Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Dreamgirls”

October 15, 2012  |  
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You know when it comes to seeing black faces in the [mainstream] arts, particularly on Broadway and on the big screen, opportunities are few and far between. And when we have a piece of work that is impeccably done, like the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, you don’t want to ruin the classic by making a terrible remake. Which is why it took a very long time to get Dreamgirls into the theaters. But it finally happened. See how it went down.

Close Casting Calls (The Ladies) 

Dreamgirls was a film that was literally decades in the making. After the immense success of the Broadway musical, everybody was vying to turn the theater production into a feature film. Naturally, they wanted big named starlets for the leading roles of Deena and Effie. In the ’80’s Jasmine Guy was in the running to play Deena. In the ’90’s, it was supposed to be Lauryn Hill and even Whitney Houston. When it came to Effie White, Kelly Price was considered, along with Disney star Raven Symone and Jennifer Hudson’s “American Idol” co-star, Fantasia. Though it would have been interesting to see Kelly in this role, Jennifer played Effie to a tee.

The Fellas

Now for the male roles. Curtis Taylor, who was played by Jamie Foxx, was offered to Black Hollywood’s brightest stars. Everyone from Denzel, to Will Smith, to Terrence Howard was offered the role. No word as to why Will or Terrence didn’t get it but Denzel wouldn’t take the part because he said he couldn’t sing. That’s one thing we can say about Denzel, you won’t see him looking crazy on screen because he knows when to say no. Initially, Jamie Foxx wasn’t even sold on the idea.

Remember Effie’s brother, CC White? That role was also offered to some interesting individuals including Usher, Omarion and Andre 3000. Usher couldn’t take the part because he couldn’t commit to the year it would take to film. I don’t think Usher or Omarion would have had the acting chops for this one but Andre could have pulled it off.

3. Why Not Whitney ?

Earlier, I mentioned that in one of the first times this movie went to production, Whitney was in the running to play Deena. Well, that didn’t go down because Whitney wanted to sing both Deena and Effie’s songs, especially the “And I Am Telling You,” one. When I discovered this little tidbit of information, I literally laughed out loud at Whitney trying to rearrange the whole script to showcase her vocal ability. Obviously, she had the vocal ability to do both but there is no way it would have made sense for Deena to sing that song and Whitney surely couldn’t have gained enough weight to convincingly portray Effie.

4. The Performer

Originally, writer and director Bill Condon wanted to cast “unknowns” in the roles of The Dreamettes but Beyonce wanted this role in the worst way. When she auditioned for the part she came in costume with choreographed dance steps. (Use what you’ve got to get what you want.) Beyonce would later say that the film was her first real acting gig. Wonder why she didn’t consider Carmen: A Hip Hopera to be the real deal? (I kid.)

5. What about Jamie?

Initially, Jamie Foxx was really not feeling being in this movie. He was approached several times and turned it down several times but when he found out that Beyonce and Eddie Murphy had been cast in the film he agreed to take the role of Curtis.

6. Money, Money, Money

The people behind the scenes went all the way out to make sure that this movie looked and felt good. To date, Dreamgirls is the most expensive film featuring an African American cast. The budget for the movie was $80 million. But it more than paid off. Not only was the movie critically acclaimed, being nominated for several awards, including six Academy Awards, it was also a commercial success grossing over $154 million at the box office.

7. Long time Coming

If the “Dreamgirls” musical came out in the early 1981, why did it take over two decades to get the film on screen? Here’s the short version of all the pitfalls along the way. Michael Bennett, who was the stage director for the musical passed away in 1987, leaving the rights to the production to co-financier David Geffen. Geffen was very protective of the work, not wanting anyone to work on the project and ruin Bennett’s vision.

In the ’90’s perhaps Geffen was ready to try. After the success of the musical biopic, What’s Love Got To Do With With It, screenwriter Tina Andrews and director Joel Schumacher were going to tackle the film adaptation. But shortly after What’s Love, Tina wrote and released Why Do Fools Fall in Love, which didn’t do so well in theaters. After that, the studios weren’t too sure about Andrews and decided to shelve the project again.

The show was finally greenlit sometime around 2002. Bill Condon, who had written the screenplay for Chicago, met producer Laurence Mark at a Hollywood party in 2002 and the two chatted about the project.  Eventually they met with David Geffen who convinced Bill Condon to write and direct the version we all know today.

7. Jennifer Hudson’s lip injection

There were some very real physical adjustments Jennifer Hudson had to make in order to play the role of Effie. Not only did she have to gain 20 pounds for the role, she also had to get lip injections for the dent in her top lip. Yeah, I know, sounds weird. But here’s how she explained it to E News!

“When I did Dreamgirls I actually had to get my dent right here injected because it was affecting the lighting,” she said, referring to her top lip. “And when I got it done the doctor was like ‘I do not want to do this do you realize people come in here and pay to have the lips you have naturally.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t want to but I have to for the movie!”

That’s a level of commitment, I don’t know if I could have had.


8. Anika’s Feet Hurt

Anika Noni Rose was the short one on set with her small 5’2 frame. She was so short she couldn’t be seen in the frame and therefore had to wear six inch heels when she was on stage singing or dancing with Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson. Anika later said that the heels were not pleasant.


9. Beyonce’s hungry

In order to look older when she played the more mature Deena in the film, Beyonce dropped 20 pounds. And she did so with a diet of lemon, water, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Ugh! Sounds terrible.

10. And I Am Telling You

The scene where Effie sings “And I Am Telling You” was huge for the movie. It was so important that director Bill Condon purposely waited until the end of filming to shoot it. And it wasn’t a quick process. Jennifer could only sing for four hours at a time before losing her voice, and she couldn’t lip sync properly, so it ended up taking four days to complete. Condon even needed more money to finish the scene. But all of that hard work and extra money definitely paid off. Not only did Hudson win an Oscar for her performance but audiences were moved as well.  I don’t know where you were or who you were with when you first saw this scene; but I know when I first saw this film, in the theaters, people literally gasped and applauded after Jennifer Hudson sang this song. It was that powerful.

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