul.
The Chicago native, 39, revealed in an exclusive interview with theGrio that she felt both “crazy and brave” taking on the role of Aretha Franklin in the 2021 biopic, Respect, which follows Franklin’s journey from a young girl growing up in Detroit to a global superstar and icon dominating the charts.
“I’m realizing that like, ‘Whoa, it’s like while walking a tightrope in front of the whole world,’” Hudson explained about the performance, which is being lauded by critics as one of the best of the year. “That’s what it feels like. That’s scary.”
Hudson had to dig deep emotionally to play Franklin, who struggled with alcoholism and trauma tied to the reported sexual abuse she experienced as a child. The Dreamgirls alum was tasked with bringing those dark moments to life in a beautiful, yet truthful, way — no easy task for even the most seasoned of actresses.
“Any time it’s an emotional scene and scenes with depth like that, it takes a lot out of the actor, you know what I mean?” Hudson shared. “But it’s even more so for me, because it’s a personal project. So it hits different. I feel like the best way to do [it] is to be as open and honest as I can.”
Hudson also credits her co-star, Marlon Wayans, for giving her some much-needed support during those heavier scenes. The Scary Movie alum stars as Ted White, Franklin’s one-time manager and ex-husband who often abused Franklin, both physically and verbally. Wayans was very “hands-on,” according to Hudson, making sure she was comfortable between takes.
“He’s such a great energy just to have around. I really enjoyed having him as a co-star,” Hudson dished. “He was always very hands-on, on and off the set. It felt like a set husband, a set couple, you know what I mean? It just built a great rapport. I liked the approach in that. It felt very real at times, like he would make sure I was fed in between takes. He would give me chairs or massages. I mean, you name it. If you ever need a co-star, go get Marlon Wayans.”
Hudson was hand-picked to play Franklin by the Queen of Soul herself. Sadly, Franklin died from pancreatic cancer in 2018, before she could see the biopic come to life. Hudson said finishing the movie without Franklin was “bittersweet,” but she felt even more motivated to perfect the role.
“It’s something that she was involved in, and I wish she could have had a chance to see it, you know?” Hudson explained about film, which also stars Forest Whitaker, Audra McDonald, Tituss Burgess, and Mary J. Blige. “But it feels good to be able to be given the assignment by her and seeing it through, which is something that I still sit with and hold on to. Like, ‘Okay, what more can I do? Did I do enough? Did I hit everything?’”
In addition to playing the part of Franklin, Hudson was also tasked with performing some of her biggest hits, including “A Natural Woman,” “Respect,” and “Think.” So, which was her favorite song to sing?
“All of them, but the one that took me back the most was ‘Respect.’ Because it’s like, that’s when the reality really settled into what was really happening,” Hudson dished. “Like, wait a minute, I get to sing the iconic anthem ‘Respect.’ That one for sure.”
Respect hits theaters on Friday, Aug. 13. Fans can watch theGrio‘s full interview with Hudson above.
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