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Aretha Franklin Says Taylor Hackford Is Directing Biopic, They're Fine-tuning Treatment, Casting

by Courtney
October 1, 2012 9:43 PM
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On our last post on this, about a month ago, Aretha Franklin said that her long-in-development biopic was back in motion, with an approved story treatment, and an ordered script. She also stated that casting had officially begun, with Dorothy NorwoodKaren Clark and La Shun Pace (all award-winning gospel singers), set to play the Clara Ward singers in the movie (Clara Ward being the queen of gospel music, and among those that would influence Aretha's music and vocal style, as well as a longtime lover of Rev. C. L. Franklin, Aretha's father, with whom the Ward singers toured extensively).

Skip ahead to today, in an interview posted on Glamour magazine's website, which includes Q&A about the biopic, and the following new revelations.

First, when asked about the status of the movie, Aretha responds firmly:

The movie is being directed by Taylor Hackford, who produced and directed Ray and Dreamgirls.

While she's right that Hackford helmed Ray, he had nothing to do with Dreamgirls, as far as my research tells me. Bill Condon directed Dreamgirls, not Hackford.

But we won't sweat Ms Franklin for that mistake; the main point is that Taylor Hackford is attached to direct her biopic.

Secondly, with regards to where the project stands, she added:

Oh, yeah. I’m in superb hands with Taylor Hackford. We are fine-tuning the treatment now. The treatment has four acts. He has finished all four. We’re now reworking some of it where it needs work: ‘A little more drama, tell me something else, what else happened here? We need a little more of this, a little more of that.

And with regards to actors who are being considered for the project, she said:

We pretty much agree though on the actors and actresses that we like. Each name that I put out there, he likes. The names he put out there, I like. We have a happy medium there.

And one of those actors who they both like is Denzel Washington, who they apparently want to play Aretha's father in the film (a choice she's had since we first alerted you to this project 2 or 3 years ago).

He [Taylor] mentioned Denzel first, and I was thinking of Billy Dee [Williams]. That’s who I was thinking of. And he mentioned Denzel, and I said ‘Hmm...’ And when I thought about Malcolm X, and what he did with that, I said, ‘Yes! He could do it. He could handle it. If he put a little more weight on and glasses, he could handle it.’ [...] My dad, yeah. That’s the way it opens. It opens in the pulpit with my dad speaking on "The Eagle Stirs Her Nest." The equation is a mother and her children. That’s the way the movie is going to open.

The Eagle Stirs Her Nest was a 1961 sermon preached by her father, Rev. C. L. Franklin.

And as for who would play Aretha, she said the following:

We have Jennifer Hudson, we have Halle Berry, and Audra McDonald. That's the last three. I went to see Audra in Porgy and Bess, and I was very impressed with her dramatic ability. She was terrific... And Jennifer had voice. Audra has voice. The question is whether or not Audra can cross over into soul. You know, she does Broadway magnificently. But can she get over into soul is the question.

Recall she's long had Halle Berry on her short list. But based on this quote, it seems like she's leaning more towards Jennifer Hudson and Audra McDonald, since they both can sang. Although, in the past, she did say that if Halle got the part, she would lip-synch.

She didn't however say if these 3 choices are also Taylor Hackford's choices.

And finally, when asked what her vision for the film is, Aretha said:

Accuracy. The facts. Let’s present the facts, and be as creative as possible with them.

I think we can all agree with her on that point, if nothing else.

In the past, we've joked about the uncertainty of this movie, wondering if it was indeed a real project. But, it looks like it is; I don't think she'd name drop like this - specifically, saying Taylor Hackford was attached as director, if he wasn't. 

No official word from Hackford yet.

And nothing from Denzel, Halle, Jennifer Hudson and Audra, as to whether they've met with Aretha about the project, and whether they're even interested.

But don't be surprised if an official announcement is made in the near future, including names mentioned here.

This has been "in the works" for about 3 years now, probably almost as long as this site's been around. She's quoted as calling the project "an epic tale with probably the most starring and supporting roles since Roots.

Check out the full Glamour magazine interview HERE.

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  • SMH | October 2, 2012 6:04 PMReply

    Read the quote from Aretha above about whether Audra can vocally "cross over into soul". *side eye* Yet Halle Berry, who has NO voice at all, is STILL a factor? Look can we order some psychological testing here?

  • Zaidi | October 2, 2012 5:02 PMReply

    I really love Aretha, but she always takes her title, "Queen of Soul," too embarrassingly close to her heart.

  • BluTopaz | October 2, 2012 5:32 PM

    Agreed. Plus the role of Rev. Franklin is not the type to make an A+ lister (or anyone really) put on a substantial amount of weight. And LMAO @ Billy Dee Williams.

  • ojie king | October 2, 2012 1:28 PMReply

    Audra is lovely, just lovely. But she is not Aretha. Aretha is right, Audra is very broadway-esque, which my by the way is not a bad thing, its just not the Aretha thing. I have always said the ideal person is Jennifer. After all, she was campaigning for it the other day. So, give it to her! She did Effie, i dont Aretha can be too much of a stretch

  • Ashley | October 2, 2012 5:50 PM

    Audra McDonald is an ACTRESS. "Broadway" or not she can act her ass off. Singing-wise yes Audra is a classically trained singer (Julliard) but that is not all that she can do. Hell she grew up singing gospel. I don't think we've hit the tip of the iceberg where her talent is concerned. Audra's talent knows no bounds. I say give her a chance. Look at what lip syncing has done for Jamie Foxx and Angela Bassett. Yes JHud was campaigning but Audra didn't have to. Aretha actually saw Audra onstage and was floored by her. Such a visceral response doesn't come easy when it comes to The Queen of Soul.

  • K | October 2, 2012 10:42 AMReply

    We don't need anyone who can actually sing. I mean they'll be lip syncing anyway, so why not have a talented actress who lip syncs? It's hard to sing like Aretha. I think J Hud comes the closest. And can we please stop with Halle Berry? No. Just no. I probably won't watch this movie because I hate these kind of movies, but I am interested in seeing who gets cast.

  • ojie king | October 2, 2012 1:26 PM

    I agree. Halle herself even said she can't do it. I always enjoy movies where the actors do their own singing. I feel its quite silly to have someone lyp sync someone else.

  • DJ | October 2, 2012 12:20 AMReply

    If I hear one more thing about this biopic...I'm going to fall out and die!!!! I'm not that interested in her story...and she pushing it like she Malcolm X...have a seat Aretha!!!

  • ALM | October 2, 2012 12:00 AMReply

    Man, she's holding on to Halle's name for dear life. Halle's name is also being floated around for a possible Whitney biopic. I like Halle, but I promise that people act as if she is the only Black actress in Hollywood. I am happy to hear that Taylor Hackford is now attached. He knows how to properly work with actors of color.

  • Ladybug | October 1, 2012 10:06 PMReply

    Just keep voices out of it . . . we want to hear Aretha anyway. Audra's voice is highly particular . . . don't think she will ever sound like Aretha. But I still think she is the best choice for the job.

  • Lynn | October 2, 2012 12:31 AM

    Right! They can leave Audra's vocals out, although she can sing pretty much anything. Audra is equally as great of an actress as she is a singer, and that's saying A LOT.

  • Ashley | October 1, 2012 9:51 PMReply

    I vote Audra McDonald. She is a BAD chick. Just cold at what she does. She'd be so refreshing.

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