Yet her latest film, Winnie Mandela, finds the star assuming the lead role as the iconic and controversial wife of world-renown political and civil rights leader, Nelson Mandela. The biopic details the life of the lesser-known Mandela, including details from her childhood, her marriage, her incarceration and ultimately, her own political career.
Marie Claire: Winnie Mandela – aka Mother of the Nation, Mandela's Wife or Mama Mandela – has an extraordinary role in history. What was it like playing such an iconic woman?
Jennifer Hudson: There were moments that stopped me in my tracks. When I'd come out of it and be like, "Wow, this was really someone's life. I'm not telling a fairytale, this is not fiction. This is real."
MC: And actually filming in South Africa, where Winnie's story transpired, must have been overwhelming?
JH: I actually went to Robbin Island and stood in Nelson Mandela's actual cell—where he spent 27 years in prison.
MC: Unbelievable. And Nelson is played by the wonderful Terrence Howard. What was it like working with him?
JH: He is amazing. It's really cool working with Terrence. He's always in character. He is constantly, constantly raising the bar. Keeps you on your toes.
MC: Awesome! So you two were filming internationally for four months, with long hours, late nights on set, etc. That must have put your famously successful diet to quite the test. How did you manage it, what's your secret?
JH: Being out of the country makes it the most challenging thing ever! Going to South Africa, their nutritional system is completely different from ours. You've got to re-track your whole system and learn your [new] system. And the time difference—that's the ultimate challenge. But it's all about trusting the plan, sticking to what you know and not shying away from it. And that's what I tried to do even though it was extremely, extremely difficult—at times, like, "Wow, this is hard." But again, I'm like, "Jennifer just trust the plan, trust the plan, trust the plan."
MC: When you do want that something sweet though, what's your go-to?
JH: Chocolate chip cookies! I am a chocolate chip cookie fanatic. But as long as I'm tracking it, it can't hurt. If you know what you're putting in your body, it can't hurt you because you know how to balance it out. And that's what I try to do.
MC: Well it must be fun to celebrate the slimming result and go shopping?
JH: I am a shopaholic. Oh my goodness. What am I into? I'm not really a gym shoe girl but Alicia Keys—she got me back into gym shoes with her shoe line, the Reeboks. Those shoes are everything. They give you a little bit of height so you give the illusion you're in a flat but you still got a little height with it.
MC: Any favorite shoe designers?
JH: I just got these new Guiseppes. I have these fierce boots from Chanel. I have my checkered Givenchy shoes. And BCBG. They got these studs on them. I'm a stud fanatic too. My iPad case is studded, my phone case is studded.
MC: Talk about chic and fierce style!
JH: I love some fashion. It's my favorite thing. Anytime you can't find me, I'm in my closet.
Winnie Mandela,which hits theaters this Friday, September 6th, also features Hudson's new single, "Bleed from Love," written by Diane Warren. Check it out!