As a nine-time Grammy winner with 30 noms, Mary J. Blige certainly didn’t need to pursue a career in acting. But, as she says, it was “something I’ve always wanted to do”.
As the Wicked Witch of the West, Evillene, in The Wiz Live! Blige not only stunned viewers with her performance of the much-loved song ‘Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News’–a personal favorite of hers–but her acting skills impressed audiences and critics alike.
Having grown up with the 1978 film version of The Wiz, starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, Blige jumped at the opportunity to play Evillene, not only as an homage to a film she loved, but as a chance to show the world she can do more creatively. “I wanted people to see me as an actress,” she says, “and see me transform into something else, other than just Mary J. Blige singing some songs from The Wiz. I wanted them to see my acting skills.”
What made you jump at the chance to do The Wiz Live! and how did you get involved?
When I got the call, immediately I was excited because it was The Wiz, and The Wiz has meant so much to me in my life, as a little girl, even a teenager. Because when The Wiz, the actual movie with Michael Jackson came out, it was a time when Michael Jackson was becoming a big soul artist. It was about Diana Ross, and it was just about the movement. It was an amazing movie from the show that Stephanie Mills did on Broadway, which I didn’t get a chance to see. The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland was of course a big deal as well. The movie was just one of the most exciting, colorful, musical things we had seen in our culture, so it meant so much to us. So when they asked me, it was either the Good Witch Glinda, or Evillene, and I ran at the chance to play Evillene because, okay, Mary J. Blige, Glinda the good witch, we expected that. No, I wanted to have fun. That song ‘No Bad News’ is like one of the main reasons why I watched The Wiz. I had a blast doing it.
How did you get into that wicked witch headspace?
Well, my headspace of being the wicked witch is how I feel as a business woman. It’s like, I don’t want to hear no bad news. I don’t want to hear ‘no’, I don’t want to hear ‘we can’t’. I want to hear ‘go get it, we got it’. For every nice person, there’s a person that’s not so nice, you know? It was like a purge. It was like a release of just so many things that you want to get out and you want to say, and can’t say. Evillene just let it rip. She was mean to everybody.
What kind of preparation work did you do?
I actually went back to The Wiz to study Mabel King, and just how disgusting she was. The witch lived in a sewer. When I put the outfit on, it felt like it was 30lbs. It just made it easy to be wicked because the outfit was heavy, and it was hot, and that crown was probably like 20lbs. So to go back and watch her, and watch how she was stomping around and how her face was turned up at everybody, that was some of my preparation. Learning the lines and going back and watching the original.
Now you’re also doing some more acting in Mudbound. What attracted you to the role?
I’m actually in New Orleans right now shooting it. I’m playing alongside Carey Mulligan. We’ve done a lot of scenes together. Beautiful, sweet girl. I was approached to do Mudbound by Dee Rees, the director. She just wanted me to play Florence. I was like, “absolutely.” I’m just grateful that she wanted me to be Florence. So I’m doing my best to be Florence out here.
How are you finding that kind of transition between music and acting?
Well, it’s a challenge because acting is not as easy as everyone claims to think. It’s pretty challenging, but it’s beautiful. I love it. I love the transition. I still do music, but this is a lot of work. A lot of studying to be the best. In music, I know how to do that. I can do that with my eyes closed. But with this, I have to really study. I have to really listen, and I really want it. I really, really want it. So I’m going hard after it.
On your next album you’re working on a collaboration with Kanye West. What can you say about that?
I can’t really go into detail and give you titles and things like that. I’m trying to keep everything under wraps until it actually comes out. I had the honor of working with Kanye and his greatness, and we sound great together on the work that we did. It should be coming soon. That’s the most I can give you on it. It’s pretty exciting.