"Respect" for the Craft
If you watch the recently released Aretha Franklin biopic, "Respect," you will see Woodward junior Kennedy Clemons playing a prominent role in the film. Clemons, who performs under the stage name Kennedy Chanel, took time out of her busy school and filming schedule to discuss the experience with us.
Who did you play in “Respect” and how did you land the role?
I play the role of young Erma Franklin. Erma Franklin is the oldest sister of American legend Aretha Franklin. I was requested through my talent agency to audition for this role.
The audition process was extremely exciting! It consisted of many rounds of meetings and callbacks where I read portions of the script, first with a reader where I taped myself, then in a room with the director and producers of the film. I was actually asked to sing on the spot. I went with two of my favorite songs: “Suddenly Seymour” from the broadway show “Little Shop of Horrors,” and one of my favorite Gospel songs, “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child”.
After that, all of the kids who were there for call back auditions were asked to sing in a group where we had to harmonize in different songs (because of how well the real Franklin kids sang together). And then the waiting game began! I was on pins and needles from the moment that I left the final callbacks all the way until we got the call that I had booked the role!
How long did your part of the shoot take and what was it like?
My role took a little over three weeks to shoot and it was an awesome experience! We had a great time on set every day that we filmed! We had a pretty strict schedule every day. Most days started at basecamp (where everyone's trailers are located) with a visit to hair and makeup, and then running lines while I was fitted for my wardrobe for the day. After that one of the director's assistants would call for my transportation and I would ride over to the actual location to film for the day. We would start with a rehearsal of the scene with the writer and director before the real filming could begin. You would never imagine that a scene that was maybe on screen for five minutes took us an entire day to film!
No matter the scene or how long the filming process was, I enjoyed every second of it! From hanging out in my trailer and making TikToks to running rehearsals and filming, it was an unforgettable experience.
What was the hardest part of shooting the film?
The hardest part about filming this project was having to stay hydrated enough to cry on cue for several takes. Since we had to cry in so many scenes, there were some really cool tools, like the tear stick or saline, that the make-up artists used to make it look like we were crying more than we were. But I preferred to cry naturally because it would look a lot more realistic on camera. I only used fake tears when it was completely necessary.
What was your favorite part of the experience?
My favorite part of the experience was the connections I made and the lessons I learned from the actors who I worked with. There are so many tools and acting tips that I will take with me to my next acting project! I really learned to trust my creativity and enjoy the process. Throughout my time filming, the celebrations, and the promotion experience I worked with so many seasoned actors and actresses like Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whittaker, Marlon Wayans, Titus Burgess, and Saycon Sengboh. They have been nothing but supportive and have taken me under their wing to help me as I grow in this industry and in my artistry.
How did your time at Woodward influence your approach to this experience?
Being at Woodward Academy has definitely been a big part of my acting journey. The school offered support and flexibility while filming but even more so the daily Woodward experience helped prepare for big moments like these. Being a Woodward student, you learn the importance of showing up on time, being prepared, and advocating for your needs in a respectful manner. Being a Woodward student has prepared me for the professionalism needed for the real world in ways that I imagine other schools could not have.
My academic classes have played a huge part in my success as well. My History classes, English classes, and Language classes have helped me better improve my memorization and public speaking skills. The acting classes and theater groups that I have been able to be a part of at Woodward, even as far back as the lower school, have all contributed to me booking this role!
Do you plan to pursue more acting opportunities? What do you see yourself doing in the future?
I definitely plan to continue acting! I can’t share many details of what's to come, but what I can share at the moment is that I am featured in a show coming out soon on Disney+, and I am also featured in a STARZ series called “BMF”, premiering next month.
While I do have other passions like exploring a career in law or journalism, acting is my passion and this is only the beginning. I hope to continue on this path for many years to come. This is just the start of me living out my dreams and I am so grateful for everyone who helped me get to this point.