A Grammy, Tony and Drama Desk Award winner who first entered into the world of film in 2018, Cynthia Erivo has quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with in this arena. The star of Harriet, Kasi Lemmons’ drama on slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Erivo earned two Oscar nominations today, for Best Actress and Best Original Song.
“It means the world. It’s an achievement that I think most actors and actresses dream of in their lifetime, and I can’t believe that it’s happening today. Especially where the song is concerned, that, to me, is unbelievable,” the actress told Deadline today. “To have my song get that kind of recognition is beyond, because music is definitely a love of mine.”
In preparation for the role of Harriet Tubman, Erivo engaged in an extensive research process. “It took a lot of work and a lot of training, because she’s a super physical role, but you want to make sure that everything feels authentic and real,” she said. “I was lucky enough to work with Kasi Lemmons, who gave me the space and the time to figure out what it was we wanted to bring forward about her—to bring the love for her family, the tenderness that she felt for her husband, all of those things—and turn her into a human being, really and truly.”
With “Stand Up,” the song she penned with Joshuah Brian Campbell, Erivo aimed “to create something that spoke to the work that [Tubman] did, the strengths that she had, almost like an homage to her greatness and her heroism,” the actress explained, “but also to speak to the love that she had for the people she was trying to save.”
For the actress, the takeaway from Harriet is clear, powerful and universal. “I hope that people can take away the fact that that someone who was doubted, someone who was small, somebody who had very little means, was able to achieve something almost impossible. I hope people see that we have so much more at our fingertips, and that anything that we dream of can be possible if we put our minds and our hearts to it,” Erivo reflected. “I think that she was second to none. She was a hero whose sheer force of will took her where she needed to be, and I think that we also have the chance to do the same. We have the chance to change the world with very little, if we want.”
Soon appearing in HBO’s Stephen King adaptation The Outsider, with films by Doug Liman (Chaos Walking) and John Ridley (Needle in a Timestack) also coming up, Erivo is currently at work on the third season of National Geographic’s Genius, in which she’ll star as Aretha Franklin. “We’re about to go into Episodes 2 and 3, and it’s been really eye-opening to learn about her and her life, to get back into her music. She’s one of my heroes, and I’ve known her music since I was little,” the actress shared, “but to be able to learn her voice and to sing it, and to embody that music is an honor.”
Reflecting on her pair of Oscar nominations, Erivo says she’ll need to take a moment to figure out what she wants to do next—although at present, her music career is at top of mind. “I haven’t done my album yet, so I have to write my album, finish that. I really want to get my music into the world. I don’t know. There’s lots to think about; I don’t know that I thought I would be here right now,” she says. “So, it’s time to go sit down and reiterate, and refigure out the dreams that I have, and see what comes next.”