(Interview) Cynthia Erivo Shares How Playing Harriet Tubman in New Biopic Deepened Her Faith Life
HARRIET is the new biopic reaching theaters on November 1 that tells the incredible true story of the American hero Harriet Tubman. Although it has not been marketed as a faith-based film, one cannot help but walk away from the movie feeling inspired by the faith of this remarkable woman.
Most people know Tubman as a former slave who escaped from bondage and returned to facilitate the freedom of others. What is perhaps not as well known about her is the extent to which her Christian faith influenced and inspired her efforts as a liberator of other slaves
The film depicts how central faith was to Tubman’s life and legacy. She not only went back to free others because she found American chattel slavery repugnant to Christianity, but she also claimed that God spoke to her and gave her visions that guided her during her dangerous journeys.
Ambo TV spoke with Cynthia Erivo, who plays Harriet Tubman, and director Kasi Lemmons about the centrality of faith in both Tubman’s life and the film.
“It became perfectly clear that you’d be absolutely omitting something from her story if you didn’t include it,” Lemmons responded when explaining why she focused so heavily on Tubman’s faith in the film. “It was so much a part of her story that I felt that it must be included.”
For Erivo, the centrality of Tubman’s faith in the film has been a blessing because it allows her to open up about her faith in a business where that’s not always welcomed.
“It was a bit of a gift really,” the Broadway star shared. “In this business sometimes you can be a little embarrassed about sharing your faith and speaking about it. What this allowed me to do is explore it–to look deeper into what I believed and be more active in it.”
When considering how to properly reflect Tubman’s faith, Lemmons and Erivo approached the matter differently.
From a directorial standpoint, Lemmons admitted that portraying Tubman’s faith, which was very strong, was a bit intimidating. However, she felt not to do so would be a disservice to the story.
“It was somewhat intimidating portraying a faith that was that strong–you know, that someone’s having visions from God. I felt that it was kind of a cop-out not to,” stated Lemmons. “I had to take her point of view…and tried to look through her eyes.”
Erivo’s preparation was more immersive. Not only did she try to take Tubman’s point of view but she also by started her day with prayer; a practice she has continued.
“In order to play her…I needed to wake up and I needed to pray every morning,” explained the actress and singer. “What that meant for me is that I had an active relationship with God every morning; every day. And so, now, that’s continued.”
HARRIET marks the first starring role in a major motion picture for Erivo. Her role as Celie in The Color Purple on Broadway won her an Emmy, Grammy, and Tony. Now, with HARRIET there has been some buzz created about a possible Oscar win, which would make her one of the few entertainers with an E.G.O.T. (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony).
The powerhouse vocalist has not chosen to focus on the possible Oscar win. Instead, she has expressed her gratitude for being able to portray such an amazing woman, and the space it has given her to talk about her faith as well.
“..in talking about her, we get to talk about her faith. And that means I get to talk about mine. So, what that’s done is open the doors for me to explore what that is….it’s kind of awesome.”