Cynthia Erivo was walking the red carpet at the 2018 Tony Awards when Variety senior culture & events editor Marc Malkin asked her what her favorite song to sing is.
Without a second thought, Erivo belted out Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way,” and soon after, her agent called with news that Clive Davis had heard her rendition and recommended her to portray the legendary soul singer in National Geographic’s “Genius” anthology series. The rest is history.
In the Variety Streaming Room, presented by National Geographic, Erivo sat down virtually with Malkin to discuss the making of the eight-episode season and how the actor approached playing Franklin.
Erivo said that at first, she was excited and scared to step into the shoes one of music’s most celebrated and cherished figures, especially because “Genius: Aretha” covers far more than just Franklin’s career.
“It’s about her activism, it’s about her motherhood, it’s about her music, it’s about her relationships, it’s about her life,” Erivo said. “And I wanted to make sure that I was open enough and ready enough to do that.”
Erivo mentioned that singing as Franklin in full wardrobe and makeup was “very surreal,” and tackling songs like “Never Grow Old” felt like a “puzzle.”
“There was no tempo, no time signature… She’s sort of singing free form. I just was like, ‘I don’t know how to decipher this,'” Erivo said. “So, it took me hours to just keep listening. The morning we were going to film it, I was in the bathroom getting ready, brushing my teeth, trying to sing along to this recording on my phone by me. I [even] took the phone into the shower… I was on a mission to try and understand this song.”
Watch the full discussion above.