Aretha Franklin had already given Jennifer Hudson the stamp of approval to play her in a biopic before she passed away of pancreatic cancer in 2018.
Now that movie, Respect, is hitting theaters this summer.
“Jennifer knew Aretha and sang with her, so Aretha chose Jennifer to play her,” the film’s writer, Tracy Scott Wilson, says in a featurette on the making of the movie, which you can watch above.
“Aretha identified in her, this is who I want, this is who would be able to deliver what it is that I deliver,” added the film’s music producer Jason Michael Webb.
Hudson is, you’ll not be surprised to learn, a great admirer of Franklin’s.
“We know her as this legend, but there’s a story to everyone. Her life had so much depth to it and it came through the music,” Hudson says in the video.
Out in theaters on Aug. 13, Respect follows Franklin’s career from the time she was a child singing in the church choir to her rise to superstardom.
“The thing that kept coming to me was the idea of a woman who has the greatest voice in the world but still doesn’t know what her voice is,” says director Liesl Tommy.
One of two projects coming out this year about the legendary soul singer, Respect has the support of the Franklin family behind it. The other, Nat Geo’s Genius: Aretha, was not so lucky. The four-part series has been mired by criticisms from Franklin’s family, who told Rolling Stone that the producers refused to consult with them. (NatGeo maintains that the production’s intention has always been to respect Franklin’s legacy).
Franklin’s cousin and former backup singer Brenda Franklin-Corbett couldn’t be happier to see Hudson playing Franklin.
“There was a camaraderie between her and Jennifer,” Franklin-Corbett says. “I think Aretha would be very proud of Jennifer.”
Tommy says Hudson fits all the requirements to play the legendary music icon.
“She was able to musicalize her lived experience, and there’s a handful of people on planet earth that were given the gift of that sound,” says Liesl. “So we were thinking about who’s gonna play her — it better be another person who has one of the great voices of all time.”
Hudson rose to fame in 2004 as a finalist on Season 3 of American Idol. She went on to star in Dreamgirls as Effie White, earning her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007. Following that, her debut studio album, Jennifer Hudson, won the Grammy for Best R&B Album in 2009.
“When I look back at my career, Aretha was like the blueprint of it all. It’s like it was destiny in a way,” Hudson says in the video. “Music was Aretha’s comfort zone, her expression, and I feel like that’s why her and I relate.”
Mary J. Blige, who plays Dinah Washington in Respect, says she notices the similarities between the two singers as well.
“She has that thing in her voice like Aretha has in her voice, that anointing. She can sing anything,” Blige says in the video.
You can watch the video of the full featurette above.