Cynthia Erivo is only missing an Oscar and she has the famous fourfold success “EGOT” together, so the awards Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony received. And that at just 34 years of age. She has already been nominated twice for an Oscar, so it should only be a matter of time before she gets it. Well she is first seen in the series “Genius: Aretha Franklin” (from June 4th on Disney +), in which she plays the Queen of Soul.
The anthology series has the push-up button “Genius”, in German genius. What makes Aretha Franklin a genius for you?
From a purely practical point of view: She couldn’t read music and still composed and created music. She could play like a concert pianist and only by ear.
And from a theoretical point of view?
With her music she has built a bridge to her normal life and that of her audience. She processed her own feelings and experiences and addressed all those who listened to her through the music. One reason it was heard all over the world. She could do something with music that no one else could.
How did you come into contact with Aretha Franklin’s music for the first time?
I was in my mother’s car on the way to school. I was nine or ten years old. And suddenly “Think” was playing on the radio. I had never heard her sing before in my life. But I immediately fell in love with the sound of her voice. A few songs later Aretha Franklin was playing again. This time in a duet with Annie Lennox “Sisters Are Doin ‘it for themselves”. It just didn’t get into my head how one and the same person can make two songs that are so different and that both songs touch me in that way. In that moment it was all over to me.
How did you approach the physicality of Aretha Franklin?
I’m more of an audiovisual guy by nature. I watch or hear something and learn. The network was a great help to me, a never-ending source of inspiration. There are thousands of videos of her online. Especially from their appearances. I watched her very closely. What I quickly noticed: She doesn’t have a lot of routines. She moves to music when it grabs her. Sometimes more sometimes less. I learned from her how to immerse herself in music. This of course also included listening to their music day and night – my poor neighbors.
And yet you manage not to copy Aretha Franklin, but to interpret it – a tightrope walk.
You say something. The only thing that came to my mind was one thing: I can’t pretend I’m Aretha Franklin. I didn’t want to be a doppelganger, not to imitate her one hundred percent. Because then I would have denied everything human. If I had just focused on being just like them, I would have played totally stiff. The connection to her would have been missing. I wanted to see her as a person, not as a picture, idea or video that I saw. So I couldn’t really understand them until I could let go of them.