Betty and Coretta Interview: Mary J. Blige on Playing Betty Shabazz

Mary J. Blige  Betty Shabazz

Lifetime is keeping their must-see TV movie lineup going with Betty and Coretta the story of the real-life friendship between Betty Shabazz (the widow of Malcom X) and Coretta Scott King (the widow of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King). The film stars Mary J. Blige as Shabazz, Angela Bassett as King, Malik Yoba as Dr. King and Lindsay Owens Pierre as Malcom X. TV Equals was excited to be a part of a conference call to ask Blige about her role, how she got into character and the relevance of the film for women today.

Being approached about Betty and Coretta

“The material was brought to me by my business partner [Polly Anthony] and friend, and they asked me if I would play the role,” said Blige about the opportunity. “Acting is something…that I’m definitely into doing right now, so getting to play such a huge part…to play [Shabazz] was an honor, so I didn’t mind working hard and becoming someone so powerful, so strong and important to the world. I didn’t mind at all.”

Getting into character

Some of the hard work Blige had to go through was finding her way into Shabazz’s mindset. In order to get into the mindset of Shabazz, Blige used both online and published research.
“I went online to YouTube and pulled up everything I could on Betty, and then I read some books,” she said. [There] was not a lot of visual stuff of her online, but, you know, I got what I could[.]”

She also said acting as a real-life person was a new step for has an actress; up until now, she has played only fictional characters.

“It was different because I was trying to make sure that I didn’t do anything that would disrespect the character…I had to make sure I respected the whole character so that everyone else respected the character,” she said. “You know, when you’re playing a fictional role, you can have fun with it, but I had to…know every single thing that this woman was…Even when I was trying add in…my own life to draw inspiration from, I still had to nail every thing that this woman was so her family can be happy and believe it and not be upset[.]”

What Blige learned about Shabazz

Blige talked about some of the things she didn’t know about Shabazz before signing onto the film.

“I didn’t know she could dance, first of all…I didn’t know that she was the one–[when] she and Coretta were trying to make it through the assassinations of their husbands and being friends, she was the one trying to [lighten the mood], telling the jokes, trying to be up and happy through all their trials,” she said. “So that’s definitely something that will stick with me, trying to be positive and happy, to continue to try to be positive and happy when bad things happen. You know, try to keep it light…Betty was the one who kept it light.”

Blige and Shabazz’s similarities

Blige said that one of the things she shares with Shabazz is strength of character and the willingness to persevere through adversity.

“It was definitely…her ability to be strong no matter what, no matter how bad things get,” she said. “[N]o matter how…hurtful life gets. You have to keep going and going[.]”

Acting alongside Bassett

You might not think of Blige as one who can be easily intimidated, but Blige said she was actually nervous about acting with Bassett on set.

“Of course, it was intimidating. It was Angela Bassett, who I absolutely love, admire and look up to. She’s one of my favorite actresses in the business,” she said. “I used the intimidation to learn and grow from her and I watched her…and became confident in watching her.”

The relevance of Betty and Coretta

Blige believes the film will be very poignant for today’s women, some of whom are single mothers like Shabazz and King.

“I think it will really be relevant nowadays because…you don’t always need a man, like Betty said, but you need to get yourself the training and the education you do need to be able to take care of your children, to get…a proper job to take care of your children, and have the courage…that Coretta had to continue to fight for [her] family–both of them did, really,” she said. “I think this will really resonate with single mothers.”

Betty and Coretta comes to Lifetime February 2 at 8/7c.