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Cynthia Erivo talks starring in ‘Harriet’

The British actress describes what she learned about Harriet Tubman by portraying her in the film.

YouTube/ “Today Show”

Cynthia Erivo starred as Harriet Tubman in the feature film, Harriet. After hitting theaters on Nov. 1, the movie has already been nominated for two Golden Globe Awards and won multiple awards from eight other organizations.

Erivo, a British actress who was first known for her portrayal of Celie in the Broadway musical adaption of The Color Purple, sat down on the “Today Show” to discuss her latest role as the famous abolitionist.

“It was pretty awesome,” she said of the biopic’s two Golden Globe nominations. “I didn’t expect that—two nominations... It’s been incredible.”

Harriet was two decades in the making. Gregory Allen Howard, the film’s screenwriter, previously told Focus Features the challenges he faced in launching the movie, citing ignorant movie executives and the antiquated “climate in Hollywood.”

“I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,’” Howard had revealed. “When someone pointed out that Roberts couldn’t be Harriet, the executive responded, ‘It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.’”

The uphill battle made the highly anticipated film’s arrival even more prominent.

“It was a huge relief,” Erivo said of the movie finally airing. “People had worked really hard... And I so wanted it to go well for them and for me... I was itching for people to see it.”

Erivo met with a dialect coach and committed hours of research to fully portray her role as Tubman.

“I think the most interesting thing I learned about [Tubman] was how much her faith played a part in her journey,” she said. “Her actual physical journey, to freedom, and back and forth to free the enslaved people. She was so close to God and her faith.”

Harriet is currently nominated for the Golden Globe Awards Best Original Song with “Stand Up,” and clenched Erivo a nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama). The biopic has also been at the center of some Oscar-worthy buzz, which could potentially win Erivo an E.G.O.T.—adding onto her Tony Award and Daytime Emmy Award for The Color Purple.

Erivo is also set to portray Aretha Franklin in National Geographic’s “Genius” series, “Genius: Aretha.” The show will feature Erivo singing several of Franklin’s biggest records and is expected to air next May.

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