How do you find a performer worthy of portraying the legendary Aretha Franklin on screen? Well, you let Aretha Franklin herself pick – and for upcoming biopic Respect, she chose the immensely talented Jennifer Hudson after seeing her lauded performance in Broadway’s The Colour Purple musical. The life story of the iconic soul singer – who passed away in August 2018 – is at the heart of Liesl Tommy’s film, tracing Franklin through the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s. It’s a time period that spans the civil rights movement, her ascent to musical stardom, and the domestic abuse and depression she endured along the way.

Respect – exclusive

For Hudson, playing Aretha came down to one central feeling. “It was about her presence,” she tells Empire in the new issue, on sale Thursday 5 August. “It was about how royal, how regal, how dominating of a presence she had. Being around Aretha Franklin is not easy!” And with the hardships Franklin faces through the years, it was a role that took Hudson to some very personal places, tapping into real, painful emotions. “The things that she went through… the loss of her mother at a young age… and the triumphs,” she says. “But whatever I do, I’m in it. It has to resonate. Everything comes from a real place. Those are real emotions. Those are real tears.”

Empire – September 2021 cover

Read Empire’s full Jennifer Hudson interview – talking her experiences with Aretha Franklin, her work on Respect, and her roles in Dreamgirls, Chi-Raq and Cats – in the Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings issue, on sale Thursday 5 August. Respect comes to UK cinemas on 10 September.

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