With ten Grammy Awards, Mary J. Blige is essentially a living legend when it comes to music, but she has made great strides with her acting career, having earned nominations for the Golden Globes and Oscars for her role in the Netflix drama ‘Mudbound’. Most of her roles have been pretty weighty and serious, which appears to explain why Blige took the role of ice-cold time-traveling assassin Cha-Cha on Netflix’s newest breakout hit ‘The Umbrella Academy’, created by Steve Blackman, based on the comic books by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.
As Blige told Entertainment Weekly:
“When I read the script it was super exciting, but it was the character of Cha-Cha that drew me to the role. The reason why she drew me to the role was that she represented something I’ve never done, but I always wanted to do: I’ve always wanted to play bats—. I’ve always wanted to play someone with no emotion, who didn’t care about anything, who’s just murder, murder, murder. All-business, never wavering. I’ve always wanted to learn martial arts, I always wanted to shoot all different all kinds of firearms, and I did exactly that. That’s what drew me to the role.”
Blige took martial arts training everyday while filming and began firearms training after landing the role. And even though Cha-Cha and her partner Hazel, played by Cameron Britton wore large cartoonish helmets when on a mission, Blige and Britton insisted on performing as many of their own stunts as possible.
Blige shared most of her scenes with Britton, who was nominated for an Emmy for his role as disarmingly charming serial killer Ed Kemper on David Fincher’s Netflix series ‘Mindhunter’. Blige admits she was a bit wary of Britton at first, but grew to love her costar over time.
“He’s one of my really good friends now. He’s just so real. He’s not fazed by anything, he’s great to talk to, he’s great to learn from. We had a lot of fun. We had some good chemistry, Cameron and I, because he’s a beautiful person. I saw him in Mindhunter, and I was almost afraid to do my scenes with him. Then I got over my Mindhunter nervousness being alone with him because he’s a beautiful man. But Mindhunter really messed me up, I almost couldn’t do my scenes. But as Cha-Cha I had to be in control of everything, so I’d be like, ‘I gotta remember that I’m Cha-Cha.’”
One refreshing twist on Cha-Cha and Hazel on ‘The Umbrella Academy’ is that these aren’t self-motivated killers (well, at least Hazel isn’t), but employees performing a job, with all the headaches that go along with it.
As Blackman said:
“They’re working stiffs. They’re two people working for a company, they can’t get their per diems and they can’t get their benefits. This is an everyday thing for them. I didn’t want it to feel precious. In movies, assassins are always so intense and uptight, but this is just Tuesday to them. For Hazel it’s just another job, but Cha-Cha loves it. She’d do it for free if she could. Having Cameron Britton and Mary J Blige just brought them to life: The size difference, the way they look at each other.”
The first ten-episode season of ‘The Umbrella Academy’ was released last Friday and quickly became the most streamed digital series in the United States, pretty much ensuring a second season. So fans can look forward to more misadventures, not just of the show’s heroes, but hopefully Cha-Cha and Hazel as well.
And for fans of her music, Blige actually contributed to the show’s soundtrack. She sings a cover of Rod Stewart’s ‘Stay With Me’, which appears in Episode 8, scoring a sequence in which Cha-Cha scopes out a donut shop, after she fears that Hazel has betrayed her.
Have you seen all of ‘The Umbrella Academy’ yet? What do you think so far?