Etta James seems like your most challenging role to date. Were you nervous?
She was really the opposite of what people’s perception of me is. She was by no means the sweetheart. She was bold and unapologetic and spoke her mind. I didn’t know if I was even ready for a role like this.
You look physically different in the film.
I gained 15 pounds, which was fun [laughs]. Etta was glamorous, but in her own way. She had platinum blond hair back in that time, when no African-American woman had it.
In September, you sang ”At Last” in front of Etta. What was that like?
Usually, I try not to make eye contact [with the audience] until I start singing. But I saw her. It was intimidating. I started to sing. And maybe a couple of sentences into the song, I did this growl that she’s infamous for, and I saw her body posture change. She nudged her son, like, ”Did you hear that?” And I was like, ”Yes! I got her!” [Afterward] she said, ”You bad, girl, you bad.” And I know she doesn’t give out free compliments.