Let’s get this out of the way: I’ve found myself nursing a crush on Jennifer Hudson ever since I saw Dreamgirls. Not being an American Idol tolerator, I didn’t know who she was before I saw the film at a junket screening, but she instantly won me over. I saw the movie again last night at an AMPAS screening (the crowd applauded throughout, by the way – some Oscar prognosticators are saying that the movie’s chances are being hurt by a lack of critic awards, but I saw Academy voters eating this movie up like ice cream) and Hudson’s voice still got to me, giving me goosebumps and making my eyes all watery. She gives not just a good performance but a great one.
Meeting Hudson at the Dreamgirls junket was interesting, because she presented herself as completely unlike Effie White, the disaffected diva she plays. The real Hudson was friendly and sweet, and while that could have been a put on, it was a very savvy one – I have interviewed many new starlets who believe their own hype (before disappearing), and Hudson never gave off that vibe.
When we spoke, Hudson had been at the center of a growing media storm (I imagine it will continue to grow in the weeks ahead), and one of the high points of the past few weeks had been an appearance on Oprah, where legendarily mean American Idol judge Simon Cowell, who kicked Hudson off the show, apologized to her.
Q: Were any of the American Idol girls jealous?
Hudson: Why? [laughs]
I don’t run into too many of them. I did see Latoya London, she’s doing a great job and has her own great career. I don’t know what Frenchie is doing, but she’s great as well. And Fantasia – that’s Fantasia, baby. She’s on her road as well. Everybody’s extremely supportive. I recently got a call from Jasmine from my season, and she left me a beautiful message on my phone. Everybody is so supportive, they really are.
Q: Was this the first time Simon Cowell has apologized to anyone in his whole life?
Hudson: Probably. [laughs] To be honest! I don’t know, but that was a moment in time for me, to see that.
Q: Jamie Foxx has said that whole experience, where Simon criticized you so harshly in front of America, prepared you for this.
Hudson: Definitely. I give that experience credit, and I feel everything prepares you for the next. It helped make Effie and my stories parallel. I definitely see similarities in it.
Q: You knew you could sing. But did you know you could be the emotional anchor of a film?
Hudson: I did not know that! I was learning it as I went along. I didn’t even realize that was what I was doing. I just felt like I needed to be that voice for Florence Ballard, who Effie is based on. That was part of my motivation.
Q: You said that when you watched old clips of The Supremes, you would see how Florence would be aloof from the others…
Hudson: Yeah. I mean, just her disposition, and the way she would separate herself from the rest of The Supremes. The look on her face of not being happy with being there – but knowing from the research and the background… you can only imagine what she was feeling. I felt like that’s what “And I Am Telling You” is about, and what Effie storming out is about. It’s how her fans felt she should have reacted, because if you go look at a picture or even a clip of one of their performances, you would say, ‘What’s wrong with her?’ without knowing the story. And that, I think, is Effie screaming out.
Q: “And I Am Telling You” in the film is an incredibly powerful moment. When you’re doing a show, you’ll sing a song like that once a night on stage. When you’re making a movie, you’re probably singing that song again and again all day. What kind of emotional place do you get to?
Hudson: You get to a desperate emotional place! I actually ended up doing “And I Am Telling You,” “I’m Changing” and “One Night Only” all in one week. Like I say, it was a bit of everything… and of course “And I Am Telling You” is all led by emotion, and that’s what I sing by – it’s what I’m trained to sing by. I need to understand it and know what I’m saying and know what I’m trying to get across, and I just found the emotion for that.
Q: Who called you with the good news that you got the role?
Hudson: Bill Condon. I knew that if he was calling it was good news. I got so many different calls throughout the process of auditioning, from ‘You’re by far the best’ to ‘You’re not being considered anymore, we’re going in a different direction.’ By the time it was time for the call, I didn’t know what to expect. But I knew that if it was Bill calling it would be good news.
Q: How did you react?
Hudson: I jumped up and down and shouted ‘Thank you, Jesus!’ I fell to the ground and had Bill repeat it again and again. ‘Just say it again, Bill!’ The first person I called was my mother.
Q: Jamie also said that you’re country. He said you’re nice country and that you had to get to a place where you could be a little bit of a diva.
Hudson: Bill said I was just a little too sweet and soft-spoken, and wanted me to be more aggressive. They wanted me to be more demanding, like Effie – to take charge and be that diva that she is. I had to go through Diva 101, rehearse having that attitude, walking in when I felt like it, walking out when I felt like it, saying what I wanted to say. Stuff like that.
Q: You went from a size 10/12 to a 14/16 for the part?
Hudson: Jennifer’s a very healthy eater. I only each chicken, fish and turkey, no fried foods. I don’t even drink soda. But for Effie I had to change it a little bit and eat cookies and cakes and pies at all wee hours of the night, and I got away with it, because I had to gain and maintain the weight. I found the biggest challenge, moreso than gaining or losing weight, was to maintain the weight. Anytime I lost an inch, [wardrobe] was like, ‘Nope, you gotta go back up.’ It was hard because of all the choreography and the busy schedule.
Q: Whose decision was it for how big Effie should be?
Hudson: You just needed to be able to perceive the difference between Effie’s image and and the other girl’s image. I don’t think it was so much about ‘Effie needs to be a size 16/18 and 200 pounds’ – it was just so you could show the difference.
Q: Was one of the biggest sacrifices for you in this film wearing the outfit in the “Heavy” number?
Hudson: Yes! That outfit was the worst thing in my life. Oh my God, I don’t know what they were thinking! It felt like I was in a box, and then I had these fishnets on – and when your legs are thick and rub together, fishnets don’t feel so good! Then I had these shoes that were custom made. Don’t ever get no shoes that are custom made to fit your feet! Honey, it took at least four people to put the shoes on my foot. That’s how uncomfortable… my feet still don’t look right. That was the most painful, and that was our longest night of shooting.
Q: What was your favorite time period and look for Effie?
I liked Effie when she went through her trying times, because it was
really real. Of course we love the glamour and the glitz, but I loved
the realness, getting stripped down to the lowest of the low. That was
one of my favorites. loved the realness, getting stripped down to the
lowest of the low. That was one of my favorites.
Q: There’s all this Oscar talk. Are you ready for that? You were just performing on cruise ships a couple of years ago.
Hudson: I’ll never get used to it. Everytime I’m like, ‘Really? Are you serious?’ All I wanted was the role… although it would be the biggest honor. And I would get up there and accept! But I haven’t got used to hearing it yet. I have to cross that bridge when I get to it.
Q: There’s controversy about how Paramount is pushing you for Best Supporting Actress, but that Effie is really the center of the story. Do you feel that you should be pushed as Best Actress?
Hudson: I don’t know… I don’t really count the minutes and the seconds we’re on the screen to determine who should be lead. Again, I’m just grateful to be part of the project. It really doesn’t matter to me.
Q: Was this role a tribute to any of the big voiced women who came before you, like Aretha Franklin?
Hudson: In researching Effie, the first thing that came to mind was Aretha Franklin. I feel like the idea for this voice came from Aretha, and when Jennifer Holliday got a hold of it she took it to a whole other place. But I patterned and dedicated each songs to my favorite female artists. ‘Move,’ if you listen to it, is Aretha style, has an Aretha feel. I used some of the licks she would throw into a song. ‘I’m Changing,’ it’s Jennifer Holliday. And ‘One Night Only’ is my dedication to Whitney.
Q: Do you live in LA now?
Hudson: I live in Chicago. Actually, I live on airplanes. But Chicago is my home.
Q: Have the offers been coming in yet?
Hudson: Yes, the scripts have been coming in. But I’m taking my time to make the next move. I want to make the right decision.
Q: Is it movies for you next, or is it stage?
Hudson: Next for me is recording my album, and then after that I want to do more movies. Later down the line I would love to do theater.
Q: What kind of music is the album going to be?
Hudson: I don’t know. I want to go mainstream – I don’t believe in limiting myself. We haven’t had that creative meeting yet to determine what direction I’m going to go in, but I definitely want it to be something that everyone can like.
Q: You’re making your big screen debut against some very talented actors. What does someone like Danny Glover or Jamie Foxx tell you – what hints or tips do they give?
Hudson: Eddie and Danny, I just pretty much sat back and watched them, watched how they worked. I took from Danny how to build a character. When we would read through the script, the first time I read was with Jamie, and he was very calm. Then I read with Beyonce, and she was just as calm. Then I read with Danny and he was very intense and dramatic and beating the table and hopping around the room, and I was like, ‘Please tell me I don’t have to do that!’ And then watching Eddie go in and out of character – to sit here and see him just leave the room, Eddie leave the rumor and James ‘Thunder’ Early come across stage.
The advice came more from Beyonce and Jamie. Beyonce told me to make sure you be smart and make the right decisions and take your time with things. Jamie told me to always make sure you give 100%. One time the camera was over there [gestures far away] and I was like, ‘Do I really have to put it out?’ and he said, ‘You always give 100% – whether the camera is across the room, across the street or in your face. You always give it your all.’