Set in the motown-era of Detroit, Sparkle tells the story of a singing family of girls trying to make it big whilst facing the hurdles that success can bring. Jordin Sparks plays the title character and is no stranger to sudden fame herself, having won season six of American Idol in 2007. Back in November, I, along with a number of other journalists, visited the set of the film and we spoke to the cast and crew as well as watched a scene being filmed. As evidenced by the movie poster, the film’s tone is definitely grittier, and more on par with Dreamgirls than Hairspray.
On set, we chatted with Jordin about how she got involved in the project, how she prepared for the role, and her excitement about the songs they’re bringing back from the original as well as the new ones R. Kelly has penned. She gushes over working with her idol Whitney Houston and remarks how truly funny she was on set. Hit the jump for the full interview and here’s my set visit.
If you’re unfamiliar with the film, here’s the trailer:
JORDIN SPARKS: Actually, it’s been really cool coming to shoot here. I’ve performed in Auburn Hills, at The Palace, so I haven’t really been in downtown Detroit, but I’ve been able to be here, and I can really see, what the city was. Like, I can feel why Motown started here and how amazing it was. Everybody’s been so nice and considerate here, and it’s such a beautiful day today. We’re shooting, and it’s a night scene, and I’m like, “Why can’t the windows be open?” (Laughs) It’s been great so far. I think we’ve got just a little bit longer to be here, and then we wrap, but it’s been really nice.
As far as knowing the movie before, I wasn’t alive in the 70’s…so,I didn’t see it when it came out (laughs), but I had heard about the remake. Probably at the beginning of this year, before I even knew that I was going to be considered to audition or whatever it was…I had heard about it. And so, you know, I went on Netflix and watched Sparkle, and I really, really liked it, actually. I love anything that has to do with music, so I really liked it.
Do you feel any pressure being the lead in the film, and, furthermore, will you have a song?
SPARKS: Oh, my gosh, so this is my first movie ever, and so it being my first movie and also being one of the principals is definitely…it’s a lot of pressure, and I’m kind of just flying by the seat of my pants. It’s great to have such an amazing cast with me, because they’re helping me. I’m like, “Was that okay?” “Am I responding in the right way?” “Is my emotion where I’m supposed to be at?” And, with Salim [Akil], the director, he’s so great, because we shoot things kind of out of order, so the amazing thing is—or, I guess, the hard thing for me—is trying to figure out where I am emotionally and in my growth stage, and Salim is so great, because he comes over, and he’s like, “This is where you’re at in life…this is what just happened to you” and I’m like, “Thanks! Thank you!” But it is a lot of pressure, but it’s so much fun, too. It’s a completely new experience for me. I did Broadway last fall, so it’s just fun to be able to do acting and music.
Can you talk about the soundtrack?
SPARKS: Oh, the soundtrack. I can’t tell you the names of the stuff that I did separately, but, we are doing most of the songs [from the original]:We’re doing “Hooked On Your Love”, “Giving Him Something He Can Feel”…”Jump”.
There’s another one from the original that I think we’re trying to figure out how to put it in, but yes, I did sing some new stuff that I absolutely fell in love with, and I’m so excited to do, so I think you guys are really going to enjoy the soundtrack when it comes out.
A lot of the songs from the original were legendary. Do you have the feeling that the new stuff’s going to be as legendary?
SPARKS: I think that it definitely has the possibility to be. I heard the demos. R. Kelly is doing a lot of the new stuff, and he is just a beast in and of himself, so to hear him singing the demos, I’m sitting here going, “How am I supposed to replicate that?” So I’ve been very excited and honored to be able to sing songs that he’s written and been producing. And they’re amazing. It sounds weird to answer it like that, but I think they’re going to be really, really, really good.I know they’re good, because I’ve been listening to them on my iPod, and they’re…they’re awesome. (Laughs).
Just to go back a little…why acting? Why did you want to pursue acting?
SPARKS: Well, ever since I was little, I knew that singing was what I wanted to do, and then I got into, you know, doing drama club and community theater. In school, when we lived in New Jersey, we went to Broadway a lot, so I saw a lot of Broadway plays, and I just loved being able to see people play a different character and, you know, be able to be themselves at the end of the night. So,I’ve always wanted to do it. I just didn’t know when it was going to happen, and then this just fell into my lap.
And this cast it’s just been incredible, I’m like, “This is my life?!”
How did you prepare yourself for this role in particular?
SPARKS: I read the script over and over and over and over again. I really loved it, so it wasn’t hard to have to just read it, but I read it back and forth, and I had the script for a while before we started shooting.
So I just wanted to make sure I knew my lines and then trying to figure out—like I said—with the emotion, just trying to figure out how I would respond and then taking a step backwards and trying to figure out how she would [respond] because we’re similar, but we’re very different at the same time.
You mentioned that you had opportunity to kind of become familiarized with the role and really get into it. After doing so, how important do you feel it is to tell this particular story of the movie, and why is important given the music industry now?
SPARKS: You know what, it’s really amazing to see, because Sparkle in the movie, she goes through a lot of adversity. She deals with insecurities with herself, and you’re trying to overcome that, and then also, you know, being around her family and seeing them go through things, as well, and just everybody’s changing. And everybody goes through stuff like that whether it’s an entertainer or anyone else. Everybody goes through something and has a personal struggle, and I think a lot of people are going to be able to relate to it. I think a lot of young girls or young men who are trying to break into the industry, even though this is based in the 60’s, just seeing it takes a lot of hard work.
And it also takes a lot of dedication and a lot of sacrifice, and I think they’re going to be able to relate to the girls, and mothers are going to be able to relate to Whitney, because she—she’s great, you guys, she’s so awesome…it’s going to be so good. But I think they’re going to be able to relate to Sparkle, because she has that–you know, she’s got that slight insecurity about herself.
And you see her grow, and you see her blossom, and then I’m hoping that when people walk away, they say, “Ok,you know what? If she can overcome stuff, and, if she can, you know, find it in herself to do something after all that just happened, I can do it, too, and I’ll be Ok, too.”
Are you ready for the attention that this movie will bring you?
SPARKS: That is so funny you just said that. I was saying that in the makeup chair. I’m like, “I don’t know if I’m ready for this yet. I don’t know if I’m ready for my life to change again!”
Because you’re right. It’s a whole another level, and I’m just kind of like, “Well, I must be ready, because I was put here, and I’m supposed to be doing it, and I’m doing the part for the reason, so, um… I’ll let you know when it happens! (Laughs)
SPARKS: Right, it was a little bit of both. Like I said, I had heard about the project…it’s been in the works for a while, and I had first heard about the project earlier this year, and it was funny, because I was like, “Sparkle…that would be so funny if I got to play that role, because my last name is Sparks… and I was just like, oh, that’d be so funny.”
I got to read the script, and I had that for a while, and then, all of a sudden, it became—you know, “Are you interested? Do you want to go audition?” and I was like, “Ok, I can do this.” If somebody just tells me to sing, it’s no problem, but you tell me to stand up in front of somebody and go act like something else, and, “Here! Memorize these lines! Kiss this guy that you just met!” I was shaking. I was literally like this. [mimics herself shaking] It was so crazy, but I did do the audition process. They pulled me in a couple of times. I never asked who else was auditioning, because I didn’t want to know (laughs).
And they pulled me in a couple times. I had a meeting with the casting director, and then, the next one, Salim came in, and the next one, a few other people came in. And then they taped me, and then you know, the producers and everybody got together, watched the tape…
And then I was sitting in a meeting outside on top of a hotel, and I got the call that I made it, and I just screamed so loud. I was so excited. So it was a learning curve for me, as well, just to figure out how the audition process is…and I know—all of them are different, but it was fun for me. All of it has been so much fun.
What was your reaction when you found out Whitney was going to be involved?
SPARKS: Okay. So, as a singer, Whitney is—she’s like, through the atmosphere. She is just somebody that you aspire to want to sing like. I remember with Whitney and Mariah and everybody, just trying to mimic them singing. And I knew [Houston] was executive producing, so I already knew she was going to be involved in the project and that I’d see her around, and I’d be able to say hi. And then I heard that she was going to be playing my mom, and I was just like, “Could this get any better?! (Laughs) So it’s been so exciting. She’s such a riot. It’s just been so fun to be around her for the past two weeks. We’ve done a lot of scenes together, and she is so funny. She’s definitely going to make a lot of people happy.
She has a ton, millions upon millions of fans, and I think they’re going to be very happy to see how she is in this movie, as well as the people who doubt that she’ll be able to do it. I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised, as well, but it’s just been so crazy. I was excited. I was on the red carpet when I found out she was going to be playing my mom. They’re asking me questions, and I’m like, “Whitney’s playing my mom! Whitney’s playing my mom! In my head, I couldn’t even pay attention, but, yeah, (laughs) she’s great.
Finally, if you missed our on set interview with Whitney Houston and producer Debra Martin Chase, click here.
Look for more interviews with the cast in the coming days.