'You don't mess with classics like that'

Interview with Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer Hudson rose to fame in 2004 as a finalist on the third season of American Idol. She made her film debut as Effie White in Dreamgirls (2006), for which she received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a BAFTA. In the Cats movie she stars as Grizabella, performing the most notable song from the original Broadway production, ‘Memory’.

She is 38 years old.


She won the Oscar for 'Dreamgirls'.


She has 3 Grammy Awards.

You had to sing ‘Memory’ around 35 times when shooting that scene in the movie. Was it very draining?
Yes, emotionally. They kept saying, ‘Save your voice! Save your voice!’ But I was fine vocally. It was the emotional side of it that was draining. I fell asleep on set at one point. I guess I was taking a catnap! I woke up and Tom Hooper was standing over me going, ‘Memory!’ (sings)

Were you very familiar with that song anyway?
Yeah. I think it’s a song that everyone knows. When Tom came to see me about the role, I knew the famous musical but I didn’t know the storyline. He said, ‘You know the song Memory,’ and I was like, ‘I don't know.’ And then he played it and of course I knew it. I had always loved that song. That’s my connection to everything. It is always through music. I told Tom not to worry because even when I was approached about Dreamgirls I did not know who Effie was but I knew the music. So it is always the music for me.

When you first spoke to Tom Hooper what did he say he wanted from you?
I think it was an honest performance in the narrative of Grizabella’s story — because if you think about it she is there just briefly. So a lot of it is about her presence. When you see her, you need to wonder who she is. She is mysterious and she is heavy in that she carries a lot of emotional weight. He was very particular about the scar on the top of her eye and how she would walk and where did that lip come from and why is she so emotional. All that needs to be put in a few beats of a song. The audience has to learn about her in such a small amount of time.

Did you look at a backstory for her, to see why she is like she is?
There were many versions. We would sit down at a roundtable and each of us would talk about our characters to figure out the backstory. We looked at her life before and at one time we came up with the idea that Macavity and Grizabella we were once together and that’s why the other cats rejected her. She was the glamorous cat and she had traded sides. There were many versions that we came up with.

Was it hard to get into the flow of the song when it’s being filmed because you might constantly be interrupted?
For the most part, I was singing it all the way through, which is the beauty of my part. The thing I love the most is being able to sing it live. I’m responding in the moment. And it was helpful to see the other cats around me and to see them affected. There was a give and take like that. No matter how many times I did it, I always made sure that there was something in there that could be used every time. I tried to do something different every time.

How long did it take you to feel comfortable with the green-screen suit and pretending to be a cat?
I felt sillier crawling on the floor at cat school. That was weird! But actually being on set in the tracksuits, I think we’d forget we were wearing them. That didn’t feel sostrange. It felt stranger being in cat school.

When so many great singers have sung a song like this, how do you find your version?
That was my biggest question. ‘What can I do with this?’ I have to let it make me feel whatever I feel and that then is my version of it. I don’t try and do a certain thing. You can’t take it out of context, or add a riff here or extend a beat there. You don't mess with classics like that. You have to keep it the same and also make it different, if that makes sense? I have to tell the story and let it be honest to me and then it becomes my way.

Are you a cat person yourself?
I am. I grew up having cats. And then after I got Cats I told Tom Hooper that I was going to get two cats and call them Macavity and Grizabella. And I do. I also have three dogs, two of which are called Oscar and Grammy! (laughs) On my Instagram I made them take a holiday photo and Macavity walked by in the picture. My dogs are really old and the cats are still kittens. Macavity beats up Oscar but really quickly; he doesn’t even notice. They get along now. It is adorable.
UIP-Duna Film
(11 pictures)

Film premieres

Wreck-It Ralph

American, animation, 92 min., 2012
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