At first glance, British singer-actress Cynthia Erivo pulsates with an energy that you only read about in movies and screenplays. There is no fancy light that accompanies her when she walks and yet there seems to be a halo that frames her soft face.
A five-foot-one-inch tall woman, Erivo speaks as a very soft, and measured voice no doubt, trained to keep her precious vocal cords safe. Her nails are always blinged out to the maximum and her fashion style is bohemian chic.
Erivo learned her craft at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, in the U.K, and landed a starring role in the London production of “The Color Purple”; this was in 2013. The powerful word-of-mouth about her voice and her performances caught the attention of New York producer Scott Sanders who brought the production to Broadway. She collected a Tony®, Emmy®, and a Grammy®. If Erivo wins an Academy Award for her new film “Harriet” from director Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou”) she would earn an EGOT.
A film career followed, and she was cast in “Bad Times at the El Royale” and Steve McQueen’s “Widows” opposite Viola Davis and then moved into a leading role in the upcoming HBO series “The Outsider.”
Now to the film “Harriet” in which she stars. The film tells the story of Harriet, the legendary abolitionist’s journey from enslavement to becoming one of the most prolific conductors of the Underground Railroad.
I caught up with Erivo, in New York, along with her co-star Leslie Odom Jr. who also earned a Tony Award® for his role as Alan Burr in “Hamilton.” It seems almost a foregone conclusion that he would be cast to play William Still, a writer, historian, and abolitionist in Philadelphia and part of the Underground Railroad.
Another brilliant aspect of “Harriet” is Erivo’s original song, entitled “Stand Up,” which is co-written by Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell and is produced by Will Wells & Gabe Fox-Peck.
The track is featured in the film, directed by Kasi Lemmons, which also stars Janelle Monáe and Joe Alwyn. The original score is composed by Terence Blanchard.
Here is what Tony®, Emmy®, and Grammy® award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo had to share about playing the role of Harriet in “Harriet.”
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: Did Harriet the woman come alive for you during the filmmaking process?
CYNTHIA ERIVO: Yes, for me she was alive — desperately alive, because it was the only way that I could tell the story that needed to be told.
LAS: I felt her presence while watching the film. Did you, while making it?
CE: Yes. I would ask her out loud for help and guidance because I felt like she was like an angel watching over the whole thing.
LAS: Amazing. A lot of us wonder if this is historically accurate. What did you learn while researching?
CE: I learned she was a very spiritual woman.
LAS: I appreciate how songs were used in the film and I deeply appreciate your song ‘Stand Up’—which you sing. It’s amazing.
CE: Thank you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
“Harriet,” in theaters Nov. 1.