Mary J. Blige had quite the eventful morning! Not only did she earn a Golden Globe nomination in the best supporting actress category for her revelatory turn Mudbound , but her song “Mighty River,” which she wrote for the movie, was also nominated. Needless to say, she did not expect this kind of success from the Netflix film.
“I had no idea what was coming, but I did know that it was a very important movie,” Blige told EW on Monday morning, shortly after this year’s Golden Globe nominations were announced.
Directed by Dee Rees (2011’s Pariah), Mudbound, which premiered at Sundance last January to rave reviews, tells the story of two families, one white and the other black, living and working on the same plot of land in the rural Mississippi Delta in the 1940s. Blige delivers a powerful yet very reserved performance as Florence, the matriarch of the black family who ends up working for the landowners. Below, Blige shares her reaction to the nomination and opens up about how she prepared for her tremendous performance and wrote the aforementioned nominated song.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on both of your nominations. How are you feeling?
MARY J. BLIGE: Oh my god, it feels amazing! I can’t stop thanking God. I can’t stop praising God. I can’t stop being happy. I’m just so grateful — too grateful. It’s a beautiful thing.
Where were you when you found out about your nominations?
I was in bed. I’m in L.A., so it’s early still.
Did someone wake you up with the news?
No, my publicist was blowing me up, and I answered the phone. She excitedly told me everything, and I just woke up screaming and thanking God.
When you signed on to Mudbound, did you expect for it take off the way it did?
I had no idea what was coming, but I did know that it was a very important movie. When I read the script, I was like, “This film is extremely important,” because it’s a film that has a silver lining in it. In these types of films, you never see love as the silver lining, and black people are never free. These black people were free, and everyone learned how to love each other. Everyone learned that they were exactly the same and that we had to figure a way out of this. So, the script was beautiful and powerful. Did I see all of this coming? No, I had no idea. I’ve been a fan of Dee’s since day one, since Pariah and Bessie. I’m an even bigger fan now because she’s just such a beautiful woman, a beautiful person.
When you previously spoke to EW, you said that you connected with this role because you saw your aunt and your grandmother in Florence. How did you go about preparing to play her?
Once I signed [onto the film], of course, I had to get an acting coach, because it looked like such a big undertaking. I was like, “Wow, this is a huge role.” I had nothing to lose, and I definitely wasn’t going through the best of times in my life. So, I just let it all hang out as far as what was going inside of who I am. As far as what was happening physically with Florence, Dee put her foot down as far as physically stripping “Mary J. Blige” completely out. She didn’t want anyone to see me at all, and I was fine with it. I’ve been around for a while, so it’s hard to kind of get rid of me from me. Once I did it, Florence really liberated me. She helped me a lot. She’s given me a newfound confidence — to be stripped down to my own hair texture, that’s all my own hair. The make-up is very minimal, like sunburned make-up. I’m grateful, because that’s the goal of being an actor — just disappearing.
You usually don’t hear actors talk about working with acting coaches for tough roles. What did you get out of working with one for this role?
For me, this is not freshly new for me, but this is something that I always want to nail. Every role I get, I want to nail, I want to be a success at it. So, acting coaches help you bring out all of those things that you’re feeling and put them in the proper places for this person. I wanted all of the emotion to be right in this person, and I wanted people, when they look at her, to be inspired — inspired looking in her eyes, or inspired looking at the way she moves. That’s what the acting coaches are for — they help you bring forth the emotion and the timing of certain things, and when do you say things, and how do you say things.
You were also nominated for writing “Mighty River” for the movie. Can you walk me through what it was like writing the song for the film, too?
It was very, very powerful. It’s a really good and therapeutic to write a song like this for this movie, because when you watch the movie, all you see is the lyrics in this song. You just see every lyric. It’s like, “Come on, enough of this already! White flag in hand, I don’t want to do this. I’m tired of doing this. Aren’t you tired of doing this?” So, it was beautiful. It was just a very humbling moment to write a song like this with Raphael Saadiq, who I absolutely love, who I’ve been a fan of all my life. Just work with him again means a lot.
At what point in the process did you write the song? Was it after you saw the completed film for the first time?
It was after everything was done. I couldn’t write while I was filming because I didn’t even know I was doing the song until after I saw it at Sundance. Then I was like, “Okay, I gotta write a song for this!” I was just waiting for Dee, for anybody, to ask me because I knew I had the song already. Then, I went to Raphael Saadiq with all lyrics, on my phone of course, and we collaborated and came up with something even more special.
Finally, what’s next for you? Do you have any new movie roles coming down the line that you’re excited about?
Oh, there’s definitely more roles right here, but I can’t speak about them right now until they become real. There’s definitely more singing. Of course I’m not going to stop doing that because that’s my love, that’s how I heal.
The 75th annual Golden Globes, hosted by Seth Meyers, air Jan. 7, 2018 on NBC. Mudbound is available to stream on Netflix now.