Jennifer Hudson is one Christmas-day film musical away from becoming the year’s hottest success story. Read what the delightful singer-actress told RT about singing that song, impressing Oprah, and earning runaway Oscar buzz in her first ever screen role.
Bill Condon’s musical "Dreamgirls" is one of the most anticipated films of the year, with plenty of razzle and dazzle, Motown-tinged numbers, and star wattage courtesy of performers like Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, and Eddie Murphy. But the film’s breakout star is newcomer Jennifer Hudson, the 25-year-old former "American Idol" contestant whose feature film debut in "Dreamgirls" might also nab her a surprise Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Rotten Tomatoes caught up with the bubbly, down-to-earth, and excited Hudson at a roundtable interview in San Francisco for a nice, long chat with the up-and-coming actress, who wants to continue both singing (her debut album will drop next year) and acting (dream project? "A Star is Born."). Earnest and animated, the statuesque performer speaks reverentially about her co-stars, the "Dreamgirls" experience, and meeting Oprah, but still sweetly peppers the conversation with "wow," "like," and lots of laughs.
On Singing the Legendary Ballad, "And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going"
Q: Did it take a lot of courage to step into a role that has been so closely associated with a legendary performance?
Jennifer Hudson: Definitely. That was one of the biggest challenges for me, because she did — there are no words for how she portrayed this character — But to realize that the character is Effie, Effie White, and not Jennifer Holliday. And it took me a loooong time to realize that, that I didn’t have to do what she did, but I had to create my own Effie, and approach it my way.
Q: Do you do your own vocal arrangements?
JH: Yes, they allowed me to because when I recorded "And I’m Telling You" I did it four different times. And the final time Bill [Condon] was like, just let her sing. Just let her have a moment, let her do it. And it took one take. And it was like, ok, it’s done. That’s all. I’m like, "That’s it? For real? Four times, and when we finally get to the last time, one time is enough — stop playing!"
So that was the hard part, because I was completely stripped of everything a vocalist would do. They didn’t want any vocal gymnastics. Or big notes, or put a high note here, put a riff here type of thing. And I’m like, Oh my god, coming from a singer’s standpoint that’s all I’ve been doing my whole life. And to have to approach it like an actress and lead it by complete emotion was like, huh? What do you want me to do here? So it took a while to get to that, and let it be led by emotion.
On Being A Supporting Actress Front-Runner in This Year’s Awards Race
Q: What do you make of your potential supporting actress — or lead actress — competition?
JH: Well, I haven’t really given it much thought, because everything is happening so fast, and you only get to be new once…so I’m just living in the moment right now, and I’m in awe and like, wow — my name is being mentioned, people think that much of it…because like I said, all I wanted was the part. So all of this is like — they’ve got to be kidding!
Q: Do you really consider Effie White a supporting character, or a lead character in "Dreamgirls"?
JH: All I know is she’s definitely an important factor in the storyline, but…I don’t know who the lead is, to be honest! Everybody has such strong roles, and they gave such strong performances, I don’t know…
On Continuing As An Actor After "Dreamgirls"
Q: What kind of acting roles do you hope to pursue in the future?
JH: Well, I know I want to play somebody crazy! I would love to do that, I’m so serious! I don’t know a better way to say it! Outside that, to be honest I can’t really pick in particular, but I would like to just exercise that acting muscle and just try different things, because I like to accept a challenge and see what’s out there. But I want to make the right decision on what to do next.
I am reading scripts and I’ve had offers and things like that, but I don’t know what’s next, as far as movies.
Q: What kind of movie do you want to do?
JH: Well, I know as far as musicals, I would like to do "A Star is Born." And there’s a story, a movie that’s coming about, which is the Jackie Robinson story, I would love to do that.
On Losing "American Idol" and Winning the Role of Effie White
Q: Just a couple of years ago you were one of hundreds of thousands of hopefuls, and now you’re starring in a film with Jamie Foxx, Beyonce…
JH: I know! I’m in awe, of every moment…I can’t even explain it, and I’m going through it every day…Oprah called me, and I’m like, "Oprah wha–?" You’re calling my phone? I can’t even say nothing! [laughs] I’m going through it, and I can’t believe it! And every once in a while I’m like, "Ok, is this a dream? Am I dead? This can not be real!"
Q: As Simon Cowell said, "when" you win your Oscar, are you planning on thanking him in your speech?
JH: "Thank you Simon, for…" That’s an interesting question! We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, I guess I have to leave it at that! [laughs] He’s gonna be the first on my list.
Q: Are you afraid of being remembered forever for "American Idol?"
JH: I don’t think it should be something any Idol should be ashamed of, because there’s only a few of us in the world with that experience. And yes…that name sticks with you forever, but it’s a phenomenon, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
That’s part of the price you pay, it’s a part of who you are, it’s a part of your career. And thank God for "American Idol," ’cause if it wasn’t for "American Idol" they would not have known of a Jennifer Hudson to call and say we want you to audition for "Dreamgirls".
For the whole interview (and there’s a lot more!), click here!
"Dreamgirls" opens in limited release December 15 and rolls wide Christmas Day.