Back in the Spotlight
BY Jeremy Kinser
March 22 2011 4:15 PM ET
Winnie, your film biography of Winnie Mandela, is due out this year. What drew you to her story?
When I got the script and read it…well, just being African American and just now learning about her story and how powerful it was and the contribution she made and gave to the world. We always hear about Nelson Mandela, but no one really talks about Winnie. When people heard I was doing the movie they asked if it’s about Nelson. I said, “No, it’s about Winnie and her journey.” The story just moved me and even while filming it there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t realize that I was reenacting someone’s life, that someone really went through all of these things. It’s an amazing, powerful story and I felt it should be told and if I could help make it happen I wanted to be a part of it.
What did you learn about yourself by playing her?
My God, that was the changing point for me in becoming the new Jennifer. I don’t know where to start describing it other than to say I emerged from playing her as a brand new person. Playing her taught me to be more involved and to trust my instincts more. She was so strong and powerful. It definitely changed me in a lot of ways.
I like to imagine you’re still good friends with Dreamgirls cast. How often do you keep in touch with Anika and Beyoncé?
I just saw Anika at the Essence Music Festival. We haven’t been able to keep in touch as much as we used to. I saw Beyoncé, when was that? I think it was last October. We e-mail each other. I saw Jamie recently, too. Obviously we’re all super busy, but when we can we get in touch and keep in touch.
Who do you consider to be your best gay friend?
My assistant Walter is going to kill me for this, but whatever. Walter and I have been friends since sixth grade. He’s by far my closest friend and my closest gay friend ever.
You’re an A-list celebrity in your own right, but do you ever get star struck around other entertainers?
I don’t often get star struck, but once in a while I still do. Recently I met R. Kelly for the first time and I was star struck. Or when I met Whitney for the first time. And Beyoncé obviously. [Laughs] But other than that it’s just nice to meet everybody, but sometimes I do have those moments.