Mary J. Blige is hard on the chat show circuit to promote her new children’s book Mary Can! available now. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul made her debut appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to discuss the making of her first picture book, as well as other topics, including her flourishing acting career.
When asked if there is any iconic figures story she’d like to bring to the silver screen, Blige answered without hesitation. “I always wanted to play Nina Simone,” she quickly replied.
Her reasons behind taking on what could be a career-defining role were simple.
“I want to learn how to play the piano,” she explained. “I love her songs. They are very dark and moody and I can always find a place for that. So yeah, I definitely want to play her.”
This isn’t the first time Blige’s name has been thrown in the mix to star as the High Priestess of Soul. It dates back as early as 2006, when it was said Blige would make her film-starring debut as Simone.
In a 2009 interview with Billboard, Blige mentioned that she was moving forward with the biopic under her now-defunct Matriarch Entertainment banner. William Morris Endeavor (WME) and director Cynthia Mort were involved in bringing the picture to life, with additional collaboration from music executive Jimmy Iovine and her then-husband and manager.
It seemed as though the film was in motion, according to Blige, who said to Vulture in 2010 that she was enrolled in various classes preparing for the role. The biopic was said to have been shot that fall, but, for whatever reason, it was delayed.
Things came to a halt when it was announced that actress Zoe Saldana would be filing in as Simone in the planned biopic, Nina, which premiered in 2016. Speculations swirled on why Blige was no longer the frontwoman of the film, from funding issues to delays in shooting.
Amid the controversial casting change, Blige continued to support Simone from afar.
In 2015, she contributed to Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone. She performed a faithful jazz-inspired rendition of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
Three years later, in 2018, Blige inducted Simone into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Blige is no stranger to biopics. In January 2013, she starred as Dr. Betty Shabazz, the wife of Malcom X in Lifetime’s Betty & Coretta. Acclaimed actress Angela Bassett played opposite Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2021, Blige starred as Dinah Washington in Aretha Franklin’s biopic, Respect, which had Jennifer Hudson portray the Queen of Soul.
Biopic aside, Blige, who made Oscar history in 2018 as the first person to be nominated in an acting and song category for the same film (Mudbound), is back for season three of Starz’s Power Book II: Ghost.
As she reprises the ruthless Monet Tejada, she explains to Rated R&B what changes most about her character in the upcoming season.
“What changes is the fact that people get to see she’s a human being,” Blige shared.
“She’s mourning over Zeke, but she’s also sad at the fact that she can’t get out of the game when she was trying to get out. Now, she’s super vulnerable but [has] suppressed anger because she’s trying to figure out what’s her next plan, what she’s going to do now.”
Circling back to Lifetime, Blige is returning to the network this June to debut two original movies, Mary J. Blige’s Real Love and Mary J. Blige’s Strength of a Woman. Ajiona Alexus and Da’Vinchi star in both films, which are inspired by songs from her catalog.
Before Blige’s two films premiere, she heads back to Atlanta, Georgia, this Mother’s Day weekend (May 11-14) for year two of her Strength of a Woman Festival and Summit. Ms. Lauryn Hill, Jodeci, Method Man, Lucky Daye, Summer Walker, Robert Glasper and more are part of the four-day event.
Watch Mary J. Blige’s full interview below.