Film / Culture

Mary J Blige on saving the world with the power of love

The R&B icon and acting sensation may be taking on a staggeringly new role with Netflix's 'The Umbrella Academy', but her take on it's relevance today proves the worth of all stories being told.

“The world as we’ve known it is ending”, Mary J Blige simply states, “Where is the love?”. Motivated to spread and share it wherever she can, the renowned musician and actor believes in the power of love, and believes that’s why stories like The Umbrella Academy are having the resounding effect across Netflix audiences everywhere. Focused on a unique tale beginning when 43 women spontaneously giving birth on 1st October 1989, of which 7 supernaturally gifted children are adopted by an ingenious billionaire, the series becomes much more than superhero premise. Based on Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s graphic novels, the concept moves away from the usual DC/Marvel stereotype, and into the realms of family dysfunction and assassination mayhem, where only compassion can save us. One of those surreal time-travelling assassins is one Mary J Blige, and we caught up with the star to find out how we too can save the world…

What drew you to Umbrella Academy and the role of Cha Cha?

Well, her abilities first and foremost: she was strong, she could fight really well, she’s got guns, her partners a man who she stands up to and holds her own. Although her focus is assassination, her focus is so powerful.

Did you relate much to her? Where did you draw inspiration from when creating Cha Cha?

Yeah! (laughs) I was definitely able to relate to her in times when I’m thinking that way… I definitely drew inspiration from my own life, things that have happened to me. What we take from this world, we take the negative and we put it in Cha-Cha and we give a character to the world. 

How do you feel she develops through the show?

Cha Cha is a time travelling assassin, her and her partner Hazel are after someone. Anyone who gets in their way, they’re not afraid of killing them too. So, obviously people keep getting in the way so people keep getting killed… (laughs) Then what happens is she has to develop because her partner is thinking about no longer being an assassin, and thinks about finding love. But this is all Cha Cha knows, and doesn’t want him to leave. 

The underlying theme of the show is this apocalyptic sense of doom, what do you think it is about this that is drawing people in so much? People feel like the world is ending…

I think yeah, metaphorically, the world as we’ve known it is ending. Where is the love? There is so much hate right now it makes you question whether there ever was love. The only way we’re going to keep our world from ending is to find love in ourselves, that’s the work that needs to be done. It’s going to come from each and every person individually to do it, so it’s starts with you. It starts with some little girl at home walking with love constantly, her life is glowing because she’s helping someone. That’s how small but big it is. 

Does it feel like a positive time to be creating as an actor and as a musician?

I think any time is a positive time to create, but especially now because you pull from these hard times. We give our hard times to our these characters – like Cha Cha – so she can be this bad person. We have to make the best of what we have or else we’re just going to be miserable, because when you look around it is just that: miserable. So we have to turn the negative into positive which is what we do with these characters and these creations. 

There are definitely more diverse voices being heard in Hollywood and beyond right now than ever before, but do you feel like things are changing? What do you think still needs to change?

I definitely see a rise in the representation of women, women everywhere of all nationalities. I see a unity in us, we’re all banding together. We’re bringing each other up, and it’s powerful to see that. But so so much still needs to change, so much. We’d be here all night if I listed them…

If the audience could take away one thing from the show what would you want it to be?

That no matter how dysfunctional your life may be, your family may be, your husband, wife, children, friends, whatever the case may be – if you love each other, without judgement, if you accept each other, you’ll make it through. You can get through anything with love. 

The Umbrella Academy is out on Netflix now.

20 February 2019