In late 2019, Oscar-nominated actress Cynthia Erivo was cast as the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin in National Geographic’s Genius: Aretha mini-series.
Erivo was joined by Courtney B. Vance, Pauletta Washington, and a host of esteemed actors and music artist in the series to tell the life story of Franklin from her childhood in the fifties through the nineteen nineties. In stepping into Franklin’s shoes, Erivo got the chance to take on some of her biggest hits such as “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You), Chain of Fools, Until You Come Back To Me, and other Aretha classics. Erivo chatted with The Knockturnal about working with her co-stars on the series and more.
When The Knockturnal asked Erivo about what surprised her most about working with her fellow castmates she said, “I don’t know that anyone surprised me because I knew that everyone was really special, you know, I guess maybe Mrs. Pauletta Washington. I hadn’t worked with her before, and I guess we don’t get to see her very much, as an actress, but she’s really wonderful, she’s got the sort of ease, and there’s like this innate loveliness about her which I really enjoyed experiencing, we spent time together and she was so, so wonderful, so loving, that it sort of like pours out of her when she’s onset. It ends up being onscreen just that way because she is that person she’s just a loving mother and an amazing woman. So I think I was not even surprised but I think disarmed by it. I didn’t expect it. I hadn’t really spent enough time with her, and I knew her before this but I hadn’t spent time working with her.” Erivo went on to further speak about working with Courtney B. Vance who plays Aretha’s father the famous Rev. C.L. Franklin saying, “Building a bond with Courtney, I already knew him from before and I know Ms. Angela Bassett, we’ve spoken on the phone and I’ve called him and I called her and so there was already sort of a bond there. And also he’s so brilliant, but he’s also like a big kid, he’s silly on set sometimes and you just, it’s fun. It’s fun to work with him and he’s also so encouraging and willing to open up a space, he I believe, is like me I believe in that the only way either one of us can get a performance is if we’re leaving space for the other. So because he would leave space for me and I would leave space for him we could just pour into each other. And I trust him very much. So I think that’s probably where the bond comes from, he is awesome.”
While the eight-part series explores and follows Aretha Franklin’s six-decade music career, it also shines a light on her acting aspirations. Franklin appeared in two Hollywood films during her life The Blues Brothers and its sequel Blues Brothers 2000. Erivo expressed what acting roles she felt could have been a fit for Franklin stating, “Do you know what would have been really cool, because I’m a musical theater baby as well, I would have loved to see her play Mama Morton in Chicago. I would have loved to see her do that because I think it would have been brilliant, and I think she would have taken liberties with the song, and I think it would have been incredible. That would have been awesome. I feel like someone would have created something for her, I feel like someone would have made a piece that was meant for her. I wish they would have allowed her to like get into acting because she would have been an amazing Miriam Makeba, who was a South African singer who had a very interesting life. She made this song called Pata Pata very famous. And I would have loved to see that maybe she could have played Winnie Mandela. See that’s my imagination just going.”
Aside from National Geographic’s Genius: Aretha which will air over four nights between March 21st through March 24th, Erivo will be starring in Apple’s Roar and the Disney+ remake of Pinocchio. She will also be releasing a children’s book that she wrote in September.