Most everyone has heard of former South African president Nelson Mandela and his heroic fight to end apartheid in the country. But the woman in the struggle, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his wife of nearly forty years, has a story all her own.
On Friday, September 6, the story of the controversial politician and activist will be told for the first time on the silver screen in Winnie Mandela. Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson shines in the title role of a lifetime, starring alongside Academy Award-nominee Terrance Howard as Nelson Mandela. EBONY.com caught up with the multi-hypehenate to discuss her transformation into a historic figure, how she balances work and mommyhood and whether wedding bells with fiancé, wrestler David Otunga, are in her near future.
EBONY: You're playing a big role, the title role, in your latest film, Winnie Mandela hitting theaters very soon. How are you feeling?
JENNIFER HUDSON: I'm feeling all right. I try not to think about it too much because then you get nervous.
EBONY: What kind of things did you do to get into the head-space of Winnie Mandela?
JH: Well. I did as much research as I could. What I had, I used. I got to hear stories of her so I used all of those things. I tried to use the resources that I had to find out who she really is and what makes her tick.
EBONY: What's that like for you as an actor, playing a real-life person as opposed to a character?
JH: I find it intimidating. But it also kind of helped me a little bit more because you have a real source to connect to. Me, I like things with substance and with a figure like [Winnie], to be able to tell her story, that's powerful. It gets you thinking, "Hey, how come we don't know this part of our history?" No one knows Winnie Mandela's history, so to tell that story, to be able to really show what she did, that's special.
EBONY: She had voiced complaints about the movie awhile back because she was not consulted for it. Were you able to speak with her at all during your research or was that outside of your control?
JH: It was definitely outside of my control. I would've loved to meet her but I'm still there to portray a role. I would be honored to meet her one day.
EBONY: What was it like for you to work with Terrance Howard?
JH: Terrance is an amazing actor. He's an interesting person, but he's a very exciting actor. He gives his all and when I'm in a scene with him, he just raises the bar and then I want to raise the bar and go that much further because of him, so, he's great.
EBONY: What do you hope audiences will leave the theater knowing about Winnie Mandela?
JH: Just her contribution to the world, the struggle that she went through and the battles she fought. She did the very best she could and we all should know that.
EBONY: It sounds like this was a very enlightening experience for you, too. Do you think it has impacted what you want to teach your son and what you hope he'll learn?
JH: Yes. He wasn't able to go to Africa with me, but he's seen the film already and says, "Mommy, I want to see that movie again." That's been instilled in him already. He remembers things and songs from the movie and I'm like, "Wow. You remember that?" It's fascinating to see. [The story's been] embedded in him now.
EBONY: With all that you've got going on, how are you balancing motherhood and work? Do you feel, after four years, you've finally got a good rhythm?
JH: My son is getting ready to start school now, actually, and because I want to be home and be mommy and be there to take him to school and pick him up, I'm looking for a new balance. At first he could travel with mommy so it was easier for me, but now he can't so much, so, I'm looking for that new balance and it's just about trying different things and seeing what works.
EBONY: Do you have any celebrity or working moms whose example you'd like to emulate?
JH: I look at Halle Berry and I see how much of a mom she is and I love that. I look at my mom and my son's grandmother, too, so there are several ones. And I look at mommies on the street who get to be out playing with their kids and I think, "Wow! That's beautiful." And I'm learning from all of it. We'll see how it goes.
EBONY: Winnie Mandela is out September 6. What other things can we look forward to from you this year?
JH: I have two more films coming out this year. [The Inevitable Defeat of] Mister and Pete. I'll be playing a heroin addict in that, and Black Nativity is coming out in November. I also have music singles dropping in the next two months for my album, so there's a lot to look forward to.
EBONY: Well, we're such great admirers of you and your work and we're definitely looking forward to all that you have coming. Is there anything else–like wedding bells–we might hear about in the near future?
JH: [Laugh] I like how you threw that in there at the end! When I do, you'll be the first to know.
Brooke Obie is a contributing editor and writes the EBONY.com column, "The Spiritual Life." Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.