SAG Awards nominee profile: Cynthia Erivo (‘Genius: Aretha’) looks to command respect as Queen of Soul

Cynthia Erivo is nominated for the second time at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, this time for playing music icon Aretha Franklin in Nat Geo’s anthology series “Genius: Aretha.” Two years ago, the actress earned her first nomination from the guild for her performance as another historical figure, Harriet Tubman, in the film “Harriet.” While Erivo was nominated for an Emmy for her star turn in “Genius: Aretha,” she did not win, but she now has the opportunity to pull off an upset over the actress to whom she lost.

Erivo’s competition in the SAG category of Best Actress in a Television Movie or Limited Series includes Kate Winslet (“Mare of Easttown”), who defeated her at the Emmys. Winslet has long been a favorite of SAG, with three wins from 12 nominations dating back to 1996. Winslet’s “Mare of Easttown” costar Jean Smart is also nominated here, with concurrent bids both individually for “Hacks” and as part of the comedy’s ensemble; she was previously nominated once before as a member of the “24” cast in 2007. Filling out the category are Jennifer Coolidge (“The White Lotus”) and Margaret Qualley (“Maid”) are making their SAG Awards debuts.

While Erivo’s filmography is still relatively small, she has emerged as one of the industry’s most in-demand actresses. After a thriving career in theater which included a Tony-winning performance in “The Color Purple,” she made her film debut in 2018 with roles in “Bad Times at the El Royale” and “Widows.” The following year she earned Oscar nominations for “Harriet” in Best Actress and Best Original Song, having co-written the film’s end credits theme. She took on another juicy supporting part in the HBO limited series “The Outsider” in 2020 and has now earned nominations from multiple award shows for “Genius: Aretha.” Erivo will lend her voice to Robert Zemeckis’s adaptation of “Pinocchio” later this year and is set to star in the highly anticipated movie adaptation of the Broadway musical “Wicked.”

In “Genius: Aretha,” Erivo portrays Franklin with confidence in her own artistry and once-in-a-lifetime vocal ability. The actress lends her own well-trained voice to interpret the Queen of Soul’s classic songs, from “Respect” to “Chain of Fools.” She also finds nuance in depicting Franklin’s personal and professional struggles. It is possible that Erivo will benefit from SAG’s love of actors playing real people. In this year’s Best Actress film category, biopic performances make up four of the five slots, including Jennifer Hudson playing her own version of Franklin in “Respect.” Meanwhile, as the only biopic performance in her category, Erivo may have an unexpected edge over her competition.

This article is a part of Gold Derby’s “SAG Awards nominee profile” series spotlighting the 2022 contenders in film and TV.

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