Jennifer Hudson Recalls Her Final Conversation with Aretha Franklin: 'She Sang to Me on That Call'
Hudson, 39, who plays the "Natural Woman" singer in the new biopic Respect, stopped by The Late Show With Stephen Colbert Thursday, where she opened up about her relationship with Franklin and how she prepared to play the music icon in the movie.
Host Stephen Colbert pointed out that Hudson and Franklin "spoke a lot in the last 10 years of [Franklin's] life," and asked Hudson, "what was the last thing y'all talked about?"
"She told me what she had eaten," Hudson said as the Late Show audience laughed. "I don't remember what that meal was, and then she sang to me on that call. I can't remember the song. It was by the Isley Brothers and she said, 'Jennifer, now that's the Isley Brothers,' and I said, 'Yes, ma'am, I know.' "
She continued, "And then, my son is a cook, too, so I ended up telling her about him cooking and sending her a video. Because she was so present. She always knew what was going on, even in my life."
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Hudson went on to share that she "was one of the last people to hear from her," before Franklin died of pancreatic cancer in 2018, when she was 76 years old.
Colbert, 57, suggested that Hudson could have also been "one of the last people to hear her sing," and Hudson agreed.
Hudson, who was handpicked by Franklin to play herself onscreen in Respect, told Variety in June that Franklin's presence is "still with me, almost every day in some way."
"Sometimes, while taking pictures with someone, I'm like, 'Oh wow, I'm smiling like Aretha,' " Hudson said. "Or, 'That response was more Aretha-like. You identify little things like that in yourself that are still there."
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In a previous interview with Good Morning America, Hudson revealed that she and Franklin had their very first conversation in 2006, and "spoke weekly" in the years following.
"So you can only imagine how I feel now, like, 'Whoa, it's here? It's done?' " she said. "To see it actually manifest and for her to choose me is … I can't even begin to put it into words. I do not take it lightly. It's a dream come true. I don't want to sound cheesy, but it is."
Respect director Liesl Tommy told PEOPLE earlier this month that Hudson brought the film crew to tears with her portrayal of Franklin.
"There were grown, hardened grips crying," Tommy said. "I think that's part of why people worked so hard [on the film]. They understood how much she was giving, how hard Jennifer was working. She would sing and sing and sing and sing on those days. It was astounding."
Respect premieres in theaters Aug. 13.