Interview with… Jennifer Hudson

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We caught up with Jennifer Hudson, star of Black Nativity, the uplifting new musical a wayward teen struggling to reunite his family for the holidays. Read on to see what our favourite dream girl had to say about her specially written role and what she loves about the festive season…

First of all you look beautiful, what inspired the new short haircut?

I wanted a change –something different. It’s all about timing. I had shorter hair for a film and I loved it. So I said, “Okay, I want to go all the way! It’s much easier, I love it.”

What was the appeal of Black Nativity?

I  loved the themes of spirituality, faith, family, and holidays. I feel as though we’re missing those things today. I’m a holiday and family fanatic, and I grew up in a church, so there were times when we were filming that I would forget I was on the set, because I really felt that I was back home at church. The film won me over because it has so many beautiful elements to it. It is music based, and music is my biggest passion.

You grew up singing in church I know, are you still a spiritual person?

Oh goodness, religion has been my life. That’s my base. I come from a spiritual upbringing and was, as we call it, born into the church—a lap baby, sitting on my mama’s lap in the choir stand. It’s a HUGE part of my roots.

Though the film is a musical, it tells a realistic story about a family that’s been torn apart. You think audiences will relate?

Yes, because the underlying theme is so real. There’s nothing that’s fictional about it. Each character has his or her own challenging situation, like Naima, my character, who has her struggles as a single parent. I would say that the biggest word I could use to describe my character is stubborn. Though she comes from a fortunate, well off background and family base, she has run into some issues with her parents. Any single parent can relate to those struggles.

As a mother the theme must strike a strong chord?

The purpose of doing this film is so that my son can have something to sit and watch with his family. I have often wondered: ‘where are those family films that you can sit on the couch and watch at home together?’ The film is so powerful.

What was it like having this character written specifically for you?

It’s an honour. But at the same time, it adds pressure. You really want to make sure you deliver, if someone went out her way to prepare a role for you. Though it can be kind of intimidating. I tried to do what was asked of me.

How much of a shift has there been in Hollywood in relation to black actors recently? There’ve been some strong films this year such as The Butler and 12 Years A Slave?

There are still more doors to be open, but we always have to start somewhere. I don’t know if we’ve grown in terms of opening up the eyes of studio heads, it seems to come in seasons. That’s why I like having diversity in my roles, in order to be able to put more and more material out there so that people are able to see you in different ways.

What are your family’s Christmas traditions? 

We like to get started the day after Halloween! We shop for our gifts and we light the tree. We’re still stuck about whether to buy a real tree or a fake one. I grew up with a fake Christmas tree, but Big Dave [her husband] grew up with a real Christmas tree. This past year, we decided to get a real tree from the forest, but it didn’t do so well, so now I wonder what it’s going to be this year!

What’s the best Christmas present you ever received?

Susie Scribbles, a little doll that I had a long time ago and loved. She sat at a desk, and she would scribble. She wasn’t writing much, but the fact that this doll had a desk, and could scribble on the paper was amazing to me.

How will you be celebrating Christmas this year?

My new tradition is all about sharing and giving back. My sister and I have our foundation, The Julian D. King Gift Foundation, in honour of my late nephew. We give back to unfortunate kids for the holidays, because we want to make sure that no kid is ever without. So, it’s a three-day experience. We have a dinner for children that we nominate. They have to do well in school, and we grant them whatever their Christmas wish is; it’s their moment.

Do you cook?

I’m not big on cooking. I do pay for the food, though! I’m not big on macaroni cheese but we have collard greens, turkey and sweet potatoes. I love turkey wings. That’s my thing. Everyone knows Jennifer gets the wings off the turkey.

You are so accomplished. Do you feel more relaxed in your career having an Oscar on the mantelpiece?

No I still have to stay on my toes. When I did Dreamgirls, I had nothing to prove. Now, I’m the ‘Academy Award Winner Jennifer Hudson’, so there’s a lot expected of me now. It definitely raises the bar and it adds pressure.

Black Nativity starring Jennifer Hudson is out in UK cinemas on December 6th

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