- Golden Globe Awards
Nominee Profile 2022: Cynthia Erivo, “Genius: Aretha”
She was only 18 months when she started humming a song, her mother said. She remembers the first time on stage when she was five, a shepherd in a nativity singing ‘Silent Night.’
Cynthia Erivo, now 34 years of age, was born and raised in London to Nigerian immigrant parents. She knew early on that music was in her blood, that it was her destiny: “It felt like I was flying. That’s what it feels like when I sing because it feels like sitting in the center of joy.”
This gift transported her from background vocals and solo gigs to the theater stage, where she had her big breakthrough as Celie in the London production of The Color Purple. That huge success brought her to Broadway, where she won a Tony Award for it.
In 2018, Erivo broke into film with the heist thriller Widows. She co-starred with Golden Globe nominee Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizabeth Debicki. Next, we saw her in Bad Times at the El Royale. Hollywood took note of her powerhouse performance. She held more than her own next to Golden Globe winner Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth and Golden Globe winner Jon Hamm. It was only a year later that she received double Golden Globe nominations, one for being the lead in Kasi Lemmon’s biopic Harriet, in which she played the Underground Railroad activist Harriet Tubman, the other for her writing and singing of the original song “Stand Up” in the same film.
Her career trajectory is interesting on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that this British-born mega-talent is so strongly drawn to the real-life characters of American women. With Tubman, she had tackled themes from the Civil War. This time, her performance has guided us through the 1950s and 60s while playing the legendary Aretha Franklin in the television anthology series Genius. She told the HFPA: “I did everything, from reading books to watching the documentary. “Amazing Grace” was helpful because it showed me the relationship she had with her father. It showed me the relationship she had with James Cleveland. It showed me the relationship she had with music, the church, gospel. I watched a lot of interviews because I wanted to see what the pattern of her speech was. If I was listening to music by Aretha before, at this point I was listening to everything that she had made.”
As for which of her own skills she is more drawn to? “All of them,” she said. “I would like to think of myself as a renaissance woman. I want to do all the things that allow me to be as creative as I can be. So, I love movies and I want to keep doing movies. I love theater and I want to be able to do theater. I love music and I’m going to be making music.”
Genius represents Cynthia Erivo’s third Golden Globe nomination, this one for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series, Anthology Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television.