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Oscar award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson was honored when she was tapped by late music legend Aretha Franklin for the upcoming biopic RESPECT, due out in December.

Speaking to PEOPLE magazine, she opened up about her newest starring role.

“Back in April 2003, I got to open up for her in Merrillville, Indiana, where she held a concert. That was before Dreamgirls, before I ever dreamed of playing her one day,” Hudson shared. “I’ve gotten to pay tribute to her many times since then, but every time is like the first time.”

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Franklin sadly passed away on August 16, 2018, but before her death, she worked hard to ensure that Hudson was more than equipped to step into her shoes.

“I started piano lessons,” she says. “Aretha got me back in music school. It’s still a process, but the film has made me more passionate about learning an instrument and expressing myself musically.”

Hudson wrapped up filming for the movie months ago, but she says that she can still feel the late icon’s presence. “I still feel like she’s in me, I really do,” she says of Franklin. “I just hope to meet her requests. You think you respect Aretha, but once you see the film and you learn her story, you can’t help but to have a newfound respect for her.”

Hollywood actor Forest Whitaker, comedian Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Skye Dakota Turner, Tate Donovan, and Mary J. Blige also star in the movie.

RESPECT is slated for limited release in the U.S. on Christmas Day, before a full wide release on January 15.