Why cross the pond for The Color Purple? "Well, I didn't think there was any question, really," says Cynthia Erivo. "I wasn't going to wait for anything else to take me here because this story has been a part of my life for almost two to three years now… and it was something that changed my life from the very beginning. I learned so much about myself as a person and actress in this role in this show, that when the opportunity came, it was just a complete and utter gift."
Erivo wowed critics and audiences with her performance as Celie in the musical's U.K. premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and at 28 years old, the London-born actress came to the States to reprise her performance. After a week of performances, we talked to the star about feeling beautiful, finding a new home in New York City and what's in store for the future.
How have performances been going?
Cynthia Erivo: It's been ridiculously incredible. I had no idea that we would get this reaction at all. We opened first preview like last week, and it feels like we're open. People are there. People are engaged. People are alive. People are ready to hear the story, reacting with us, going with us… It's amazing. It is truly amazing.
I think that this story is so special. Audiences relate to the characters, and they come out of the theatre saying, "I need to love me." What has been so special about that for you?
CE: People, at the moment, have no qualms about telling me how it's changing them and how they've had this out-of-body experience and they've felt like something about the music, something about the characters, something about where they go has healed a little bit of them. I had someone tell me that they had the strength to leave a relationship that just wasn't right for them. They had that strength to move on. I've had people tell me that they needed that moment — at that time, they needed this show, they needed that song, they needed "I'm Here" for them to heal. To have people open enough to tell me that is just more than I could ask for. It's more than the applause, it's more than ovations, it's more than anything — it means that you're genuinely helping people.
How has this show changed you? You've been with it for quite some time now.
CE: I've been with it for two years, and I feel like it is changing my life. It really is. Every step of the way, every day something new comes along with new people I meet, new things, new experiences, and I think it's helping me grow as an actress. It's helping me grow as a person in this business, in this career. I feel like it will never be as it was again. I feel strange, but there's this feeling that something has moved forward…
What's on your bucket list? What would you like to do next?
CE: I'd love to do a film. If I did [more] Broadway, I know Lin-Manuel [Miranda] was saying that he would have no qualms about having a woman play one of the forefathers. I would do that in a heartbeat. I would do it in a heartbeat! I always say that I want to play Serena Williams if they ever did a biopic of hers. I definitely want to do that, and I want to do some films. I want to do some gritty, messy films, where there's no makeup involved, and it gets right into the heart of issues. I want to do that. There's so much. I want to try and do a fashion line… I don't know, there's plenty! I'm a fitness fanatic. I want to work with a sports line to create some things or just all of those bits and pieces. There's many things.
Speaking of Hamilton and The Color Purple, it's one of the most diverse seasons on Broadway, which is so exciting!
CE: Completely, and it's amazing. I think it's incredible, and I think how wonderful that me, in particular — this London girl — is here now at this time when all of that is happening. I just think it's wonderful because it's very rare that that happens, and all of a sudden it just exploded, and we've got all of these wonderful stories coming from everywhere, which I think is beautiful, and I hope I get to see most of these things. I've seen Hamilton. I'm obsessed. The music is crazy. I love it, hence the reason I would absolutely do that in a heartbeat.
Do you miss home? Are you enjoying New York?
CE: I'm really enjoying New York. I do miss home a little bit, but the pieces of home that I miss I'm always in contact with, so my other half, my best friend, my mother, my sister — I'm always talking to them. So I feel like they're all kind of here with me anyway. So I'm okay, and everyone's looking after me so well here and keeping me so busy that there's no reason to miss it because I know that I'm going to see them again.
(Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)