Interview: Mary J. Blige talks Broadway plans, strip clubs and 'Rock of Ages'
If Mary J. Blige has her way, she’ll be bringing her volatile, inspiring life story to Broadway. The multiple Grammy winner revealed her plans during an interview with Hitfix on June 3 about her role as strip club owner Justice Charlier in “Rock Of Ages.” The movie opens June 15; the soundtrack is out June 5.
“I’m thinking more of my own life,” she replied when asked what role she’d like to play on the Great White Way. “That’s what I’m thinking. I’m not thinking of anything else right now for Broadway. My life is a musical.”
Wearing awesome red glasses to match her red belt, Blige told Hitfix that she’s “in talks” about the idea, “so it’s definitely something we’re going to do. You’ll see it. We’re going to do it.”
Blige also revealed how visiting strip clubs helped her prepare for her character and the back story she created for Justice.
Below is our Q&A with Blige. It includes primarily questions we asked, but also a few asked by a reporter from another outlet as the two of us sat down together with Blige.
HITFIX: A lot of people don’t know that have covered rock tunes like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love” and U2’s “One.” How did your love affair with rock start?
MJB: I grew up listening to it as well as R&B and hip hop. I got exposed to the heavy metal through MTV. MTV was the only video station we had so we got exposed to Van Halen and Led Zeppelin and Journey, you know what I’m saying? And then I grew up on soft rock because there was no Hot 97 or WBLS or 98.7 when I was five years old, so I know a lot of songs from WABC and WNBC [Editor’s note: These are all New York radio stations], That’s the radio station we were listening to and just growing up, listening to music period, you just love it. Great music is great music.
In “Rock Of Ages,” you play a strip club owner named Justice, who takes Julianne Hough’s character, Sherrie, under her wing. Did real life imitate art here? Did you share any of your experience with her?
Julianne is pretty smart and pretty wise to be so young, but the character called for me to be that person and I had to find that person in her that I was when I was a kid and someone had to help me. There were women that helped me get on my feet and helped me to remember that I’m smart and beautiful and strong regardless of whatever people say or think about me. There’s a lot of truth to the character: I had to be strong in those bad environments and believe in myself and not my circumstances, and teach her and all the girls all the same thing. That’s who Mary is a lot of, but that’s who Justice is too.
What attracted you to the script?
It was the fact that she had depth and that she saw herself in Sherrie and she wanted to help her. If she was just a strip club owner, I would have been like “I’m not doing that.” If she was a dingy, ditzy owner, it would... it had to have something that related to me in order for me to play it, be drawn to the role. She was loose and fun and it was another side of her, just like there’s another side of me that people don’t see, they always see this strong, marching through side. they don’t ever see the fun loose person.
Justice is a woman who’s made it in a man’s world, like you.
She lost something when she was a child and she lost it to men and she kept losing it to men and so she wanted to gain back the ground and power over them in that area by keeping her identity and running the joint, like “I have power here, this is my place.” And that’s [like] being a strong woman in the music business. I have my identity. I fought for who Mary J. Blige is. I have power over a lot of the men in the industry.
That’s a complete back story that we don’t know about her. Did you create that or did director Adam Shankman give you that?
No. That’s how I see her...Why would she be there? Why would she be in a strip club? She’s supposed to be looked at as a beautiful. strong. powerful business woman. Why is she there? She’s there to get back the power that some man took from her all her life and she’s gotten that back. That’s fair enough to say. She tells them how much money to spend, she brings the girls out and she’s running the club so she has the power over men in the club.
You’re the most experienced and best singer of the cast, which includes many actors not known for their singing. Did you coach any of them?
No. they didn’t need my help (laughs)
Which was your favorite song to sing?
The “Shadows of the Night/Harden My Heart” mash-up because those songs mean so much to me. I loved “Harden My Heart.” I loved “Shadows of the Night.” I love, love those songs.
Julianne said she prepared by going to strip clubs. How did you prepare?
I went to strip clubs. That was fun! It was actually fun because the women there were so sweet and nice and, you know, they just want to talk to you. They knew exactly who I was so I got bombarded and stampeded and I had to sit and talk to them all night. They didn’t want to dance, they just wanted to talk. I got the chance to talk to Maiden, the “Justice” of the club and she’s young too and she’s sweet. But they’re happy where they are. They’re confident and they’re beautiful, so I learned how to carry myself from watching them.
Were you bummed you had no scenes with Tom Cruise?
I mean I was not bummed. I did one. They might show it briefly when they do the behind-the-scenes. If you blinked, you’d probably miss it.
When you’re recording for a soundtrack and are in the booth, are you recording as Mary J. Blige or as your character?
The character. You’re Justice. You’re singing from whomever you made Justice out to be. Mary’s delivering the vocal stuff, but the pain and the depth is coming from Justice’s experience.
What’s your next movie role?
It’s “Parallel Lives.” It’s a Lifetime movie and we start shooting in September and October. It’s about [civil rights advocate] Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King. It’s about the lives of the women behind the men. [I play] Betty.
How do you prepare for that?
Gotta get an acting coach. I already started going online and looking up her interviews, so I’m already looking.
That’s such a responsibility when you’re playing a real person.
It is a responsibility. So you’ve got to do your homework to really nail... you don’t want to mess it up.
Is Broadway in your future?
Of course, there’s Broadway.
What role would you like to do?
Well, I’m thinking more of my own life, you know what I’m saying? That’s what I’m thinking. I’m not thinking of anything else right now for Broadway. My life is a musical.
Have you talked to anyone about that? Is that in formative stages?
Yeah. What’s crazy is... yeah. We’re in talks about there’s different things happening. People are staying the same thing. The same thing you’re asking, people are saying the same thing, so it’s definitely something we’re going to do. You’ll see it. We’re going to do it.