Jennifer Hudson is one of the brightest stars in Hollywood and living proof that you can do anything you set your mind to. Last year, Hudson was back in front of the camera with a trio of challenging roles: Winnie Mandela in the eponymous biopic of the South African leader, a single mother in Black Nativity and a drug-addicted absentee mom in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, which is on DVD today. Here, we chatted with Hudson about movies, weight haters and fulfilling Whitney Houston's legacy.
You were in some really powerful films last year, from Winnie Mandela, Black Nativity and of course Mister & Pete. All of these films were made outside the studio system. Is it a conscious choice to work in independent film?
It’s all about acting. I selected films based on the roles more so than if it is attached or not attached to a studio. Independent films are more about the art. And that’s what I love about playing Winnie [Mandela] and Gloria in Mister & Pete, because they are like real characters; these are roles that I am really passionate about.
Each of these roles, especially the drug addict Gloria in Mister & Pete, are very different from your own persona. What did you relate to with that character?
That one was a challenge, that’s for sure. [Gloria] is extremely different from me in almost every way. The only thing we have in common is she is a mom with a son, that’s about it. It was terrifying, because I never had a drink in my life, never done a drug in my life. I didn’t even know there was a difference between crack and heroin. I thought a drug was a drug!
If anything, I have a shopping addiction. And that’s one of the things that I learned by going to the rehabilitation centers, preparing to play Gloria. Sitting with different addicts, I learned that everyone has an addiction to something. I have an addiction to shopping. I just always got to be buying something. Clothes, shoes, I love it. I think it's an escape, and it just comes in different forms.
You’ve been hitting a real high note with your style lately! We love the hair and that you are showing more skin in your outfits. Are you going through a transition in the way you want people to see you?
Thank you! Between the weight loss transition, then the short hair cut, the newness of it all makes you want to experiment with yourself. Before, being a plus-size girl, there was not much out there for us to choose from. Now, being on the slimmer side, it gives you room to experiment. I have a new image and new hairstyle and it’s like, "who is this girl?" I wanted to confuse you!
You often talk about how it took a while to accept that you are no longer a plus-size girl. As someone who took such a personal journey in such a public way, do you feel like you are scrutinized?
Oh yeah. People are never going to be satisfied with you either way. Skinny or heavy, someone is always going to have something to say, so it’s best to be how you want to be. People say, "Oh, you were better heavy," or "I like you better thick," and I say, it’s not about you.
People always have something to say.
Has it affected your career at all? Positively or negatively?
In every way, shape and form. Good and bad. Even though it’s just your physical appearance, to the world it’s being a whole other person. I have people in my life who are different towards me because I’m smaller. But I’m like, it’s just me, it's still Jennifer. I find myself saying that so often. I feel like it has opened the door to new characters, but there are still people who tell me, “I don’t like you 'cause you ain’t fat anymore!” So whatever!
You’ve been called upon to sing at some of the most significant events of the past several years, from the 2008 Democratic convention to Michael Jackson's memorial to the Whitney Houston tribute at the Grammys to the Super Bowl. I think many of us look at you as the definitive voice of our generation. Is that a responsibility that you welcome or shy away from?
I welcome it, I do. It’s always a dream of mine. I think it is the greatest honor. It’s not an easy place to be in, not in today’s music. I get so frustrated. I’m like, "Whitney help me! Aretha, where are you people?" But honestly, it's such a great honor.
March 6 is Jennifer Hudson Day! How are you going to commemorate it?
[Laughs] I forgot that it was on March 6! I might have to do something. You know what, we also officially have a Julian B. King Day [in honor of her nephew who was murdered] on August 14. I probably celebrate that more than Jennifer Hudson Day. But, I would say, on Jennifer Hudson Day, everyone choose yourself over everybody else. That’s what I would do.
Last time BET.com interviewed you for this film, we asked you what in your life you felt was inevitable. This time, I want to ask you about defeat. From American Idol, or any other aspect of your life, what has defeat taught you?
It has taught me that defeat cannot break you; defeat makes you stronger and…that means that you are never defeated.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is on DVD today.
(Photo: Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images)