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Exclusive: Jennifer Hudson talks ‘Winnie Mandela’

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Exclusive: Jennifer Hudson talks ‘Winnie Mandela
By Wilson Morales

September 3, 2013

Finally opening in theaters after premiering at Toronto Film Festival back in 2011 is the long awaited film ‘Winnie Mandela,’ starring Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson (‘Dreamgirls’) in the title role.

Directed by Darrell James Roodt,“Winnie Mandela” explores the personal and political life of the wife of renowned activist and revered former South African President, Nelson Mandela (played by Terrence Howard). The film tells the compelling story of one woman’s journey as she fights for the freedom of the man she loves and for the freedom of her people during the Apartheid era.

It’s no secret that the still-living Winnie Mandela had voiced her opinion on the making of this film, especially since she wasn’t consulted on. For Hudson, in playing the the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, the role required her not lose some weight as she states but to learn the language and live in South Africa for some time to help with her research.

While promoting the film at its American debut at the MegaFest International Faith and Film Festival in Dallas, Hudson spoke to Blackfilm.com about her attraction to the role and doing as much as she could to tell Winnie’s story.

What was the attraction to the role?

Jennifer Hudson: Knowing that I didn’t know her story. How is it that I’m 30 years old and didn’t know this part of my history? It made me want to tell her story.

How much research did you do for the film?

JH: There wasn’t a lot to draw from. I used the little bit of resources I had, from interviews I had seen and photos. The photos were amazing. I also spent four months in Africa.

Was there anything in the book that was different from the script?

JH: It’s pretty much true to her story. She’s a warrior in some people’s eyes and to others, she’s the opposite. The book is out there for people to get their own opinion.

Winnie goes through a lot of ordeal in her life. What was the toughest scene to shoot?

JH: For the most part, everything was tough, but one of them was the scene at the school where the children were massacred. That was a difficult. Also, the solitary confinement scene was insane. I remember thinking in the middle of shooting the scene that, “Wow! This is someone’s life. Someone really lived this.”

In that confinement scene, we see that you, as Winnie, have to stand barefoot on a brick throughout the interrogation. Did you have to practice how long you could do it?

JH: After take after take, it feels real to you. I really didn’t have time to prepare for that.

How was working with the director Darrell Roodt? What did you pick up from him that you hadn’t learned from other directors?

JH: I don’t really know that answer. He was hands on but at the same time, he gave me space to be unique and creative as an actor. One day he told me to “trust your instinct and never second guess it.” He’s a great director.

How was working with Terrence?

JH: Terrence is such an interesting individual. I’m a fan of his and I think he’s a great actor. I remember he would come in my trailer so that we could build our chemistry as Winnie and Nelson. He would also play the guitar. He knows how to push the envelope.

Did you have a dialect coach to work with the language?

JH: I did. I had to do two major things before I started this project and one was to lose weight for the role, which is what I did; and two, get the accent. I wasn’t worried about losing the weight but was more concerned about the getting accent down. I made sure I started a month ahead of time before I went over to Africa. Once I got there, it helped even more by being in the environment. I also had a dialogue coach and her name was Fiona Ramsey along with a young African girl and they helped me every day with the language, mannerisms, and body language.

Winnie is also seen with colorful outfits….

JH: Yes, Winnie was into fashion from the get, but a lot of her clothes were traditional and each piece had a meaning to them. That’s one of the things I love about Africa.

Since the film was shot, have you a chance to meet Winnie or Nelson?

JH: I have not actually.

Can you talk about the song ‘Bleed for Love,’ written by Diane Warren?

JH: I have to give all the credit to Diane. She’s an amazing songwriter. She watched the trailer and wrote the song from there, and it just parallels to the film so well. I couldn’t imagine a better song. I love the music and to put it with the Soweto Gospel Choir in the background make the song so powerful.

You also have two other films opening up this year with ‘The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete’ and ‘Black Nativity.’ How special is that for you?

JH: It’s crazy. It took a couple of years for ‘Winnie’ and it’s ironic that it comes out now with the other films right behind it. I’ve been working really hard so I’m happy that these films will be seen.

Winnie Mandela hits theaters on Sept. 6


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