'Mudbound' Star Mary J. Blige on Why the Film's Most "Horrifying" Scene Is Her Favorite

Mudbound - Mary J. Blige 2 - Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Netflix

The Oscar-nominated actress also opens up about what she has in common with her character and returning to her Southern roots while filming the movie.

Not only did Mary J. Blige, 47, receive her first acting Oscar nomination for playing Florence in Dee Rees’ post-World War II family drama, but with her nod for the original song “Mighty River,” from the Mudbound soundtrack, she became the first person to earn acting and songwriting nominations in the same year.

What kinds of conversations did you have with director Dee Rees about your character early on?

The early conversations were about what she would look like. Dee had a vision, and Dee’s vision is the vision we went with: We wanted Mary J. Blige to disappear. I had questions because I wanted her to look a certain way, but I’m glad we went with how Dee wanted her to look because it completely vanished me. I was having silly questions because I just didn’t understand why she couldn’t have certain things. But Dee wanted her to look like the women really, really, really looked back in the ’40s and not have anything where people could say, “That’s not accurate.”

What was your favorite scene in the movie and why?

When we find my son [after he was attacked by KKK members], and the reason why is because [of] the reaction of what a mother would feel like if she found her son almost dead. It’s a horrifying scene, but it was a beautiful thing because I got a chance to feel that. I don’t have any children, and to actually feel what a mother would feel like, to actually deliver that — and I did, I delivered what a mother would feel like if she were to find her child like that — that was beautiful for me.

What do you have in common with the character of Florence?

I know the thing that I do have in common with Florence is her ability to see a lot of things but not have a lot to say, and to be powerful and silent at the same time. That’s a survival tactic of mine. I don’t say a lot — especially when I feel like I’m in trouble. I’m quiet because I’m trying to strategize, I’m trying to figure it all out, I’m trying to get through it. Florence was quiet, and she was just trying to figure it out, and then when it was time she told her husband, “OK, you did everything you had to do. Now it’s my turn. I’m going to go work for these people whether you like it or not.”

You spent part of your childhood in Georgia. Was making this movie like returning to your Southern roots?

Yes, making this movie was definitely revisiting my Southern roots because I could feel my grandmother and my aunts and all my ancestors take over some days, when I was just standing out in the field. I would do certain things, like I would put my hand on my hip and my legs would go back, and I just knew it wasn’t me anymore. And then when I grabbed that chicken [to break its neck and slaughter it], I was like, “This is my grandmother, this is all my grandmother,” because I had seen them do that when I was a kid. I saw it live.

This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.