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lime Screen Interview: Jennifer Hudson

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Jennifer Hudson

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Lime Contributor

Reporter: Lime Contributor

Chicago born and raised, Jennifer Hudson began singing and performing at the age of seven with her church choir and community theatre group.  

Rising to fame in AMERICAN IDOL, her breakthrough film role came with a stunning performance in the 2006 film adaptation of the Broadway musical DREAMGIRLS, which led a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Hudson’s film credits include SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES and THE THREE STOOGES. She recently starred in WINNIE MANDELA, and in the independent film, THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE.


She won the Grammy for Best R & B Album, for her debut album JENNIFER HUDSON . Her second album, I REMEMBER ME, was greeted with rave reviews. And she is currently working on her third album, which will be released in 2014.     


She is the US spokesperson for Weight Watchers and is the author of a bestselling memoir ‘I Got This: How I Changed My Ways, Found Myself and Lost Everything that Weighed Me Down’.”


Hudson, 32, lives with her husband, professional wrestler David Otunga and their four-year old son.


In 2009, Hudson, along with her sister Julia, founded The Julian D. King Gift Foundation in   memory of Jennifer’s nephew and Julia’s son, who were tragically killed in 2008.  


Dressed in an Isabel Marant short black leather skirt and top, with black patent boots, her hair cropped short in a gamine pixie cut, Hudson looked stunning when she sat down in Los Angeles to talk about the new film, how she spends Christmas and her impressive career.

First of all you look beautiful, what inspired the new short haircut?

“I wanted a change - something different. It’s all about timing. I had shorter hair for a film and I loved it. So I said ‘okay, I want to go all the way! It’s much easier, I love it.”


What was the appeal of BLACK NATIVITY?

“I loved the themes of spirituality, faith, family, and holidays. I feel as though we’re missing those things today. I’m a holiday and family fanatic, and I grew up in a church, so there were times when we were filming that I would forget I was on the set, because I really felt that I was back home at church. Being on set felt very familiar to me with all the great music. The film won me over because it has so many beautiful elements to it. It is music based, and music is my biggest passion. The music is very diverse, with a hip-hop edge.”


You grew up singing in church I know, are you still a spiritual person?

A: “Oh goodness, religion has been my life. That’s my base. I come from a spiritual upbringing and was, as we call it, born into the church—a lap baby, sitting on my mama’s lap in the choir stand. It’s a HUGE part of my roots. We spent the majority of the week in church. On Sundays, we had Sunday school, morning service, and then evening service. On Mondays, I don’t even know why we were in church, but we were there. (laughs) Tuesdays we had choir rehearsal, and Wednesdays we did bible study (laughs).”


As a mother the theme must strike a strong chord?

“The purpose of doing this film is so that my son can have something to sit and watch with his family. I have often wondered: ‘where are those family films that you can sit on the couch and watch at home together?’ The film is so powerful.” 


What would you say it is really all about?

A: “The film has so many different elements. You have the musical aspect, you have the dream aspect, you have a poetry element, and you have a Broadway touch to it, as well. The playwright Langston Hughes is like the glue that ties it all together. And the music welds the whole story together. At times, the songs almost feel like our lines. When I watched the film, I had forgotten it was a musical because it was so well done. The film shows the reality of having obstacles and setbacks in life and that no matter what one is going through, one should always have forgiveness and never be separated from the love of family.”


Though the film is a musical, it tells a realistic story about a family that’s been torn apart. You think audiences will relate?

“Yes, because the underlying theme is so real. There’s nothing that’s fictional about it.  Each character has his or her own challenging situation, like Naima, my character, who has her struggles as a single parent. I would say that the biggest word I could use to describe my character is stubborn. Though she comes from a   fortunate, well off background and family base, she has run into some issues with her parents. Any single parent can relate to those struggles.”


Even though you don’t have money worries any more, was it easy for you to identify with your character?

“As a mother, it’s easy for me to relate to her. As a parent, you want your child to have the best in life. Naima wants that for her son, whether she can provide it for him or not. That’s why she sends him to stay with his grandparents.” 


What was it like having this character written specifically for you by Kasi Lemmons?

“It’s an honour. But at the same time, it adds pressure. You really want to make sure you deliver, if someone went out her way to prepare a role for you. Though it can be kind of intimidating. I tried to do what was asked of me.”


It must be rewarding starring in a film that pays tribute to black, African American culture?

“Well, it definitely makes me proud. I think it drives me that much more to want to do it. It gives it much more substance for me. It’s motivated me to want to go and learn more about Langston Hughes, because I’m only familiar with his name. I want to look into his work.” 


How much of a shift has there been in Hollywood in relation to black actors recently? There’ve been some strong African American films this year such as THE BUTLER and 12 YEARS A SLAVE.

“There are still more doors to be open, but we always have to start somewhere. I don’t know if we’ve grown in terms of opening up the eyes of studio heads, it seems to come in seasons. That’s why I like having diversity in my roles, in order to be able to put more and more material out there so that people are able to see you in different ways.”


Can you talk about the great music in the film?

“The musical numbers were a mixture of both pre-recorded and live singing, which was kind of impromptu. One minute, I would be working with what was pre-recorded and the next minute, I was singing. The film ended up using a lot of live singing, which I supported fully. I enjoy being able to sing in the spur of the moment, because it’s so much more real for me.”


Is music in you DNA?

“I come from a host of singing relatives. It’s just a part of us and it’s what we do when we get together. Singing is what all my family prides themselves on most. It’s our talent. Everyone is a soloist and a singer. My music is definitely a gift from God, and that’s why it’s so important for me to use it and exercise it. Someone once told me that singing is my gift and acting is my reward for using my gift. God chose to bless me with an acting career, because I honoured the gift of singing that he gave me.”


You haven’t done a musical for a while, since DREAM GIRLS, what does music mean to you?

“For me, music is always there, no matter if I’m in a musical or just acting. Music always connects me to my emotions. So, if I have to act and not sing, I have music in my ear to help me find the emotions I need. When I am in a musical and I’m singing, it’s easier because music tells the story. It’s so powerful.”


What are your family’s Christmas traditions?  

“We like to get started the day after Halloween! We shop for our gifts and we light the tree. We’re still stuck about whether to buy a real tree or a fake one. I grew up with a fake Christmas tree, but Big Dave [her husband] grew up with a real Christmas tree. This past year, we decided to get a real tree from the forest, but it didn’t do so well, so now I wonder what it’s going to be this year (laughs).”


What’s the best Christmas present you ever received? 

“Susie Scribbles, a little doll that I had a long time ago and loved. She sat at a desk, and she would scribble. She wasn’t writing much, but the fact that this doll had a desk, and could scribble on the paper was amazing to me.”


How will you be celebrating Christmas this year?

“My new tradition is all about sharing and giving back. My sister and I have our foundation, The Julian D. King Gift Foundation, in honour of my late nephew. We give back to unfortunate kids for the holidays, because we want to make sure that no kid is ever without. So, it’s a three-day experience. We have a dinner for children that we nominate. They have to do well in school, and we grant them whatever their Christmas wish is; it’s their moment. Then, we have a local toy drive, and we give to all the kids in Chicago. We also have another toy drive. Finally, we go home and have our holiday thing and relax.”


It must be fantastic celebrating with your little boy?

“Seeing my son’s face light up is my favourite part of Christmas. Just having a kid during the holiday season make it so much more fun. Anytime they’re running ads for toys on TV, I hear my son ask, ‘Santa, can you please bring me that for Christmas?’ That means Mummy has to pay attention, because I’m Santa Claus of course (laughs). It’s so much fun to see him grow into the holiday season. All year round, he gets everything he wants, but because of our foundation, I feel that he gets to learn the real meaning of Christmas. He dresses up as a little elf and passes out gifts to the other children. That way it’s about giving and blessing others; it’s not always about getting. I can’t wait until he gets older, so he can understand what that means much more.””

“How fulfilling is motherhood? 

It is just so beautiful, and it gets better and better.  I love it and I’m learning all the time.”


Do you cook?

“I’m not big on cooking. I do pay for the food, though (laughs). I’m not big on macaroni cheese, [which is traditional]. But we have collard greens, turkey and sweet potatoes. I love turkey wings. That’s my thing. Everyone knows Jennifer gets the wings off the turkey. That is for sure.” 


What is most meaningful about Christmas for you?

What I love most about the holiday season is that I always feel that it’s the same for someone else as it is in your home. Everybody sits around together with love and warmth in their hearts. I love seeing everyone together as a family. My goal has always been to get everybody in one space. My pet peeve is to see people leave to go to someone else’s house. I tell them, ‘no, don’t leave. Let’s all stay here and be together.’”


You are so accomplished with the acting, the music and the writing. Do you feel more relaxed in your career having an Oscar on the mantelpiece?

“No I still have to stay on my toes. When I did DREAMGIRLS (2006), nobody was paying me attention to me, so I had no worries, nothing to prove. Now, I’m the ‘Academy Award Winner Jennifer Hudson’, so everybody is watching (laughs). I ask, ‘huh? You’re watching me?’  There’s a lot expected of me now. It definitely raises the bar, and it adds pressure.”


Q: Your roles are so varied, how do you choose?

“I like roles that are very different; I love to challenge myself. Playing Winnie (WINNIE MANDELA) I was terrified, but I decided to step out there and go for it. But Naima in BLACK NATIVITY is the closest to me I’ve played. I love the diversity of all the characters. It's all a blessing, and I’m just grateful to be able to do what I do.”


Q: Are you still in touch with your Chicago roots?

A: “I am, of course. It is important to me to remain who I am, no matter the level of success I achieve. With my awards, for instance, I always say, ‘they just mount up on my wall. They don’t amount to who I am ... at all.’ I’m still that same girl I always was.”


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