Jennifer Hudson Tells Winnie Mandela’s Story

Photo courtesy of the FrontPage Firm

Prepare yourself: Jennifer Hudson is taking over the big screen this fall. She stars as Winnie Mandela in the biopic out Sept. 6. From there, she joins fellow American Idol alum Jordin Sparks in “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” scheduled to hit theaters in October. And, just in time for the holidays, she plays a single mom in the Bishop T.D. Jakes-produced “Black Nativity,” out in November.

“All of them are special, for different reasons,” Hudson says about her upcoming movies. “They’re like your little babies, in a way. You don’t want to have to choose just one.”

JET sat down with the award-winning singer and actress before the red carpet premiere of “Winnie Mandela” at MegaFest in Dallas last week. Here’s what she had to say about portraying the former South African president’s ex-wife and how she prepared for the role of a lifetime:

JET: A lot of people are familiar with Nelson Mandela’s story, but may not be as familiar with Winnie’s. So why was it important for you to tell her story?

Jennifer Hudson: For that reason right there. Because we don’t know her story and I didn’t know it until I read the script. I’d heard of her name and I knew her attachment to Nelson Mandela. But to not know Winnie’s story and then to see her contribution to world history and African history and the struggle and all that she went through.

JET: Your portrayal in the film is so realistic, so you don’t even look like yourself and I mean that in the best way. How did you prepare for such an iconic role?

Jennifer Hudson: Well I didn’t have a lot of things to pull from. I had very limited footage, photographs and sound bytes, you name it, whatever there was. But I think the main thing I have to credit is being able to go to Africa and spend as much time as I did there. I was there for four months and just being in the presence of the surroundings of which they came from. To go back to their traditional homeland, where their tribes came from and be around the people and hear their stories and about the impact that they made. And all of that helped me find my way into Winnie.”

JET: Are there any lessons that you learned by portraying Winnie Mandela in the movie?

Jennifer Hudson: For me, I don’t know how, but I ended up having a newfound appreciation for freedom and having a voice and a choice to make a difference. All of those things, I felt like that’s what Winnie gave me. And then I feel like the biggest similarity between the two of us is we’re both fighters. I was like, wow, they picked the right person because Winnie is a fighter. I feel like I am as well. And she didn’t back down from anything and I don’t believe in backing down either.

JET: The prison scene is kind of haunting. Winnie was in solitary confinement for 18 months. How do you even deal with being imprisoned for so long?

Jennifer Hudson: Exactly. That’s what I was thinking when I was in there. While we were filming, I requested that those scenes be shot back to back because I wanted to feel anywhere as close to overwhelmed as I could have in four days as she could have in nearly 500 days, although it’s no comparison, by any means. So I could get a sense of what it felt like, so it could be that much more real to me and I did get overwhelmed! Like wow, this is a lot. And I had moments where I was like this was literally someone’s life, someone lived this. I’m not telling a fairytale, this is real.

JET: What was it like working with Terrence Howard?

Jennifer Hudson: I  just think he’s such an amazing actor and he’s always constantly giving and trying to raise the bar. He stayed in character the entire time we were there. All day, every day. And he was always using the language. But I appreciate that because he strived for more and more and more, which pushed me to do the same.

JET: The movie was previously released in Canada a couple of years ago and now it’s coming out in the States. What does that mean to you?

Jennifer Hudson: We put in a lot of work. I had to leave my child for four months, so I’m just glad to see it manifesting and people able to see it and the work that we put into it. It’s a project that’s important and it’s dear to us and I feel like it deserves that, so I’m so happy to see it surface again and have it’s day.

JET: For our readers who want to know: how do you do it all with your movies and your singing career and being a mom? How do you find balance?

Jennifer Hudson: I’m always trying to find that balance to make it all work, but I love what I do. Yes, it’s the hat of film, hat of spokesperson, hat of mom, hat of actress and all of these things, but it’s one thing at a time. So right now, it’s the season of music. I want to focus on my music this time around and next time around it’ll be the season of film. And it’s just taking it one day, one step at a time. That’s how I try to balance it.

JET: So you have all of these movies coming out, what’s next for you?

Jennifer Hudson: I want to get into music and tour that ‘s what my focus is. after i get that off my chest, I’ll probably go into film again. I’m interested in doing comedy, that would be fun. I’m just Jennifer. Nothing hidden.

JET: What is your advice for aspiring singers and actors?

Jennifer Hudson: It’s hard work, number one. They  have to be ready for that and know that if you know it, you’ve just got go for it. And I encourage them to do that. Don’t be discouraged by all the no’s. You could get a million no’s, but all it takes is one yes. So just be prepared for a struggle. It’s over when you say it’s over.

JET: Lastly, Your performance at the VMAs was awesome and totally unexpected. So what was that like?

Jennifer Hudson: I got a call, I was in Beverly Hills shopping actually, leaving the studio with Babyface and had the rest of the day off. Out of the blue, m y manager calls and says MTV and Macklemore want you to come in and be a surprise guest on “Same Love” and I’m like are you serious, really? Oh my God, sure, let’s do it! And I just love the message of the song. I love something with a message and a powerful message, such as that. I thought it was important and I’m glad it went over well. It was a fun thing to do and it was cool. And I had a good time.

JET: And you added some soul to it as well!

Jennifer Hudson: Yeah and I felt like that was kind of missing, like wow, where is the soul in this? So that was cool to be a part of.