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Cynthia Erivo on what her BAFTA Rising Star nomination means to her

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Helen Bownass
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Stylist speaks to the breakout actress about living in the now and the importance of telling different stories. 

To say it’s been a transformative 12 months for actress Cynthia Erivo is, something of an understatement. The 31-year-old Londoner has moved from performing in musical theatre – albeit Grammy and Emmy winning, Oprah Winfrey feted, West End and Broadway located – to starring in some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitting dramas, gaining her a nomination for the BAFTA 2019 EE Rising Star award in the process. 

Those film roles include Widows, in which she starred alongside Viola Davis and Liam Neeson – which was criminally overlooked at the Academy Awards – and Bad Times at the El Royale, about a run-down hotel where seven strangers converge. She has also just wrapped filming Harriet, in which she plays famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman. 

As Erivo lines up alongside fellow BAFTA nominees, Jessie Buckley, Barry Keoghan, Lakeith Stanfield and Letitia Wright, Stylist spoke to the star about what the nomination means to her.  

Viola Davis and Cynthia Erivo in Widows 

What was your reaction to hearing you were a nominee for the EE BAFTA Rising Star Award?

I was in Virginia on the very last day of the shoot and I got the phone call while I was in hair and makeup. I was just like “What do you mean?! How does that even happen?! Oh my gosh!” I just kept saying “Oh my gosh”. I think I cried a little bit; it means a lot. I had no idea I was even being looked at in that way.

Is it particularly poignant that you’ve been given this nomination after you’ve moved from one world to another?

Yes. We move in our different ways. It’s given me a renewed faith in the way I chose to do things; I always knew the way I would do things would be the odd way. It’s very rare that you come in [to acting] from musical theatre. I really appreciate that that’s the way that’s being accepted from me, because it’s giving me the space to do it that way.

Is it important for women to see that there isn’t just one path we should all follow?

Letting people know that you can come in from different avenues and do different things – it’s not an odd thing to be able to do that. There’s nothing wrong with changing it up and trying something new. 

The nominee list feels beautifully representative, does it feel like award shows are finally beginning to reflect the world around us?

When you look at the list it’s like a breath of fresh air. You look at the past winners and you think ‘so many men, so many men’. To see three women on that list of five is really, really awesome, and to know that two of them, including myself, are women of colour, and then to see a man of colour… and it didn’t feel odd or forced. It feels like people are naturally veering towards inclusivity and telling different stories. It feels like we’re getting to a point where we can really start having fun and making things interesting.

What other interesting things do you want to do in 2019?

I already know that the year is going to be busy, so the idea for me is to pay attention to each moment. There are a couple of new things happening in 2019. I have to write an album, I’m signed to a label; I’m going to breathe that in for the first couple of months. And I’m talking about a new film which is so fresh and fun and I get to be part of the music as well. In the past it’s all been hindsight – I want to be part of the now. 

Does living in the moment come easily?

Being here in the second is tough, it’s often: ‘someone’s calling tomorrow’, ‘someone needs something next week’ or ‘I need to be on a flight in two weeks.’ But even within all of that, I’ve still got to make room for the ‘OK, this is happening now, and this is amazing.’

It’s a learning process, isn’t it…?

I’m lucky because I have wonderful people around me who are like ‘Cynthia, this is actually genuine.’ My other half is doing it all the time:  “Babe – look what you did today. This is amazing.” It feels like I’m taking it from their example to do it for myself as well.  

 Cast your vote for the EE Rising Star Award at www.ee.co.uk/BAFTA.

Images: Getty, Instagram 

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Helen Bownass

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