Jennifer Hudson on 'Cats,' the Costumes and Singing the Iconic Song 'Memory'

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Illustration by Britt Spencer

"Working on this film was different than anything I had done before," says Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson about her work on the film adaptation (opening this month) of the iconic Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats.

Hudson plays Grizabella, the feline best known for the song "Memory," originally made famous by Betty Buckley in her 1983 Tony-winning Broadway performance.

"Of course it's such an iconic song, I wanted to honor the original while also bringing my own touch to it," she says. Webber—who collaborated on the film—"was very trusting and encouraged me to bring what I felt to the song."

The film, directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech and Les Misérables) and also starring Taylor Swift, Idris Elba and Judi Dench, is so highly anticipated that the trailer went viral.

It's the emotional intensity of characters like Hudson's Grizabella that is largely responsible for giving the story weight and heart. Hudson says she thought a lot about her character's "past" and how a rough life impacted her physically. "We wanted people who saw her on-screen to think, 'What happened to her?'"

How did you prepare for your role?

A huge part of her story is told through "Memory," so [its] significance was not lost on me. We spent a lot of time dissecting who Grizabella was, which helped to form her look and how she moved. I thought a lot about her past and how that would affect the heaviness in her walk or the brokenness in her facial expressions.

Your favorite song to perform?

"Memory." It's Grizabella's entire life story, and it carries so much of the heart of the movie as a whole. I got emotional every time I rehearsed it.

What were the costumes like?

The suits we wore were basically like walking green screens that the VFX team would transform into cat fur later.

How was it working with Hooper?

Amazing—to see his vision and to see how dedicated he was to creating it.

What will audiences take from Cats?

Tom created an entire world, which audiences will love. It's also a story about inclusivity and coming together, which will be really powerful and relevant for people right now.

How is the film different from the Broadway musical?

For anyone who loves the play, I think the movie will be an exciting new way to see the story come alive, and for anyone who's not familiar with it, the movie will be an amazing introduction into this world.