• Image about Jennifer Hudson
Clockwise from Left: Hudson with Beyoncé Knowles and Anika Noni Rose in Dreamgirls; reaching a high note in her role as Effie White in Dreamgirls; with Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys in The Secret Life of Bees
Everett Collection
“When I was doing the research on Florence Ballard [one of the original Supremes and the inspiration for Effie’s character], it pissed me off what she went through. So playing Effie was a way for me to give her justice and tell her story,” Hudson says. “The same passion I had for that, I have for this.”

Winnie Mandela, the ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, saw her contributions to end apartheid eclipsed by controversy, when allegations by her bodyguard that she had ordered kidnappings and murders began to proliferate, shaking the country. She continued to be beloved by her supporters but was reviled by those who lost faith in her.

“It’s definitely my biggest role yet, and it’s serious,” Hudson says. “People know Winnie, but a lot of people don’t know her struggle. You know what Nelson Mandela went through and what he’s done, but when you see Winnie’s story, it’s very powerful.”

“There’s no one like that nowadays who can appeal to so many different people. She’s one of a kind.”

It’s quite a message to carry to the big screen, but Hudson’s up for the challenge; there isn’t much she hasn’t been able to do in her still-young career. But rather than let her skyrocketing success go to her head, she counts herself lucky and remains thankful, in spite of — and perhaps in part because of — the setbacks and heartbreak she’s endured.

“This is what she loves doing,” Smith says. “She’s blessed, and she knows she’s blessed to be doing her craft.”

Near the end of our chat, Jennifer’s ears perk up as she hears little David hollering from the other room, where he’s being watched by one of her reps. “I’m enjoying it,” she says, smiling. “All of it.”