“Mudbound” became an early awards season frontrunner following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, where it sold to Netflix for a whopping $12.5 million in the biggest acquisition of the year. Dee Rees’ sweeping Southern epic tells the story of two families — one white and one black — and their parallel journeys adjusting to life after WWII.
The movie is well on its way to earning a best picture nomination, with Rees in the running for best director, but it’s Mary J. Blige’s performance as Florence that really had critics talking. “My goal was to become a great actress. That was something I always wanted to do,” the R&B legend said in an interview for IndieWire’s Awards Spotlight series. “The way I express myself through music, I want to do that through acting.”
Express herself, she does. Playing the matriarch of the Jackson family, Blige recognized in Florence a core similarity with many women of that generation. “When I first read Florence, I felt that she was a lot of women that I knew. She was a super strong woman. She didn’t have to say much, she didn’t have to do much, she just was, she just is, and there’s so much strength in just being,” said Blige.
To play her, the singer picked quickly mastered the best actors’ tried and true method: Channelling her own personal experiences into the role. “Playing Florence was heavy, but my life was heavy at the time, my own personal life, so I didn’t mind. Once I completely surrendered to Florence, she set me free in a lot of ways,” she said. “It was hard, the conditions were hard. It was mud, and rain, and mosquitoes.”
She was prepared for the challenge the career transition would bring, but has been blown away by the positive critical response. “I wanted to do some great work, and to start the next chapter of my career. But I didn’t know the next chapter of my career would start with Oscar buzz.”
This year’s Awards Spotlight series is produced with help from our partners at Xfinity, and filmed at the Variety Content Studio.