The film, very slickly directed with a real visual flair by Liesl Tommy, a stage and TV director making her feature film debut, moves swiftly through its two-and-half-hour run-time and is anchored by a fantastic performance by Hudson, the best so far in her career. And, since last week, there has been strong buzz that Hudson is a shoo-in for a Best Actress Academy Award Nomination for her performance.
For Hudson, the film is validation of her life so far and the connections she feels to Franklin’s life. Born on the South Side of Chicago in the notorious Englewood neighborhood, Hudson became an overnight sensation when she became a finalist in 2004 during the third season of “American Idol.” Just two years later, she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Effie White in “Dreamgirls.” Personal triumphs in music, film, TV, and Broadway followed, as well as personal tragedies, but “Respect” represents a new level of achievement for Hudson. She recently talked to RogerEbert.com about the connections she had with Franklin, the importance of the film to her, and its challenges.
Was there any sense of pressure while making “Respect”? After all this isn’t some regular biopic, but a film about a legend and a genuine musical icon. You know there are going to be a lot of people judging you if you got it right, or giving you the “side eye” playing the Queen of Soul.[laughs] There’s a bit of that. It’s the most exciting thing and the scariest thing at the same time. But, while filming, everyone was telling me “You seem so calm.” I couldn’t think of that during the middle of filming. But now? It’s hitting me now, It’s all of those things.
It’s no secret that Aretha Franklin has a very dramatic troubled life and in the film you have quite a number of intensely dramatic, emotional scenes. How do you prepare for doing a scene like that? You have to get into a mindset.
Yes! Those were, of course, the hardest scenes to do. They were the most emotional and most draining, and it takes the most out of you. So it was for those reasons that most nights before I may have slept a little longer. [laughs] But it’s worth it. And, for me, that is the part of the connection of the things she saw and experienced. At first, people thought “Oh, Jennifer sings and acts,” but it wasn’t until I was in the middle of those scenes I was like “Dang! That was like my own life!” I had triumphed. I don’t think I would have been able to tell it that much in depth and from a vulnerable place. So those are the things that I would say helped me and that I could draw from.