| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Grammy-winning R&B singer Mary J. Blige has always sung from her heart, telling of personal struggles on albums such as "No More Drama" and "Stronger with Each Tear." She also has dabbled in acting with guest roles on TV's "Ghost Whisperer" and in the Tyler Perry film "I Can Do Bad All By Myself."
On Friday, her acting and singing skills will both be on display in her most high-profile film role yet - Justice, owner of the Venus Gentlemen's Club in the rock musical "Rock of Ages."
In the adaptation of the Broadway musical, Blige belts out tunes like Journey's "Any Way You Want It" and Pat Benatar's "Shadows of the Night" while taking in an aspiring young singer named Sherrie (Julianne Hough) whose own Hollywood dreams have hit a low point.
Blige, 41, sat down with Reuters to talk about the role, her strong desire to mentor young women and the recent scandal that has plagued her female empowerment foundation.
Q: You play the owner of strip club in the film. Did you try and find some commonality between yourself and your character?
A: We have a lot in common. She was a protector of young women in that environment. She saw herself in Sherrie and wanted Sherrie to be better than her. And not be stuck in a place like a strip club.
Q: How does that relate to you?
A: The back story I gave Justice was that some man took the power from her when she was younger. And they kept taking it from her to the point that she ended up in place like (a strip club) to take the power back from them. A lot of that is Mary.
Q: Explain taking the power back?
A: Stand up for your rights, learning to not let your environment control how you feel about yourself, staying confident no matter where you are. Nurturing young women, being an inspiration to them. That's Mary.
Q: You lent one of your songs, "Need Someone to Love You," to the upcoming documentary "The Invisible War," which is about the rape of women within the U.S. military. How did that happen?
A: When they approached me about it, I was like, that's fine because people are hurting. It was a way of giving back. When you're lending your voice, you're saving a life.
Q: Why is helping others so important to you?
A: I think the more you have, the more you're supposed to give. It would be real selfish of people like myself not to give, not to want to help someone. I remember when I was that girl, so why wouldn't I want to help? To sit and be selfish, to sit on all (your success), what are you doing with it? It's not moving, it's not going anywhere, so you're not growing. When you help others, you grow.
Q: With that said, it must have been tough to learn last month that your charity, The Mary J. Blige and Steve Stoute Foundation For the Advancement Of Women Now Inc, was being accused of mishandling funds and cheating scholarship students.
A: The lives of young women are at stake. I feel what they feel. I don't want them to suffer. I promised them something and I'm gonna deliver. Period.
Q: For your music fans, when will you deliver the sequel to last fall's album, "My Life II ... The Journey Continues (Act 1)"?
A: We already have songs for "Act 2" and we're still recording a couple of new ones. Right now, we're rehearsing a tour for "Act 1," which starts in August. The sequel will be next year.
Q: Any more plans to act?
A: I'm going to do a Lifetime movie called "Parallel Lives" about the lives of Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz, the widows of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. It's about what they had to deal with when their men were fighting for freedom. It's powerful.
Q: Who will you play?
A: "I'm supposed to play Betty but I'm on the fence. Betty, or Coretta? We'll figure it out. It's Betty for now, but when you see the movie and I'm Coretta...(laughs)
Q: Getting back to "Rock of Ages," what do you hope to get out of it? It's your first time as part of such a high-profile cast with actors like Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin.
A: This is my big break for people to see me not as the greatest actress but as someone who is on her way to doing something great. Because she's trying to do the work.
(Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Bill Trott)