Five Favorite Films

Cynthia Erivo's Five Favorite Films

The star of Harriet talks about the films and performances that influenced her, from a Judy Garland classic and a blockbuster superhero movie to an unsung remake.

by | November 8, 2019 | Comments

(Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

Cynthia Erivo is poised to make history this awards season. The 32-year-old British actress, whom many will remember from Bad Times at the El Royale or her supporting role alongside Viola Davis in Widows, is currently in theaters playing arguably the most famous Black woman in American History, Harriet Tubman, and she is getting a ton of Oscar buzz. Harriet is Erivo’s first starring role, but theater fans will instantly recall her as Ms. Celie from the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. For her work on the Broadway hit, she won a Tony, an Emmy, and a Grammy – and if you’re counting letters, she is only one O(scar) away from the prestigious and elusive EGOT. Luckily for Erivo, many awards pundits are betting on her, putting her on track to become the youngest EGOT winner ever. We recently sat down with Erivo to discuss the film, her friendship with co-stars Leslie Odom Jr. and Janelle Monáe, and why Meryl Streep’s pursed lips are a big part of one her Five Favorite Films.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) 75%

First is The Devil Wears Prada, which I watched a million times over. I’m a fashion fanatic, and I love how it’s like a character in the film. I think it’s one of Meryl Streep‘s most amazing performances. I don’t know, there’s just something about it, the subtleties like the little purse of her lips that she does. I think it’s just really cool, and it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. And the soundtrack on it is fabulous. I loved watching the way in which they used fashion through it, the dedication to keeping it very fashion-forward. I loved it. I thought it was brilliant.

Polly (1989)

The original was called Pollyanna, and then they did a remake of the film, called Polly, and it had Phylicia Rashad in it. It was probably one of the first musical films I had ever seen that was fully… Pretty much almost fully cast of Black men and women and children. And I think it was one of the reasons I was like, “Oh, I can do musicals. I can be in them. This is cool.” And I love the music. I still remember the songs, and it’s been a while since I’ve watched it. I have the VHS of it. I don’t even know if they do it on DVD. I don’t know if you can even get it on iTunes. But I loved it.

A Star Is Born (1954) 98%

The 1954 version of A Star Is Born. Judy Garland in that role is unbelievable. She is heartbreaking, and that scene where she sings “The Man Who Got Away”… Just so gorgeous. It’s at that time in her life where really the role could’ve been reversed between her and her partner. It glazes heartbreak over the whole entire thing. It’s just beautiful, and she’s beautiful in it.

The Color Purple (1985) 81%

Next is The Color Purple, for obvious reasons. The first way I came to it was the film, a bit before I read the book. And it has some of my favorite people in it. And I think I’ve met them now, strangely enough, most of those people from the film.

I mean, Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, of course.

Yes, I’ve met Whoopi. I’ve met Oprah. I have also met Akosua Busia – she’s Nettie. I met Whoopi; she was at the premiere. She’s so kind and cool. And I have also had the pleasure of meeting Oprah. Then I met Akosua. But that film was the beginning, I guess. And in watching it, it changed my life. I watched that movie and was inspired. I read the book, and then the musical came along, and I got the musical, and here I am. So, that film is always going to be one of my favorites.

Black Panther (2018) 97%

Lastly, I am gonna have to say Black Panther. My favorite scene of Black Panther – it’s not really even a scene, but it’s towards the end when they’re at the United Nations, and just the image of Danai Gurira in that beautiful, black dress, that’s got that crazy neckline, and she just looks regal. And then, obviously, there’s the scene in the big battle, where a rhinoceros that comes towards Danai, and it stops right in its tracks, inches from her face. There’s just something. Oh, it’s so powerful, it’s so good, so good. And such a delectable moment. I can’t even tell you how much I loved that film.

Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: Talk about taking on such an iconic person from American History. A lot is known about her, but a lot isn’t. 

Cynthia Erivo: Preparing for her all of us, myself and Kasi [Lemmons, the director], we both needed to do character research. Kasi did about seven months’ worth of reading, and I was doing the research as well. Kasi and I spent a lot of time together, deciding what it was that we wanted to bring to her. I made sure I was physically ready for her, because I knew it was going to be a completely physical role. And I made sure that I made my mind ready so that I could be emotionally available for the things that needed to be done with her story. I knew the work that she did. I knew that she was married to John. I knew that she ran a hundred miles to freedom. I knew that she came back and brought other enslaved people to freedom. But being able to work on this, read the script, and learn about her was really fun because it filled in the blanks.

You mentioned the physical preparation. Talk to us about that. You did a ton of running.

[Laughs] I did. But for me, I think it’s all the same, because I was taught that you always get ready for the performance; you don’t let the performance get you ready. Whenever I’m about to get into a role, I try to prepare physically for it. Some require more work than others. Harriet needed a lot of physical work beforehand, so I really had to put myself through training. It was a lot of cardio and running and biking and horse riding. I needed to be able to lift myself up, climb on things, climb over things, and run. And I did all my stunts, pretty much. Maybe two stunts I didn’t do. The rest was me. I wanted to make sure I was ready for all of that. I didn’t want to have to concentrate on whether or not I was ready to do something because I hadn’t trained. So I trained to make sure that I could get on set and be ready. And then everything that came up that was new was the only thing I needed to handle.

Let’s talk about this incredible cast — Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, and Joe Alwyn. It’s such a dream cast. Tell us about working with them.

Beforehand, Janelle and I knew each other. I begged for Janelle to be a part of it. I asked her if she would do it, then I asked Kasi, and I asked Debra [Martin Chase, the producer]. I was like, “Please, can we have Janelle be in this, please, because I think she’d be perfect for it?” She’s this beautiful soul. It just felt right. It felt like she was right for that, and she was. She was a wonderful, wonderful addition to the cast, just because she’s such a caring, gentle personality, but there’s a real fight in her, which I absolutely adore. For Leslie, he and I have known each other for a really long time. We both won our Tonys the same year. His daughter is my goddaughter. So we already had a rapport with each other. And it always just feels great when he’s on set with me, because I feel safe. And I just met Jennifer [Nettles] and Joe, who are lovely, lovely people, and they were there for the right reasons. I was really lucky to have an incredible group of people to do this with, because it could’ve been far more difficult. But because Kasi and Debra are wonderful people, they also pick wonderful people to be around.

Harriet is in theaters now.

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

Comedy OWN documentary DC streaming service TBS sports Amazon 21st Century Fox 2019 sequel name the review Comics on TV Rom-Com Trivia Sundance Now Fox News Podcast NBC cancelled television Turner doctor who spinoff cinemax BBC Sundance TV SDCC Apple TV+ dceu book Spring TV ESPN Endgame zombies political drama VICE werewolf Lionsgate YouTube Red Red Carpet cancelled Freeform Mary Tyler Moore American Society of Cinematographers versus Women's History Month batman directors Ellie Kemper Writers Guild of America Anna Paquin Sneak Peek The Walking Dead Hulu DC Universe Western movie Shudder spain USA Network harry potter dramedy Ovation A&E SXSW spider-man Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt National Geographic Universal Turner Classic Movies Crunchyroll crossover 2016 Musical Super Bowl diversity Black Mirror Epix Biopics TV cops Horror Marathons CNN RT21 Certified Fresh TCA 2017 scary movies Comic Book hispanic comics MCU crime drama war Summer PaleyFest reboot Teen stand-up comedy Interview Lifetime Christmas movies cults RT History movies WGN technology TCA Winter 2020 Paramount Network finale Fall TV Academy Awards 45 toy story Photos MTV game show President facebook Tomatazos jamie lee curtis Tubi ABC supernatural Quiz Christmas romantic comedy award winner true crime sitcom Crackle Stephen King Bravo what to watch television Captain marvel adaptation Emmy Nominations 2020 YouTube Premium Esquire south america BBC America YouTube FX on Hulu Valentine's Day cancelled TV shows Ghostbusters independent E3 Creative Arts Emmys Nickelodeon Amazon Prime Superheroe Acorn TV blockbuster Discovery Channel transformers Pirates Set visit Schedule El Rey LGBTQ History Oscars video AMC Netflix Film Festival X-Men quibi Shondaland YA Holidays The Witch streaming zombie A24 Columbia Pictures Pride Month Sony Pictures APB Disney streaming service Peacock Warner Bros. Opinion elevated horror franchise reviews slashers DirecTV science fiction NYCC game of thrones comic Elton John Baby Yoda Hallmark Film Grammys Arrowverse cats Apple TV Plus VH1 foreign Disney based on movie Spike 2017 christmas movies Awards Star Trek mockumentary Rock rotten movies we love Action Sundance canceled revenge IFC Hallmark Christmas movies Star Wars Amazon Studios TNT casting Calendar halloween Martial Arts discovery MSNBC cooking Year in Review dogs Paramount screen actors guild anthology miniseries Logo Infographic Dark Horse Comics unscripted 007 theme song mutant tv talk zero dark thirty golden globes Sci-Fi robots The Purge period drama binge crime thriller cartoon Rocketman boxoffice USA TCA psycho Tarantino romance Winter TV disaster comiccon First Look OneApp GIFs Awards Tour GoT Pop FX ABC Family Pet Sematary Mary Poppins Returns politics FXX composers series TruTV FOX psychological thriller CBS aliens BET Fantasy Amazon Prime Video DC Comics HBO GLAAD Toys dragons Showtime Mystery canceled TV shows Disney Channel green book Drama 2015 Starz nature adventure Vudu Song of Ice and Fire joker thriller breaking bad Netflix Christmas movies Binge Guide space 2018 Winners Heroines Mary poppins First Reviews police drama Box Office Lucasfilm singing competition festivals vampires The Arrangement LGBT Nat Geo docudrama Marvel Television The CW Premiere Dates Reality teaser Watching Series Cannes travel 71st Emmy Awards ITV Polls and Games Kids & Family Marvel sag awards kids Travel Channel TCM Masterpiece TIFF Mindy Kaling Brie Larson Adult Swim universal monsters 24 frames 20th Century Fox New York Comic Con ratings renewed TV shows spanish language Cosplay serial killer indie Funimation Lifetime cars historical drama anime Extras crime Nominations Cartoon Network Classic Film Holiday Musicals latino dc SundanceTV cancelled TV series Marvel Studios screenings HBO Max Election Apple Syfy Walt Disney Pictures CW Seed witnail spy thriller Trailer Emmys San Diego Comic-Con Character Guide Chernobyl See It Skip It DGA animated justice league Family Comedy Central Best and Worst Music children's TV Countdown TLC Trophy Talk Tumblr Disney+ Disney Plus Disney Plus strong female leads TV renewals CMT Pop TV biography free movies E! Britbox Television Academy IFC Films Rocky medical drama Video Games richard e. Grant Spectrum Originals ghosts blaxploitation Animation PBS Country Reality Competition Pixar hist WarnerMedia Food Network social media Black History Month Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Avengers Superheroes talk show TV Land CBS All Access natural history Thanksgiving Mudbound