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Audra McDonald Responds To Being Aretha Franklin's Favorite To Play Her In A Biopic

by Tambay A. Obenson
April 9, 2013 7:46 PM
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Audra McDonald

“It would be an honor to play her... Other than that we leave it to fate. Who knows.”

Audra McDonald responds (for the first time, as far as I know) to Aretha Franklin's desire to have her play the songstress in her long-in-development biopic.

So, unlike Halle Berry, who was Franklin's first choice for the part, but who wasn't interested, Audra seems to think it's a job worth having... that is, unless she's just being polite in her above response to, who asked her about it.

Recall in our last post on this, last fall, in an interview posted on Glamour magazine's website, Franklin revealed that the movie is being directed by Taylor Hackford, who produced and directed Ray. And when asked who would play her in the film, she said the following:

I went to see Audra in Porgy and Bess, and I was very impressed with her dramatic ability. She was terrific... And Jennifer [Hudson] 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.

So, as of that last interview in November, she seemed like she'd narrowed her choices down to Jennifer Hudson and Audra McDonald, since they both can sang, although she seemed more keen on Audra, but wasn't sure whether Audra can "cross over into soul." I'd assume there'd be a relatively quick way to find that out. Just bring her in for a screen test and listen to her sing some of Aretha's tracks. I would think they would've done that already, if there was interest, which there clearly is.

Aretha also said in that interview:

We [she and Hackford] 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.

She also stated that Dorothy NorwoodKaren Clark and La Shun Pace (all award-winning gospel singers), had all already been cast 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).

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. 

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. Franklin is quoted as calling the project "an epic tale with probably the most starring and supporting roles since Roots."

Well, if Audra is cast as Aretha, that could be epic... If her above comment is genuine (and not just her being polite), she's definitely interested. And she's on Aretha's short list, so make it happen. No word from Jennifer Hudson on whether she's interested in the role.

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  • Donella | April 12, 2013 5:49 PMReply

    I think way back when we discussed this my choice was Taraji P. Henton, who performed an Aretha Song in I Can Do Better By Myself. However, I can see Audra MacDonald as Aretha. Isn't she performing as Whitney Houston for The Bodyguard? If MacDonald wasn't a soul singer before, she's singing it now.

  • ALM | April 12, 2013 6:18 PM

    Heather Headley is doing "The Bodyguard" in theater overseas.

  • ALM | April 10, 2013 7:03 PMReply

    I feel as if Aretha doesn't want Jennifer in this role for some reason. I'm not sure why though. Jennifer could handle this role well.

    Audra would be good too.

  • ALM | April 12, 2013 6:20 PM

    @Blutopaz: It's weird. It's as if Aretha thinks that Jennifer is not pretty enough or talented enough to play her. Jumping to Halle Berry spoke volumes, especially when you have women who can lip synch such as Angela Bassett, Regina King, etc.

    Aretha has some real skin/identity issues. It's truly sad that in her advanced age she is still struggling with those types of issues.

  • BluTopaz | April 10, 2013 7:17 PM

    When Jennifer performed at a tribute Aretha a few years back, Aretha had a look on her face like somebody farted. Someone on youtube said she looked like the wrong order was given to her at the McDonalds drive-thru. It was very unprofessional of her imo, and I'm guessing that's the reason why she probably doesn't want Jennifer in this role. If I was Jennifer I wouldn't want it--imagine having Aretha breathing down your back about every move you make. And who does she think is going to gain weight to play her father--this woman is beyond delusional.

  • Akimbo | April 10, 2013 12:16 PMReply

    Audra can light up a stage like nobody's business, but falls really flat onscreen (to me). I'd like to see someone else, late 20s to early 30s, in the role.
    Not J-HUD. Trying to think...

  • Karen | April 9, 2013 11:49 PMReply

    Audra! YES! She favors Aretha physically and is a superb actress! I'm SO SICK of Jennifer Hudson.

  • BobbyJ | April 9, 2013 9:25 PMReply

    Please, Jennifer wants this role SO badly. I'd rather see Audra or a new face. Still questioning Aretha's mental health with that unwavering Halle choice though.

  • ALM | April 10, 2013 7:04 PM

    Well she wanted Billy Dee to play her father, so it seems as if she has suspended reality with regards to casting across the board.

  • Adrienne Carver | April 10, 2013 12:17 PM

    Me too!

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