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Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin.

Singing in church prepared Jennifer Hudson to play Aretha Franklin

Jennifer Hudson says her own connection to Gospel music helped her fill the role of Aretha Franklin in the upcoming biopic RESPECT.

Hudson may not have taken on the “Queen of Soul” if it were not for the iconic singer hand-picking her to play the part before Franklin’s 2018 death.

More than just their voices connect the two singers. Faith in God and love for the church and gospel music in undeniable.

“I wanted to make it as true to what she’d lived. The music is done live, like she did in her life, to make it that much more authentic,” Hudson told Movieguide. “And then with the church scenes, you can’t really script that or recreate it, it has to be what it is for it to translate honestly; which for me, anytime I’m singing in a church it is, but the challenge was channeling it through being Aretha. At least the film version of that, you know, me versus Jennifer singing ‘Amazing Grace’ in church.”

Hudson and co-star Marlon Wayans, who played Aretha’s boyfriend Ted White, recently discussed the challenges and joys of bringing the music icon’s life to the big-screen.

Hudson revealed that, like the real-life Franklin, her life had its challenges in the form of alcohol and an abusive relationship. However, Hudson said the heavy and emotional scenes of pain confirmed that she could play the part.

“It was in that moment for me where it really clicked, what Miss Franklin saw in me to say, ‘Jennifer,’” Hudson said. “I remember after shooting that scene Audra McDonald’s saying, ‘This is a very heavy life to tell.’ And I was like, drained in the moment, and then I was like, wow, Aretha must of saw this much in me to know that I will be able to tell her story from such a deep place in that moment. I don’t think that I would have been able to do it without my own triumphs and life experiences.”

Along with her personal life experiences, Hudson also dedicated herself to learning how to do justice to Franklin’s life on stage and off. Wayans, who plays Franklin’s abusive love interest in the movie, noted that playing the villain was a new experience.

“It’s funny, I never envisioned myself playing the bad guy. It’s weird for me, because I’m always used to playing the good guy, the happy guy, the guy that puts a smile on the face,” Wayans stated. “But it was fun to explore the bad guy and find the little pieces of humanity even in the monsters.

Aretha Franklin in her early years. Photo: Atlantic Records.

“The goal was to make them fall in love with Ted and Aretha, and for the audience to feel what a woman feels like when she has to leave a man she loves because he’s abusive,” Wayans continued. “Part of you goes, Ted was a damaged person. His intentions were good, but he was his own obstacle and his jealousy, his insecurity led them to a dark place, which means he was probably a hurt little boy. Because damaged people damage people, hurt people hurt people.”

He added: “Part of you felt sorry for him. It’s funny, because, the compassion, our humanity as people, as bad as he can be, we look at the reasons why people do things. A lot of times people are like, ‘why don’t you just leave that dude?’ There’s no empathy in that because you don’t understand, she’s invested in his pains, she’s invested in his damage. She’s trying to heal him the same way. He’s trying to heal her. They’re trying to rescue each other. But he just was in his own way.”

Wayans also noted the incredible experience it was to see Hudson tackle a legendary role.

“I thought she did a great job. I was watching a legend play a legend. Every day she sang Aretha Franklin’s songs live sometimes, 10 takes and it got better every take. And it wasn’t just the singing but she did a masterful job at but, you know, just then embodying Aretha,” Wayans said.