“Playing Florence was a heavy experience for me. But I’m so proud to have had the opportunity to walk through this strong woman’s shoes,” Blige said in her acceptance speech for Breakthrough Performance Award at the 29th Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala in California on Tuesday evening.
“It wasn’t easy at first to find this character because I didn’t realize how vain I was until I had to play a character like Florence,” she said at the event, which was sponsored by Cadillac. “Seriously I had to leave a lot of myself behind, a lot of Mary J. Blige behind. A lot of wigs, a lot of lashes, a lot of makeup, a lot of nails, you know the whole thing.”
In the Dee Rees-directed film, Blige portrays a beleaguered matriarch living in Mississippi Delta poverty before and after World War II. Stone-faced and steely, Florence is a mystery, concealing a lifetime of pain and disappointment viewers are unlikely to ever discover.
“Playing Florence was so therapeutic for me and I poured a lot of my personal pain into her. And she healed me. She healed parts of me that I didn’t even realize were broken,” the star said at the film festival. “So connecting with her was a blessing for me personally. I know she was aside me the whole time because my whole family is Southern. And when were kids, my mom would send us to Georgia in the summers. My grandmother and my aunts are this woman, Florence.”
Adding, “They’re strong and they knew how to move their husbands without saying a word. She was in my DNA so I knew I walk like a Southern woman, speak like a Southern woman. I guess I am a Southern woman at heart.”
As awards season quickly approaches, Blige wants fans and audiences to take away a specific message from her movie.
“I know being a part of Mudbound changed my life and I think the story that it tells can change other lives. There’s a negativity in the world right now. So we need more films like this to remind us that we are all connected and that history is truly shared,” she concluded her speech.
This article originally appeared on People.