Sparkle tells the story of a 19-year-old innocent young woman growing up in late 1960’s Detroit, who dreams of becoming a music star. Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), Sister (Carmen Ejogo) and Dee (Tika Sumpter) are sisters who love each other fiercely, but each have their own ambitions. When they form a girl group and set out to take the music world by storm, the harsh realities of the spotlight take their toll on the girls and threaten to tear apart the tight knit family, which also includes their less than supportive mother (Whitney Houston). The film also stars Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Omari Hardwick and CeeLo Green.
At the film’s press day, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks talked about the pressures she put on herself with this lead acting role, her audition process for the film, what Whitney Houston did to alleviate her nerves over working with her, whether Whitney Houston or Simon Cowell was scarier to work with, how she found her own voice in this crazy business, getting to dress up in all of the film’s wardrobe, what she thought of the original 1976 movie, how her biggest challenge in the film was the kissing scene she had with Derek Luke, and what she learned about herself, during shooting. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Question: How much pressure did you put on yourself when you took this role?
JORDIN SPARKS: When I walked into the audition room, I had to keep telling myself, “Jordin, you don’t have any experience. There’s a very real possibility you won’t get this part.” But also at the same time, I didn’t want to know who else was auditioning and I didn’t want to know how many people went for the role. I just wanted to go in and do it. And I had four auditions. There was my initial audition, and then three call backs. I was so nervous. It was so different for me, and outside of my comfort zone. You give me a microphone and tell me to sing, and I’m like, “Sure, no problem! I got this!” But, going in and trying to emote, and be on the same page as what somebody else is thinking when you can’t read their mind, was very crazy.
So, when they told me I got the part, I was completely beside myself, but at the same time, I was in disbelief because I was like, “Okay, this is a lead role and she’s pretty much in every scene of the movie.” For them to have that belief in me, when I wasn’t so sure myself, was one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received. But, the pressure was so crazy because it was a lead role and because it was my first time and because I had no idea what I was doing. I put a lot of pressure on myself. And then, after I auditioned, Whitney [Houston] signed on to play the mother, and there were about 100 more pounds of pressure on me. I was like, “Okay, I can’t walk in here and be horrible.”
I was thinking about everybody else in the film. I’d seen their work and they were so experienced that I was like, “If I suck, this is gonna be so bad, with everybody else attached to the film.” So, I was like, “I can only take it one day at a time, one scene at a time.” The amazing thing was that everybody was so warm and welcoming with open arms, and they were just so willing to go, “Okay, how can I help you? Why don’t you try thinking of this to make the tears flow, or think of this to get that shocked face,” or whatever it was. They were so sweet.
And then, working with (director) Salim [Akil], I was expecting him to go, “This is all wrong. This is how you should be doing it.” Instead, he was like, “Okay, what you just did was great. Let’s try, on this one, to think about it from this point of view. And then, the next time we do another shot, we’ll do it another way, and I’ll have multiple things to choose from.” And I’m all about how people word things and how they say things. It was so nice to be able to work with somebody who was just like, “Don’t worry, we’ll do all this. I won’t move on, if I don’t have the shot.” That was very, very nice.
Did Whitney Houston do anything to alleviate your nerves over working with her?
SPARKS: She did. There’s a parallel between Whitney and I, just with how we grew up in the church and started at a fairly young age. I’m still young at this point in my career, and there I was, working with Whitney. That was big for me because I idolized her. She did The Bodyguard, and Kevin Costner was the biggest thing, at the time, so she knew about being the person to walk on set and be like, “Okay, here we go.” We never really got a chance to talk about it, but she had gone through that. She was like, “Do you need anything? Are you okay?” She was always very encouraging. She said, “You’ve got this! Believe in your gift.” But then, when it was the scenes [where she was yelling at me], I was sad because I had to react to it. I was in that moment as Sparkle, but at the same time, I was like, “Whitney Houston is yelling at me. This is the most amazing thing ever!” So, it was really fun. Part of me was freaking out because it was Whitney, and the other part of me was like, “Jordin, calm down. You need to work!” I was exhausted, at the end of the day, with all that going on, but it was incredible to be able to work with her.
Who was scarier, Whitney Houston or Simon Cowell?
SPARKS: That’s a good question. You know, it’s funny because Simon is just very blunt and says things that are on his mind. I don’t think his filter is there, or if he even has one, which is okay ‘cause he’s saying what a lot of people are thinking. Whitney had the same thing. She would definitely tell you what she was thinking, but it was more in a sarcastic, quick-wit type of way, so it actually came off really funny and very humorous. That was really fun. But, when she needed to turn it on, she turned it on. It was amazing to watch ‘cause she’d go from laughing and saying something, right back to the character, and I was just like, “Whoa!” So, it was fun to be able to be a sponge and soak up those things, in those moments.
How did you hang onto yourself when you had that very fast ride after American Idol?
SPARKS: What’s funny is that I’m still hanging on. I’m still just like, “Whoa, what is happening?!” Everything has been a slow and steady rise, which has been really cool. The last album I put out was in July of ‘09, so it’s been awhile since I’ve had music, but I’ve still been able to go and do shows and sing. With Sparkle, it started another rise for me. But, I would definitely have to attribute that to my mom and my family. They’ve always been 100% supportive of me. Plus, when it comes to temptations, I am so scared to even try anything. I like the way my heart beats. I like the way I feel. I’m good. I don’t need any of that stuff. Plus, I’m always thinking of my grandparents. I can’t even imagine what would happen to them, if I did something stupid, and then my grandparents would have to be asked about it. I couldn’t do that. And I have a younger brother, who I’m really close to. If I saw him doing those things, it would kill me. And on my dad’s side, I’m the oldest of 23 grandkids. I’ll be 23 in December, and then it goes down from there. There was one, every year. It’s crazy! And before Idol, they were watching every move that I made, so I have them looking up to me, as well. I think about them, any time something happens, or if an offer comes in.
With three strong-willed judges on American Idol, stylists, coaches and all of America telling you how you should be handling your career, how did you find your own voice, in the way that Sparkle did? Could you relate to what she went through?
SPARKS: Yeah, I related to Sparkle a lot, with what she goes through, being young. You come in and she’s young and naïve and just wants to push everybody else to the front, and then she goes through all of the trials and tribulations, but at the end, she finds her voice and becomes a woman. From being 17 on Idol to where I am now, the growth that I’ve gone through has been just off the charts. It’s been so crazy! With the experiences that you have with people, some people aren’t so nice. There are people who don’t want to see you succeed, and there are a lot of people who will pretend to be happy for you. There are people who will tell you that they’re working on things, and then they drop the ball. Now, I’m a super detailed, organized person. I need to know everything that’s happening. I definitely related to Sparkle, on that level. I feel like it’s my story, as well.
At 17, I thought it was all rainbows and butterflies, and that everybody was happy for me and wanted to help. And then, you realize that it’s not that way. Now, just being older and growing into a woman, I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I feel like it was so long ago. I feel like the mind-set and everything has completely changed. But, I also know that there’s gonna be a lot more experiences to go through and a lot of things to learn, and I’m ready for it, with everything that’s coming with Sparkle. I didn’t think that my life could change so dramatically again, aside from personal things, like maybe marriage and kids, down the line. Professionally, I didn’t think that there could be something bigger than winning American Idol ‘cause it completely changed my life. But, movies and acting is such a different animal. It’s so different. I’m just buckling up the seatbelt and raising up my hands up, so I am ready for the ride.
How fun was it for the little girl in you to get to wear all those really great, glamorous costumes and jewelry?
SPARKS: I played dress up, every day. It was so fun. A lot of the clothes were vintage, aside from the performance outfits. Those outfits were custom made for us, but the inspiration was definitely pictures that we had found. With the vintage clothes, it was fun because I was thinking about the woman who wore it before me, and what she must have been doing, during the time that she was wearing it. I literally got to live in the ‘60s for two months. Everything besides the hotel we stayed in was from the ‘60s. All of the extras were dressed to the nines, and there were the cars. A lot of the stuff that they had in the house were all vintage finds from antique shops. I was literally placed back in that time, and it was so much fun for me. I love fashion, and I loved the make-up and the hair. Being the main character, I had so many changes and looks that I just I had a blast.
Your body is rocking. Were you working out like crazy, during shooting?
SPARKS: The funny thing was that my goal was to get to the gym, every day or maybe a couple times a week, but with the schedule that we had, there was no way. I think I got to the gym twice, and the second time, I was like, “What am I doing in here? I should be sleeping.” We had 12 to 14-hour days, and it was so exhausting from never knowing when the camera was gonna be ready, but you have to be ready to be back into the character, and we were on our feet, all day. It was a 12 hours on, 12 hours off schedule, and I was asleep for those 12 hours. I was exhausted. But, it was so much fun to be able to do that, and it was so crazy. I felt so different from what I looked like. I was just like, “I should be in the gym right now!,” but I look at it and I’m like, “It looks really good!” But, I also have to attribute it to the clothes, from that time, because they were just fitted perfectly to a woman’s body and left a little to the imagination while still being cute and a little bit sexy.
Did anyone actually guide the actors about what it was like to live in the ‘60s?
SPARKS: We didn’t have someone come in. My grandparents actually introduced me to The Supremes, The Temptations, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Patsy Kline, and all these amazing people, so I grew up listening to them. I’ve actually always had a love for the ‘60s. I think one of the reasons why they decided to bring the movie into the ‘60s, instead of doing it in the ‘50s, where it was, was because there was so much that went on during that era. There was the fashion, the make-up, the music and the hair, and politically there was so much going on with the Civil Rights movement, as well. You learn about that in school. It’s one of the biggest things that you learn about. For all of us, we really loved being a part of that, and being able to just get into that mind-set. A lot of people today are still super influenced by the ‘60s, so it was fun to be able to feel like you were living it, and then see everything that’s coming out now and go, “Hey, that’s really similar. That looks familiar.”
Before this movie ever came your way, was the original Sparkle on your radar, at all?
SPARKS: I had heard of it, and I actually saw it last year. I had seen it a couple months before I even knew the audition for the movie existed. I don’t know what was happening there. So, I watched it and fell in love with it. I love anything that has to do with music. I loved the characters. I thought they were so fierce. There was a lot of grit in the story as well, which I thought was really great to see. So, when Sparkle came about, I was like, “Is this the same movie? And then, I read the script and was like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s a remake!” It was so cool to be able to read it, and there were definitely significant changes. The time and the settings were different, and the women of the remake are a little bit more empowered than they were in the original, which was (director) Salim’s overall idea. [After I was cast,] I only watched it one more time ‘cause I didn’t want to have too much of the original in my head, but at the same time, I wanted to pay homage to what Irene Cara did (as Sparkle). I remember seeing her walk on screen and going, “We even look a little similar.” I’ve never actually met her, but I would love to, sometime in the future. Salim mentioned that they tried to get (original Sister actress) Lonette McKee in the remake, but scheduling didn’t work out. That would’ve been really cool to see.
What was your biggest challenge on this, as an actress? Were there scenes that were harder to shoot than others?
SPARKS: One thing that was really difficult for me was kissing Derek [Luke]. He’s very good looking, so it shouldn’t be hard, but I was just like, “I’ve never done this before! This feels really weird!” For Broadway (show In the Heights), it was one quick kiss and we were done. This was way more intimate and deeper, and his wife was on set a lot. I was like, “She’s gonna kill me!” That was a little different for me. For the scenes where we had to be really emotional, some of them were difficult, but some of them were a little easier than others. You have to dive so deep into a place that you just don’t want to think about, ever, to get that emotion. To have my chest heaving and the tears flowing was really different for me. For the scene where Derek leaves me in the rain, and it was freezing in Detroit, and we were all just exhausted, and it was the last scene of the night, I had to go to a place where I was crying. Just thinking about somebody leaving me, I was so deep into that emotion that Salim yelled, “Cut!,” and I could not stop crying. I was just a mess. I could not stop crying. I had never experienced that before. I couldn’t pull back from it, for a good couple of minutes. It was very, very crazy! The whole thing was a learning experience. I had never done a movie before, and I was just this sponge, trying to soak up everything.
What did your boyfriend, Jason Derulo, think about the kiss?
SPARKS: He’s in Australia right now, and he’s not gonna be able to make it to the premiere, so we had a screening for him, and I thank the studio and producers for that. But, at the time we were filming, it was still pretty early in our relationship, so I was like, “Yeah, I have a kissing scene today,” and he was like, “Oh, yeah? That’s cool!” But now, since the feelings are so much deeper, he watched it and was like, “Yeah, that was a little difficult for me.” I was like, “Sorry!” In my next film (The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete) as well, there’s a kissing scene. He was like, “So, how’d that go?,” and I was like, “It was very awkward!” He was like, “You better scrub your mouth, after that!,” and I was like, “Don’t worry!”
What did you learn about yourself, while shooting Sparkle?
SPARKS: I think 2011 was a pretty crazy year for me. I went on tour with New Kids on the Block, but everything was going really crazy with my label. There were big changes being made there. I had just parted ways with my management. I hadn’t put out music in three years. Personally, there was stuff going on with my family. And I was sitting there going, “Is this it? Is this where it stops for me?” It just seemed like nothing was happening, and everything was falling apart. And then, Sparkle fell into my lap. It was a way for me to do music and get new music out to my fans without it being on a record. I felt like I was at a place where I just couldn’t give up. I remember saying that giving up wasn’t in my vocabulary. I have always been a glass half-full type of person. I believe in silver linings, and that something better is coming.
When we were shooting Sparkle, we knew it was something really special. It’s very bittersweet because [Whitney Houston] is not here. Now there is so much more weight to the movie. My big thing is just the fact that you dream about something and you never know when it’s gonna happen, but you can’t just put it in a box and say, “Okay, that dream is not gonna happen.” I didn’t think acting was gonna happen, and here I am. I’m already shooting another film. It blows my mind. Something that I learned from Whitney, being on set, was that she was just one of us. She loved hanging out with us. She loved talking to us. She just wanted to see everybody else do well. She just wanted to push everybody else into the spotlight, which was completely unexpected. Instead of being like, “I’m gonna film my scenes and go back to my trailer and not talk to anybody,” she would come to set just to watch some of the scenes, even if she wasn’t working that day. It doesn’t matter how big you get, you’re never too big to say hello to somebody, or to have a conversation with somebody, or to smile at someone. To see that example from Whitney was so incredible, having loved her and idolized her. That was what I took from [the experience].