Cover and interview with Cynthia Erivo
It’s 11 a.m. in Los Angeles when Cynthia Erivo and I connect via Zoom. The actress and singer-songwriter sits in her sun-drenched office, without makeup but adorned with her signature septum ring and a smile of openness and warmth. Her hair is a shiny peroxide blonde and her face is lighted up, possibly from a runner’s drunkenness. “I just ran eight miles,” she says. “This is my usual morning ritual. If I do between four and 15 miles, I’m happy!”
It is this energy that made Erivo the toast of Hollywood. Over the past three years, the 34-year-old’s profile has skyrocketed with a series of career-defining roles. His first big screen appearance was in the Steve McQueen film in 2018 Widows like the sassy single mother Belle. Then she gave a brilliantly subtle turn in Bad times at the El Royale, and in 2019 she starred as abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the biopic Harriet, earning two Oscar nominations, one for the song “Stand Up” and the other for Best Actress.
However, it is in the National Geographic series, Genius: Aretha, in which she plays Aretha Franklin, where she was able to truly showcase her multiple skills, using her glorious and powerful voice, sweet as honey in a glass of malt whiskey, and embodying the soul icon with ease. . “I’ve been listening to Aretha since I was little,” she told me. “To have the chance to learn her music with an understanding of her life was really special. I was working through the songs, looking at the psychology of the woman singing and the choices she made.”
The series covers much of Franklin’s life from the 50s to the late 90s, highlighting aspects of his life that audiences were not aware of. We see her debut on the gospel circuit on a trip with her father, the barren years she struggled to find her sound after signing with Columbia Records and the abundance that followed once she was. switched to Atlantic and picked up hits like ‘Respect’ and ‘I Say a Little Prayer’. Franklin’s personal traumas also take center stage: losing her mother at 10, having her first baby at 12, marrying a bossy and abusive husband, and the complicated relationship she had with her father – a preacher. outspoken (played by Courtney B Vance) who spots her daughter’s talent early on and ensures that success is her only goal.
“I loved having the opportunity to know what made Aretha the person, who made Aretha the artist,” Erivo said. “And yes, she compartmentalized her life but I understand. There are things you should be able to keep to yourself. Because there is a strange thing that happens when you are in the public eye, where that is. looks a lot like what you have and do is everyone’s own. For your sanity it’s good to be able to keep some things to yourself. I don’t mind sharing a lot, but I can stay the happy person that I am when you meet me, there are things that I love and that I only talk about to the people I love. “
During the filming of Genie, whenever she had free time was devoted to co-writing and recording her debut album, Ch. 1 Vs. 1, a work Erivo speaks of with unbridled happiness “[Lyrically] it’s a combination of stories but it definitely comes from my heart, “she says.” Everything from relationships I’ve had, to a song about my mom and the people I’ve met. “She loves it. write out of sight of others.: “I find a corner and I sit on the floor, I like to be rooted when I write.” I wonder if entering the psyche of the queen of soul has helped Erivo with her own process? “Learning Aretha’s story and what I had been through gave me a boost in myself with my own music,” she says. “I felt empowered to do the things I wanted. I wasn’t afraid to say, “I don’t like it, I think we should start over. And learning his songs forced me to learn my own instrument. I discovered that there was [new] sounds and riffs I could do. ”
There are great, daring and beatifying songs such as “Glowing Up”, in which she reveled in the courage and glory of her accomplishments and invited us to do the same. There is the ‘Mama’ and ‘Hero’ celebration – a Black Lives Matter anthem with lyrics that reflect the energy of the movement, including ‘I can’t breathe’, the last words spoken by Eric Garner in 2014 and George Floyd in 2020 Then there is the introspective ‘A Window’, in which she cries real tears and ‘You’re Not Here’, a meditation on the distant love of her ex-father (who has her. disowned at 16).
Erivo’s parents immigrated to the UK in their early 20s from Nigeria. Her father is gone and her mother Edith raised Erivo and younger sister Stephanie in Stockwell, South London. “Mum always said I sang before I spoke, but I don’t remember” Erivo discovered the effect of her voice when she was in a nursery play at the age of five . “I had a solo [‘Silent Night’]. I loved that I could sing a song on my own and that song made people happy and smiling. ”
Edith worked as a nurse, ensuring that her daughters had comfortable lives. Erivo believes that growing up in an all-female household has helped build her confidence. “Often the world tells us [Black women] that we are not able to do certain things but when all you know is other women do whatever they want, you realize, yes I can too. My mom has a nice house and a car – I can have a nice house and a car. She has the job she wants, I can get the job I want too. At no time did my mother say, “You must be a doctor, you know how it goes,” she told me, leaning towards her screen. I know this all too well as a first generation Nigerian of British descent. .
There is almost an unspoken oath between us and our parents that we should become a doctor, lawyer or engineer; they have strived to give us opportunities, so we are encouraged to follow traditional career paths. Erivo’s mother had a different position,
however: “Mom said,” If singing is what you wanna do, then work really hard and do it well – make sure you’re the best. “” As Erivo approached her teenage years, she realized that she wanted to play the role of good. “Acting came to life when I was about 11 years old. I loved being able to tell other people’s stories.”
She went to Rada in her early twenties and after graduating found her skills in demand for musical theater. She was cast for the role of Celie in the 2013 production of the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark. The color purple. Two years later, Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones brought the musical to Broadway. Erivo was the only London cast member caught in the United States. His stellar ride and silky soprano captivated audiences and critics alike. In 2016, she won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. In 2017, a Grammy and an Emmy followed.
Over the past few years, Erivo has happily called America home. “It trips me up!” she said of the difference between London and LA. Where else would you end up in Whoopi Goldberg’s closet admiring her shoe collection? “She had this whole wall of Irregular Choice shoes!” Erivo tells me about the time she met the legendary actress and discovered her predilection for kitschy British shoes.
Erivo returns to London whenever she can to see her family and friends and to visit the theater. “I always go to Young Vic and love going to Borough Market,” she says. “In London, I’m still a local girl, but here [in LA] this is where I built my life. I feel like the circle has come full circle … “We are discussing the massive exodus of black talent from Britain to America due to the lack of opportunities here. Does she think things will change? “I hope so,” she said. “Otherwise. The black actors will keep on leaving and we will go where we are accepted. “Last year, Erivo declined an invitation to play” Stand Up “at the Baftas. His lyrics are about freedom and equality (he was adopted by the Black Lives Matter the movement during the marches), but no black actor was nominated in any of the categories.
Much of her work is an ode to activism – she recently started Edith’s Daughter, a production company, to tell hidden black stories, and Ch.1 Vs.1’s debut music video, for her song “The Good, ”portrays a lesbian relationship through an authentic lens, reflecting the ups and downs of love.
On top of all this, Erivo wrote a children’s book, Don’t forget to dream, Ebere, about a little girl who imagines the wonderful things she can do and be every night. Ebere is encouraged by her mother, as was Erivo. “I have two goddaughters and a lot of my friends have children,” she says. “I wanted to write something for them and for anyone who needs encouragement and wants to know their dreams are valid.”
I ask him what his own dreams are after the release of Ch.1 Vs.1. She momentarily closes her eyes, opens them and paints the stage, her voice soft: “I see myself playing in front of a crowd, people singing one of my songs and little lights are everywhere because their phones are on. I want people. to talk about their stories that come to life when they hear the songs, I hope that connects with them. And I hope he wins a Grammy or two because it’s my heart and soul. ” As 2022 unfolds, that dream is certain to become a reality.
‘Ch.1 Vs.1’ (Verve Records) is now available. The December issue of Harper’s Bazaar hits newsstands November 5.