Hype Chat: Cynthia Erivo Talks ‘Widows,’ Going From Broadway To The Big Screen & Not Hiding Behind Her Hair

Cynthia Erivo
Photo Credit: John Russo

Cynthia Erivo’s meteoric rise to fame is truly inspiring, as her flourishing career is already ripe with many major milestones. Her remarkable story began in Stockwell, London, where the breakout star first discovered her love of singing at the tender age of five, and participated in several school musicals and theatre groups throughout her adolescence.

[SEE ALSO: Black Broadway Served Fashion Drama At The 2018 Tony Awards]

After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Cynthia launched her professional career in theatre, playing such characters as Sister Mary Clarence in the musical comedy tour of Sister Act before nabbing her career-defining role in The Color Purple.

The role catapulted her to stardom, making her an overnight sensation on Broadway—and her critically acclaimed performance as Celie landed her numerous prestigious honors, including a Grammy, an Emmy and the highly coveted Tony Award for Best Actress In A Musical.

It also garnered Cynthia the attention of Hollywood luminaries like Steve McQueen, and the Oscar-winning director of 12 Years a Slave would go on to cast Cynthia in her very first film role in Widows, starring opposite Viola Davis.

Widows is a compelling story of three women who find themselves in the fight of their lives when left to pay off the debt their husbands leave behind after a heist gone wrong.

“Essentially, these women take their lives into their own hands and change the course of their futures,” Cynthia shared with us about the film which hits theaters on November 16.

Here, we chat with Cynthia on her move from Broadway to the big screen, Widows, and, of course, all things hair and beauty!

HH: Your new film, Widows, features an amazing ensemble cast.  What was it like to work on set with veterans like Viola Davis?
 She’s sort of a walking master class, and I think she is also extremely gracious. We had a wonderful time being on set together, and I relished every moment that I could because I felt like I was always learning something new. She’s a wonderful person and an incredible actress, and it was pretty awesome to be able to share the space with her as well.

HH: In the film, you play Belle who is a hairstylist and involved in a lot of the action in this film. How did you prepare for the role?
I used to have to do my sister’s hair, so it was nostalgic! Belle is super physical, so I worked out intensely most days and made sure my diet was on point! Belle is a character who comes in a little bit later. She’s a single mother and has been doing things pretty much for herself but also needs a chance to change her life, because she has a daughter she is raising by herself. This opportunity comes along when one of the widows asks her to be a part of the heist—and you sort of watch these women take control of their lives throughout the film and somehow prevail.

HH: In addition to Widows, you will be playing Harriet Tubman in an upcoming biopic. How did you get the role, and what are your thoughts on portraying such a beloved woman in history?
It’s an honor to portray Harriet Tubman. I was overwhelmed when the opportunity arose. The casting director and writer came to see me in The Color Purple on Broadway. I spoke with them and read the script, and I guess it sort of felt natural for them because of the thing that I was doing and the way in which I was telling the story onstage. I think because of my physical capability and all the things that Harriet was, I guess they thought that I was the right fit for it. I was completely honored to be that for them. I’m super-excited and very scared to tell this story, just because she’s a hero for many, many people and I want to do her justice.

HH: When you reflect back on your time with The Color Purple, what are some of the things you treasure most from that experience?
The way in which everyone came together, it really did feel like a family and not just individuals on stage doing their own work. We really were working very much together, trying to tell the story of this woman, and it felt like I gained a new set of friends and a new set of family by doing this show. I met many different people and, from that, was able to meet some of the people who felt like this story was very much their story—and that touched me the most. I learned a lot about what a lot of women have been going through, and I was honored to be a conduit through which they could see themselves surviving, because that is essentially what Celie is. She is a survivor, and I was glad to be able to provide some sort of outlet for those people.

Hype Hair: How has the transition been for you, making the big jump from stage to film?
Cynthia Erivo:
Good so far! It was a new thing to learn because it’s a completely different sort of muscle that you have to use. Being so used to having a live audience and not having that immediate reaction makes it sort of odd, so I’m just taking my time to try and get used to what it is that I’m performing for now. I know that, eventually, you get the audience reaction, but now I’m relying on my cast or my director to give me the feedback that I need…it’s been fun to make the transition.

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