Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
With Dreamgirls, Jennifer Hudson's Dreams Come True
EXPANDED EDITION of 12-20-06 WCT Interview
by Richard Knight, Jr.
The effervescent young star, onstage with the other Dreams and belting out THE SONG (and you had better know which one by now)
There she is on Oprah, on the cover of the Advocate, featured in a USA Today story, another in Vanity Fair, being congratulated for
her Golden Globe nomination. That’s just some of the major stuff. It’s safe to say that a fair number of American citizens who
weren’t sure what happened to Jennifer Hudson’s career after she was voted off season three of “American Idol” have had that
question answered. Hudson, as all this press coverage quickly informs, is starring in perhaps the most eagerly anticipated motion
picture of the year, Dreamgirls. The $75 million dollar musical is finally making its way to the screen, thanks to gay director Bill
Condon and his producer Laurence Mark getting the go ahead from the show’s original producer – David Geffen.
Once the film got the green light casting it seemed like a simple process – Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Danny Glover, and Eddie Murphy
were no brainers. But who could withstand the enormous challenge of playing Effie White and erasing the memory of the iconic
Jennifer Holiday and her rendition of the show’s showstopper – “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”? The day after a screening of
the movie for her hometown of Chicago (with an audience that included her family who were seeing the film for the first time), sweet
natured Jennifer Hudson, in the midst of her media blitz, took the time to talk with Windy City Times about how the role came to her
– and how she took the challenge and made the part her own.
WCT: It was so amazing to sit there with you in the theatre and your family. I have to tell you quickly that as much as I loved “And
I’m Telling You,” I think I preferred “I Am Changing.” Everyone’s waiting for that first number – rightly so – but something about
that second one really solidified it for me. You hit two home runs.
JH: Thank you.
WCT: Okay, for the 10,000th time – how did the part of Effie White come to you?
JH: I had already said to myself, “Just give me the opportunity. I will make it work. Just give me a chance” because I had heard
that there were so many people auditioning for the role. Maybe three months into the process I still hadn’t gotten a chance to
audition and I kept saying to myself, “If they would just give me a chance; let me audition just once!” And then the casting agent
called me to come in and read. That was the start of a six month process. I went through three different auditions – two out of New
York and one in LA (which was the screen test) – and, that’s distracting me – I’m sorry. If there’s music playing I black out, I’m
sorry. It’s not you guys (SHE BREAKS OFF, RESPONDING TO A HOWLING NOISE), what is it?
(WHAT'S DISTRACTING HER IS THE SOUND OF THE WIND HOWLING OUTSIDE THE HI-RISE HOTEL SUITE WHERE WE ARE TALKING)
WCT: Is it the wind? It’s talking to you today. Saying good things I would guess (laughs).
JH: I don’t know what it’s saying but it’s really talking today. (laughs) Anyway, it was a six month process with three different
auditions. I finally had a screen test with Bill Condon after being told everything from, “You were by far the best we’ve seen” to “You
know, we’re having an open call” and “We’re going to take Effie in a different direction” to saying twice, “You’re not being considered
anymore” and finally to, "You know, your name just keeps coming up and we want you to come in and do a full screen test." Two
days after I did the full screen test Bill Condon called me and said, “You are our Effie White.”
WCT: Where were you when the call came?
JH: I was actually in Orlando, Florida recording. Trying to do something, just keeping busy, trying to get a project up and get a
chance somewhere after Idol.
WCT: So what’s the deal with that? So many singers who have come out of that show have immediately gotten record deals and off
they went. Why didn’t that happen for you?
JH: God just clearly had another plan. Had I been under contract to a label or had something out then maybe they might have
changed their minds. Any little thing in a film like this could have affected that.
WCT: Last night at the film screening you said that you knew The Song and you knew Jennifer Holiday’s version long before the film
version was planned. So how did you deal with the weight of that? With everybody saying, “Everything else can suck but she had
better sing the hell out of The Song.”
JH: Of course, you can’t be anything but intimidated after Miss Holiday who sounds like thunder – okay? I was definitely unclear
more than anything about how to approach it. But once I realized that Effie is who I was going after – not Jennifer Holiday – I was
okay. She portrayed Effie and I’m just doing the same. I’m doing Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of Effie. The 2006 version of Effie.
The movie version of Effie – which is world’s apart from the stage version.
WCT: Did Bill Condon have reassuring words of advice for you as you got into the movie?
JH: He was a great coach and a support system through it all. He walked me through every step. I don’t think I realized what
exactly or how big a part I was getting myself into. I just knew it was a part that I needed to respect and focus on. Bill was just the
best. The icing on the cake. I don’t think he wanted to make me feel intimidated or nervous or put any pressure on me.
WCT: Did you have an intuitive understanding of the character or did he say something that unlocked Effie for you?
JH: Yes, we would sit and dissect the character and even with my acting coach we would sit and find out what Effie’s goals were, who
Effie was. What’s her motivation? What is her relationship to Curtis? What is her relationship to Deena? What is her goal with
them? What is she trying to get across in this scene? What’s her point? All of those things I had to look at. What’s the difference
between Effie and Jennifer? There was just so much.
WCT: A lot of work from you and support from your team. And working with these entertainment giants – how was that? To walk on
the set for the first time with Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx and Beyonce and Loretta Devine?
JH: I felt blessed and lucky to know that I could sit back and just study these greats. Why is Danny Glover in a gazillion movies?
Why is Jamie an Oscar winner? How is it that Beyoncé is so huge? These are the bests. Let me study them; let me learn from the
best while I’m amongst them. That was my daily prayer. That’s how I took it – as a lesson. To just sit back and takes notes and
learn from them all. The first time I read was with Jamie.
WCT: That must have been a little unsettling.
JH: Yes! He was sitting at the table with his hat on just chillin’ and he approached his character quite calmly and the next time I
read was with Beyoncé and we got into the scene and she was pretty much the same as Jamie. Then I read with Danny and he hops
up from the table and was beating on it. He approached his scenes totally different from everyone else. He was very into it and I
was suddenly looking at Bill like, “Do I have to do that too?”
WCT: (laughs) Because that’s a pretty intense way to work. “Umm, Bill, I’m sorry, I can’t act with that.”
JH: (laughs) No! I loved to see how Eddie, Jamie, and Danny approached their work. How they started to build their characters.
WCT: Sounds like a fascinating mentor process for you. What a great introduction.
JH: Yes it was. It was such a good lesson and I was just sitting there learning and thinking, “Okay, so next time I do a movie at
least I have an idea of how to go forward with a character or how to approach it.” Because I’ve had some amazing teachers.
WCT: Have you heard anything from Jennifer Holiday at all or do you expect to?
JH: No and I can’t wait until I do. I’m going to pass out when she calls or when I see her; when I meet her. Oh my God, she’s so
amazing; I cannot put it into words. To be able to meet her…I don’t know if I’m going to be able to handle it, honey (laughs).
WCT: It’s very selfish of me to say this, but I will speak for my gay community. We would love to hear the two Jennifer’s do a duet
JH: I would LOVE that. I would love to do it – anytime, anywhere. If somebody would just call for Jennifer Holiday and Jennifer
Hudson I would be there with bells on.
WCT: You could blow two roofs off.
JH: We could make it a duet – I’ll take the top note, she’ll take the middle – whatever. I could doo wop in the background – I don’t
care. You could just stand me next to her.
WCT: Are you going to stay here in Chicago or go out to Hollywood?
JH: Oh not, I’m living here. I mean, if I’m working, I’m working but Chicago is always home. I’m always running back. Always.
WCT: Are you aware that you’re going to have this enormous gay following now?
JH: Well I already have quite a following from Idol. I love it, love it, embrace it like crazy. I’m looking forward to it. I think the
gay community has the most creative and the most beautiful people.
WCT: Oh, keep going – there’s more stuff you can list about us (laughs).
JH: I take my hat off to the gay community. I think of it as an honor. I’m excited about it.
WCT: Well you’re going to have tremendous support from this community. It’s a wonderful film, you’re marvelous in it.
JH: Thank you.