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How Cynthia Erivo Learned Not to Play the Part of the

Cynthia Erivo acquired an Academy Award nomination for her function as Harriet Tubman in 2019’s “Harriet” and was lauded for portraying the long-lasting Aretha Franklin in National Geographic’s restricted collection “Genius: Aretha” — two historic figures who can actually be described as sturdy Black girls.

So it would shock you to know the Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award winner determined early on in her appearing profession not to play the a part of the “strong Black woman” — a choice she mentioned with TheWrap’s editor in chief, Sharon Waxman, throughout TheWrap’s BE Conference 2021 on Wednesday.

“My acting teacher passed away recently. Her named was Dee Cannon, and she became a really good friend. She was the one that didn’t want me to shy away from who I was internally, because there is the trope that comes with being a Black woman, where you have to play the strong Black woman,” Erivo advised Waxman through the actress’ “Spotlight Conversation,” offered by National Geographic. “And that’s what I was playing a lot when we were at RADA [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts], and she would, on purpose, give me the most vulnerable player, the most vulnerable role in whatever we would do.”

Genius: Aretha

Though Erivo was hesitant to cease approaching elements from that stereotypical angle, Cannon pushed her to dig deeper.

“She just kept teaching me that, ‘Vulnerability is your strong suit. That’s the thing that makes me want to watch you, because you have a really wonderful way of honing in on the vulnerability of something, of someone. What they mean, what they are.’ I had to really come to terms with that because I had been doing the opposite,” Erivo mentioned. “I had been hiding the vulnerability and playing strong, when actually being strong meant being vulnerable, for me. That might not be the story for everyone, but that really was a turning point for me because I started seeing the way you play characters differently. I started finding out what it is they wanted, what kept them up in the middle of the night, what was the thing that they didn’t want anyone to know but that was driving them. And that’s far more interesting to play than to do what’s on the outside, because what’s on the outside is obvious. But often what makes that outside tick is what’s happening within, where no one can see.”

Erivo took that lesson to coronary heart whereas making ready to play Franklin on “Genius: Aretha,” a job that required her to discover a means into a lady who most individuals solely knew from afar because the powerhouse singer who demanded “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

“It was a big honor to be requested to do it as a result of she’s considered one of my heroes. She’s one of many individuals who taught me what it was to inform a narrative by means of tune, not simply to sing it,” Erivo mentioned of Franklin. “And then it was sort of this overwhelming sense of responsibility. I wanted to be able to tell the story; not just about the music that she made, but about the person behind it all. About the things that she had gone through that made her who she was and made her able to tell stories the way she did, to sing music the way she did, and write it… and find the bravery to want to be credited the way she was credited.”

The eight-episode “Genius: Aretha” — which is the third installment of the Nat Geo anthology collection, following two earlier seasons starring Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein and Antonio Banderas as Pablo Picasso — chronicles Franklin’s life at completely different phases of her profession, from her first performances as a baby to her Grammy wins. But it additionally pulls again the curtain on her private struggles and relationships.

“I think that we take for granted, often, who the woman was,” Erivo mentioned. “We comprehend it’s the Queen of Soul. We know that her music is unimaginable. We know that her voice is unimaginable. But we don’t understand the place all of that comes from. I felt the duty and I…

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