Mary J. Blige didn’t want to be “just another singer that got a role” in a movie. She wanted to devote herself as fully to her performance as she does to her music, and the result is Florence Jackson in Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” — a character the singer-turned-actress feels a deep connection to.
Blige discussed that and more with IndieWire’s Eric Kohn during the inaugural IndieWire Honors ceremony last week, where she was presented with the Breakthrough Performance prize. Watch their full conversation below.
Other than the power of the script, which tells of two families (one white, one black) on a farm in post–World War II Mississippi, Blige was drawn to the project by virtue of “being a fan of Dee Rees, period. I’ve seen ‘Pariah,’ I’ve seen ‘Bessie’ probably 100 times probably,” she said.
“I just love the way she peels back all the layers so we can see it all for what it really is. I’m that type of artist, you know, as a singer. That’s the type of work I want to do as an actress. I want to be in films where I can express myself through my truth and through my trials and use this as a therapy just like I use my music.”
Florence, a wife and mother whose oldest son is sent off to the Western Front, is filled with pain that she’s rarely allowed to express openly.
“I didn’t even know I was so vain until I had to play Florence. She just really peeled back a lot of layers physically, a lot of layers spiritually and mentally, just helped me to see myself the way I’m supposed to see myself — the way God sees me, you know,” Blige said.
“I didn’t even know I was dealing with so many hangups until I had to play Florence,” she added, “but I really love that character for opening me up like that and helping me to let the beauty shine for real from deep within.”
IndieWire Honors is presented by Vizio and DTS with premier support from Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City.