She may be considered the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, but Mary J. Blige shed all the glamour for her role in the new film Mudbound, currently on Netflix and in theaters.
Blige stars as Florence, the matriarch of the Jacksons, a farming family down in the Delta who rents land from Henry McAllans (played by Jason Clarke) and his family.
When one of of McAllans' young children gets sick, it's Florence who has to come to the rescue and help nurse the youngster back to health. Florence and Henry's wife Laura (played by Carey Mulligan) build a bond through the struggle. And the two women built a bond off camera, as well.
"We obviously never met," Mulligan said while seated next to Blige during a recent press junket. "We came into rehearsal on Day One and [director] Dee [Rees] had us sit opposite each other and look at each other in the eye and repeat some really simple phrases for rehearsal. I just was completely blown away by Mary. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't even know what someone of her level is going to be like. She was unbelievably sweet and gracious. And she has an honesty—which you see in the film performance—which is remarkable. But her honesty was amazing. When you're working with someone in a scene and they can be that honest and vulnerable, it makes your job so much easier. So it was a joy."
"Same here," Blige added. "I didn't know what to expect, but I knew I was a fan of hers. I've seen 10 films of hers. Every time I'm turning on the TV, I'm seeing one of Carey Mulligan's movies. I'm standing beside her, freaking out doing my part. Shes saying she's nervous. I'm like, 'Okay, Carey Mulligan is telling me she's nervous, but I'm nervous.' She just made me so comfortable because she was so humble and so sweet. I didn't know what to expect and that helped even more to bring 'Florence' to life."
In the film, both families eventually go through their own separate hells and later experience a horrifying conflict. And both actresses gushed about how Rees, another powerful woman on set, shepherded them through acting such mentally-taxing scenes.
"She's amazing," Blige said. "Dee, for this type of film and how we got to work, she's a gift from God. She's so patient. She was so sure of everything she did. She made all of us feel safe. She knew exactly what she wanted. She would shoot some of the things so fast, we didn't even know we got the shot. But we didn't have a lot of time, she was just so confident and she knew what she wanted. She was incredible to watch."
Mulligan added, "If you spent five minutes talking to her, she's just unbelievably intelligent and so concise on set, confident. You have to be confident to film something like this in 29 days. She knew exactly what she wanted and she was a collaborator. She held everything with a really firm hand, but she was also open to everyone having ideas."