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Jennifer Hudson talks playing Winnie Mandela in biopic

Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard in

Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard in "Winnie Mandela" Credit: Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard in "Winnie Mandela"

Jennifer Hudson has achieved so much over the course of her relatively short time in the entertainment business — an Oscar win, gold-selling albums — that it’s hard to believe she could be intimidated by something as seemingly trivial as a movie role.

But the 31-year-old superstar insists she was just that when it came to playing the lead role in “Winnie Mandela,” a biopic about Nelson Mandela’s famous ex-wife.

amNewYork spoke with Hudson about the film, which opens Friday.

How nervous were you for this role?
I was extremely nervous and very intimidated, because she’s an iconic figure and she’s still very present. And that’s intimidating. But at the same time, I really wanted to help tell her story.

She’s an important figure to a lot of people.
When I got to South Africa and I heard the people speak of her and got to learn just how much she meant to them, it intimidated me and I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” And I really considered, for a split-second, I was like, “Oh, maybe I should go home.” But then I’m like, “If I’m going to do this, I have to be in it 100%. This is nothing to be taken lightly.”

What does telling Winnie’s story add to our perception of Nelson?
It was always known — the Nelson Mandela story — but Winnie was a huge part of that story that was not talked about, or told, or even known about. It was like, “How can that be the case?” I sit and think about it still to this day: She could have literally walked away. “He went to prison, all right, I’m going on with my life.” But she said, “No, I married the struggle.”

You won an Oscar for “Dreamgirls,” your first film. Do you feel like your acting skills have grown?
I always look at it like, “OK, guys, just because I won an Oscar the first film doesn’t mean I know anything, because I don’t.” And I’m the first one to say it. I look at everything as a lesson and I try to learn from it and take from it. Obviously, you second-guess yourself. All types of emotions and all of those things. But I try to look at everything as a learning experience.


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