‘Empire’ Star Jennifer Hudson on First Cookie Encounter and 5 Other Emmy Contender Quickies

“I was in awe — me and my character,” the actress-singer tells TheWrap

Jennifer Hudson is an Oscar-winning actress and Grammy-winning singer, which makes her a natural fit for Fox’s runaway hit “Empire.”

On the show’s first season Hudson starred as Michelle White, a sweet siren enlisted to help Andre Lyon (Trai Byers) soothe a flare-up in his bipolar disorder with musical therapy. Her journey as guest star landed her a fate similar to others: pawn in the master plan of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard).

Stepping into season two as a signed recording artist at the fictional label, Hudson spoke with TheWrap about her character — and that rare chance to earn an EGOT that’s well in her sights.

TheWrap: How did Michelle come to you?
Jennifer Hudson
Lee Daniels called for me. In the beginning I think he wanted more of an appearance, but he sent me the pilot … and the second I saw it, I knew I had to be a part of this show. I was in the middle of getting my hair done, and even the hairdresser was like, “What is this you’re watching? It’s so good!”

Michelle is a music therapist, which actually raised some eyebrows, but her Christianity is also a big part of her character. Were you nervous at all portraying that?
I would call her a modern Christian. When Lee and I first spoke, he said ‘I don’t know if I want you to play yourself, or should we create this character?’ So Michelle came about and … she’s very similar to who I am, but very different in a way.

The most interesting thing to me wasn’t her traits, it was her being a music therapist. Like does this even exist?  … I think she might be inspired by me. I think it’s definitely harder to play yourself — that’s not something I want to have to do.

You obviously work closely with Trai Byers, helping his character cope with bipolar disorder. What’s the dynamic like between the two of you?
I think it worked really well. Michelle is there to … create an ease and an outlet for him, and I think we jumped right into it. With Trai, he was always in character. The day we shot the therapy scene, when Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) meets Michelle for the first time, everyone was being so careful and tense around him. I didn’t realize why until I stepped into the scene. My son came that day, actually, and Trai broke character and smiled at him. I was like, “Oh! There is a person in there!” But he was so focused.

Seeing Cookie in character for the first time must have been an experience.
I was in awe — me and my character. It was my first day, that therapy session, and Cookie and Michelle were introduced. I could barely focus because it all just hit me. She’s so awesome to watch. Even when you’re part of it.

Michelle was a church singer who traded it all for a deal. Have you ever had that experience, having to reconcile your life with your ambition?
I can’t pinpoint one thing, but I think we all deal with things every day. It’s about making sure your heart is in the right place. I think for Michelle, her heart and her intentions are in the right place, but people can get sidetracked. In that way, in season two, maybe Andre and Michelle might end up saving each other. She’s wet behind the ears when it comes to that lifestyle, and she doesn’t necessarily know what she’s getting into.

You’re an Oscar and Grammy winner. You could very well be eligible for an Emmy now. Do you ever think about the EGOT?
That’s a lot of pressure! It’s a dream. It’s a goal. I’m a hard worker and I’m willing to work for it, and if God blesses me and I get to it — I don’t know! You’ve got me tripping over my words. Just to be thought of and display my talent — if it comes, it comes. I’m just grateful to do what I love.

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