We've seen Nelson Mandela's life and legacy portrayed on screen numerous times, but what about Winnie Mandela, the woman behind the fight for South African equality?
Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson portrays the influential and controversial anti-apartheid figure in "Winnie Mandela," the first movie to tell her story. The film charts Winnie's relationship with her former husband Nelson, played by Terrence Howard, her 18 month solitary confinement imprisonment, and her criminal convictions.
While "Winnie" first premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2011, it is finally being released on September 8. Hudson spoke with Moviefone about the challenges of the role, the controversy surrounding the film, and why Winnie's story is an important one to be told.
Moviefone: There have been several films made about Nelson Mandela's life, but none that solely focused on Winnie. What drew you to the script and why do you think this story needed to be told?
I said the same thing, that everything's put out about Nelson Mandela and his contribution to the world, but there's never anything about Winnie. When I was offered the role and I read the script I was like, "Wait a minute, how'd we never know this, why have we never heard of this, why am I just hearing this, now?" I had no idea. You just think of course Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie. But she had a story, she had a struggle and a contribution to the world and our history. Why hasn't this been told? And that's what drew me to it.
What did you base your performance off of?
Whatever footage and information that was out there about Winnie and in Africa and Nelson. That's what I drew from.
The prison scenes looked so emotionally and mentally draining. What was it like to film that?
Wow, yes. They were very much that. In some of the solitary confinement scenes I requested that they be filmed back to back to back so that I could feel anywhere near [what] she did, though obviously there's no comparison. Just to be as overwhelmed as I could get so it would be that much more real to me, to get a sense of anything, an increment of what she felt. I remember being in those moments thinking, "Oh my god, this is someone's life, someone actually really went through this. Not fiction, this is real."
What would you say was the most challenging part of the film for you?
Definitely that, the solitary confinement. And just the whole arc, playing Winnie from 19 to 70 years old. And to fill her shoes. She's a huge figure in Africa and in the beginning I was thinking, "Oh my god wow," to see what she means to Africa. I was like Woah, if I want to do this I have to put in 100 percent. I even considered maybe I should walk away, but I was like Jennifer you gotta be all of it or nothing. I have too much respect for this woman to halfway do it.
The first speech you give and the one you give following Winnie's imprisonment are strikingly different and show how much prison changed Winnie. How did you go about this drastic transition with the character?
You know, going through the journey of Winnie's character. She experienced a lot and experience can change you. When she experienced what she experienced and went through what she went through, it can change a person.
What was it like working with Terrence Howard?
Terrence is an amazing actor and I'm a huge fan of his. I got to sit back and learn from him and work with him at the same time.
In a CNN interview in 2011 Winnie Madikizela-Mandela commented that she was upset for not being consulted with for the film. Was there any particular reason for this?
If it was I didn't know any of that, that wouldn't be my department. I wouldn't know what to tell you about that.
What are your thoughts on Madikizela-Mandela's comments regarding the film as disrespectful?
I don't see how it could be disrespectful. All I can do is do my job.
The other Nelson Mandela film with Idris Elba and Naomie Harris comes out later this year. Do you think this will pose much competition for "Winnie"?
Well "Winnie" is about Winnie Mandela and ["Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"] is about Nelson Mandela. As long as their story is being told more and more people will see both of them, or one or the other, it doesn't matter. Because for me it's about getting the story out there. That's the reason why I did it.
"Winnie Mandela" opens September 8.
EARLIER: 'Winnie Mandela' Exclusive Preview: Jennifer Hudson Asserts Her Rights (VIDEO)