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Mary J Blige reveals all about playing TV’s newest antihero

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Meena Alexander
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Mary J Blige

Stylist talks to Mary J Blige as she brings the darkness to Netflix’s subversive new superhero series.

For a woman with two Oscar nominations, eight platinum-selling albums and global recognition as the Queen of R&B, Mary J Blige cuts an unassuming figure in real life.

At the mention of her musical legacy, she looks down and smiles at her feet. She’s been performing for decades, but there’s a vulnerability to everything she does. It’s why so many connect with her music, and it’s what gives her acting its rawness.

After a critically acclaimed turn in 2017’s wartime drama Mudbound, Blige is returning to Netflix as chilling assassin Cha-Cha in The Umbrella Academy, an adaptation of the award-winning comic books by My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way.

A mash-up of superhero action and dysfunctional family drama, it tells the story of seven children with unique powers. Relatable humanity combined with otherwordly talent – where have we seen that before? 

Mary J Blige with Ellen Page at the 'The Umbrella Academy premiere

Mary J Blige with Ellen Page at The Umbrella Academy premiere 

Cha-Cha is ruthless. How did you get into the mindset of such a dark character?

I had to go to some very, very dark places, places I can’t even describe – and I have a lot of those places I can go to. You have to use those negative things in life to create positive things.

Was it hard work physically, too?

It took me a while to learn the martial arts. It was very challenging but I wanted to be able to say I did some of my own stunts. Learning how to handle the guns was easy though. You realise how easy it is to pull a trigger, it’s really creepy.

Cha-Cha is the polar opposite of your first major role as Florence in Mudbound.

Yes, Florence was all hope and sadness and Cha-Cha doesn’t care about anything, she doesn’t have a conscience. But we all have a bit of those things in us. We can all turn it off and act like we don’t care so we don’t get hurt. There are times I wish I could’ve protected myself, so I understand why Cha-Cha is doing everything to make sure she doesn’t get hurt.

The character was male in the comic books but you’ve switched it up for the show – it brought the new Captain Marvel to mind…

I think it’s amazing, we need it right now. Black and female! [Laughs] We’re definitely at a turning point in the superhero genre – we’re going to start seeing more colour and we’re going to start seeing more females. We have to.

Are you a comic book fan?

I’ve been a fan of Marvel since I was a child. I used to love Aquaman and I’ve been a fan of Super Friends forever. So I’m just waiting for Marvel to call me – I don’t care if it’s to play a secretary.

What other shows do you love?

I’ve been binge-watching Doctor Foster, it’s crazy! It’s such good TV to talk to your girlfriends about. I’m also watching The Haunting Of Hill House but’s that so creepy I had to stop and have a break with some Sex And The City.

The Umbrella Academy is available on Netflix now 

Images: Getty

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Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander is Stylist’s sub-editor. She prides herself on her ability to spell big words, her earring collection and her photographic memory for every outfit Rihanna has ever worn.

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