Season 3 of National Geographic’s “Genius” will focus on Aretha Franklin, with two-time Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”) tapped to play the legendary singer. So why was Erivo right for the part? “It’s just all about her capability in bringing Aretha to the screen with real power and integrity,” Ron Howard revealed to Gold Derby at the 2020 Television Academy Hall of Fame ceremony. Howard is an executive producer and director of the Emmy-winning biopic limited series, which has already chronicled the lives of Albert Einstein (Geoffrey Rush) in 2017 and Pablo Picasso (Antonio Banderas) in 2018. Watch our red carpet interview with Howard above.
In between shooting “Genius: Aretha,” Erivo is busy campaigning for a pair of Oscars for “Harriet”: Best Actress for portraying Harriet Tubman and Best Song for co-writing “Stand Up” with Joshuah Brian Campbell. For the Broadway show “The Color Purple,” Erivo won a Tony in 2016 for Best Musical Actress, a Grammy in 2017 for Best Musical Theater Album and a Daytime Emmy in 2017 for Best Musical Performance in a Daytime Program. That means she’s just an Oscar away from being an EGOT recipient.
Howard continued, “She’s just a remarkable talent, and the voice, and she’s so dedicated to bringing everything that she has and getting it right. As busy as she is, it’s a good kind of exhaustion, but she’s pretty beat.” Erivo will next be seen on the Oscar stage singing “Stand Up.”
Since “Genius: Aretha” is “just shooting now,” when can TV viewers expect to see it? “I don’t know what the air date is right now, and I’m not even sure NatGeo does,” Howard admitted. The first two cycles of the biopic series aired between April and June, right at the end of the Emmy eligibility period.
Franklin, aka the Queen of Soul, passed away in 2018 at the age of 76. While Erivo will portray Franklin as we remember her, Sanai Victoria will play a younger version in flashbacks. Other cast members include Courtney B. Vance, David Cross, Malcolm Barrett, Patrice Covington, Kimberly Hebert Gregory and Rebecca Naomi Jones.