Cynthia Erivo: ‘It’s Not Enough That I’m the Only One’

It’s not common for actors to snag three major awards for a single performance, but Cynthia Erivo did just that in 2015 for her role as Celie in the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple,” earning her a Tony, a Grammy and an Emmy and putting her just one step away from the coveted EGOT club — the rare group of performers who have all those awards plus an Oscar.

Now, the actress, singer and songwriter could join the club: on Monday she was nominated for two Academy Awards, for best actress and best song, for the biopic “Harriet.” Those are the first Oscar nominations for the 33-year-old star, who has become known for her powerful soprano and swift Hollywood breakthrough.

If she does take home an Oscar, she will be the youngest person ever to become an EGOT winner and in the least time: it will have taken less than five years.

Reached by phone after flying 12 hours to Japan, where she was scheduled to give concerts, Erivo described the news as crazy, mad. “The whole thing is loopy,” she said. But she was also mindful that she was the sole black star nominated for an acting Oscar this year.

“It’s not enough that I’m the only one. It just isn’t,” she said, noting that “far too much work was done this year by incredible women and men of color that should be celebrated.”

The nominations came less than a week after the British academy BAFTA put forward an all-white list of acting nominees. That organization invited Erivo to perform “Stand Up,” her empowering “Harriet” ballad, but she told “Extra” that she had turned down the invitation because it “didn’t represent people of color in the right light.”

Would she perform it at the Oscars if asked? Speaking from Japan, Erivo said she would and described it as a responsibility: “I want to make sure that that song is put forward. And I want to make sure that song is celebrated just as well.”

For “The Color Purple,” Erivo not only took home a Tony for best actress in a musical in 2016 and a Grammy for best musical theater album in 2017, but she also won a Daytime Emmy award in 2017 for outstanding musical performance in a daytime program.

About 15 artists have achieved the elusive EGOT status, including Whoopi Goldberg, Rita Moreno, Audrey Hepburn and Mel Brooks.

Her potential Oscars would come for her turn as the runaway slave turned abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who made history for leading enslaved people to freedom through the Underground Railroad. The drama infuses historical events with the director Kasi Lemmons’s gothic mystical style.

“It means the world to me to be able to portray her and to put her legacy onscreen and allow people to understand who she was and what she did and the work she was able to do with so little,” she said in the interview.

The film, which premiered in November, was the first biopic of the American hero and stirred a lot of buzz, including some negative, after some critics protested Erivo’s casting because she is British and not a descendant of enslaved African-Americans, like Tubman.

Erivo said at the time that she understood the frustrations of her casting, because there is a lack of opportunities for black actors in Hollywood, but had asked viewers to give her a chance.

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