(AFP) – It was Aretha Franklin herself who, a few years before her death in 2018, had selected Jennifer Hudson to play her on screen in the biopic “Respect”, in theaters Wednesday, seeing in the actress and singer the best choice to retrace her eventful life.
Because vocal virtuosity was not the only common point between the late “queen of soul” and the actress of “Dreamgirls”, who share a series of personal tragedies.
As shown in the film, Aretha Franklin’s childhood was shattered by the death of her mother at the age of nine and then her pregnancy when she was only twelve. She then had to escape a bossy father, an abusive husband and an alcohol addiction.
Jennifer Hudson, revealed by the TV hook “American Idol” and Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at just 25 years old, also had her share of pain: in 2008, just one year after she received the statuette, her mother, brother and nephew were murdered by her sister’s ex-husband.
“I had to go through certain things in my life to be able to embody it”, launched the actress in Los Angeles during a press screening of “Respect”. “At least that’s how I feel now,” she says.
She had not yet suffered these losses when she met Aretha Franklin, her idol, to discuss the film project about fifteen years ago.
It took eight years before the singer – who had also considered other candidates including Halle Berry – called Hudson to tell him that she had landed the role.
“Playing the queen of soul, you just can’t get used to it. I’m still digesting it,” says Hudson.
The choice of the 39-year-old artist seems to have hit the mark, with some already predicting her rewards for her remarkable performance even if the film itself did not win over critics.
Unlike most musical biopics, Jennifer Hudson sang and recorded live on set, performing hits as famous as “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, “( You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman “and of course” Respect “.
The artist even learned to play the piano for this role, which saw her go through 83 outfit changes and eleven different wigs, including Aretha’s famous sauerkraut.
– “Transcribe your pain” –
The film traces twenty years of the singer’s life, from her childhood to her first nine albums, none of which were really successful.
Franklin had been let go by her record company, Columbia Records, before finally finding her gospel-infused vocal signature thanks to sessions in a small recording studio lost in the depths of Alabama, during which she went to tap into his troubled past.
“I think it was his ability to transcribe his pain for millions of listeners” that made his legend, analyzes the screenwriter of the film, Tracey Scott Wilson. “She managed to capture her inner pain and perform all kinds of songs about her, uplifting songs, sexy-romantic songs. She always knew how to live her life through her music,” she told AFP at the premiere in Los Angeles.
“Respect” also dwells on Aretha Franklin’s activism and her involvement in the black American civil rights movement. His father was an influential pastor (played in the film by Forest Whitaker) who counted Martin Luther King among his friends.
Franklin sang often at demonstrations and so did Martin Luther King’s funeral in 1968.
“Being in her situation at a time like this, being a black woman and as close as she was to Dr. King; and then having to be there to cheer everyone up … just imagine the pain. that she must have felt in such a moment, “said Hudson.
“Too often people forget that their idols and legends are human beings too,” she says.