Before winning the role of Aretha Franklin in the upcoming eight-part series, Genius: Aretha, Cynthia Erivo unknowingly auditioned for the part during an awards show red carpet walk.
As it turns out Erivo was making her entrance at the 2019 Tony Awards when a reporter asked her to name her guilty-pleasure song. She responded with “Ain’t No Way,” by the iconic Aretha Franklin, and sang a bit of the song to demonstrate her adoration. Little did she know at the time that the clip would make its way to executive producers Clive Davis and Brian Grazer who subsequently offered Erivo the Queen of Soul role in the third iteration of the Genius series. Her portrayal of Franklin marks the second major real-life figure she’s brought to the screen after earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Harriet Tubman in Harriet.
As luck would have it the 34-year-old triple-threat had the opportunity to meet Ms Franklin on several occasions prior to the singer’s death in 2018. Their first greeting was after a Broadway performance of The Color Purple for which Erivo won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. “We met her afterwards, she came backstage, she sang the line ‘I’m here’ back to me, so I couldn’t have been happier after that,” Erivo recalls. The second time came about when Aretha met Cynthia and remarked, “Oh you, you can sing!”
The eight-part series, Genius: Aretha, starring Cynthia Erivo will air March 21-24 at 9 PM ET on National Geographic, with episodes available each of the next days on Hulu.