What You Don't Know About Cynthia Erivo

The incredibly talented Cynthia Erivo can delight fans in all forms of entertainment. She was best known for her stellar performance on stage in Broadway's "The Color Purple," which earned her an Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award. Then, Erivo made her big-screen debut in the 2018 film "Bad Times at the El Royale." At that point, the British actor's only experience with movies was filming the Steve McQueen film "Widows," which had yet to be released, per The Hollywood Reporter. Later on TV, Erivo portrayed icon Aretha Franklin in the series "Genius: Aretha." She also stepped in as a guest judge on the British program "Strictly Come Dancing" after judge Craig Revel-Horwood caught COVID-19, BBC reported. In 2021, Erivo signed on to play Elphaba in the movie version of the famous Broadway musical "Wicked," alongside Ariana Grande as Galinda.

Another skill of Erivo is telling stories. She became an author after releasing a children's novel called "Remember to Dream, Ebere." Erivo told Harper's Bazaar, "I realized that the one thing that I have been doing for my life is dreaming and putting all the detail into it." Since dreaming big clearly worked out well for Erivo, she said, "I wanted to teach kids to do the same but in a simple way." Not that her path to stardom was easy, as Erivo dealt with family issues and controversies along the way. But fortunately, she persevered and came out on top.

This is what you don't know about Cynthia Erivo.

Life in London for Cynthia Erivo

Cynthia Erivo was born in London, the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants. As reported by The New York Times, her mom was "a visiting nurse specializing in child development." By the time she was eleven years old, Erivo joined her first performance in "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," a play by Bertolt Brecht. She also appeared on "reality TV, advising chaotic families on 'Trust Me, I'm a Teenager.'" 

But that's not all. According to Erivo's personal website, she became interested in creating music and wrote her first song at the age of 16. This partly came from her childhood when she listened to music at home and on the way to school. Erivo remembered growing up with an eclectic mix of genres from Christian music, to soul and funk. One her aunts introduce the young women to famous '90s artists like TLC and Missy Elliott. All these influences created a unique love of music, which Erivo would then show off to the world. "I was singing whatever I could sing wherever I could sing it — talent shows, open mic nights," she remembered about her childhood.

At a certain point, Erivo decided to take her passion and focus her skills to become a professional. She remembered to The New York Times when telling her mom "I was going to be an actress, I was going to sing, she said, 'Good, make sure you work hard.'"

How Cynthia Erivo learned to sing

In addition to performing in school productions and playing the clarinet in her childhood, Cynthia landed the role of Juliet "in a Young Vic youth production of 'Romeo and Juliet,'" as a 15-year-old, The New York Times reported. She then went on to study music psychology college until one day, Erivo ran into her director from "Romeo and Juliet" who persuaded her to join the famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). One of Erivo's teachers at the academy remembered "she was quite a handful initially — a feisty firecracker — very, very confident, and her confidence backfired on her a little bit." According to the teacher, Erivo's classmates were predominately white and competitive. Reportedly, Erivo earned the respect of her classmates during her role in "Look Homeward, Angel," which "required her to demonstrate vulnerability, onstage and with classmates."

In an interview with NPR, Erivo revealed that even though the school opened doors for her, she never heard of RADA before she was persuaded to apply. According to the actor, she didn't learn from others growing up that attending school to focus on drama was a career choice. Erivo said of attending the academy, "the whole thing was revelatory. Like, the first year was both discovery and struggle and a half 'cause I was just like, what am I doing here?" But Erivo stuck with the program and credits the school with teaching her how to control her voice and grow as an actor.

Cynthia Erivo's American experience

According to Cynthia Erivo, the color of her skin limited her options as a musician while growing up in England. "It's a strange place, the U.K., because there isn't very much room for Black female singers," she explained on her website. Erivo detailed that historically, England often celebrated "white girls that sound like Black girls. So, you're watching all these white girls go do what you do, but no one is giving you a chance to do it." 

After honing her singing and acting skills in London, Erivo relocated to the U.S. for her role in "The Color Purple." Additionally, Erivo felt a change in countries allowed her to pursue a career in the music industry and more. "Moving here opened the doors for me to be able to just be and create and write and do what I wanted to," Erivo said about America. Erivo accomplished her goal and released her debut album, "Ch. 1, Vs. 1."

In an interview for Rolling Stone, Erivo talked about her experience living in the U.S. But unfortunately, not being a citizen made Erivo feel excluded when it came to politics. "After this year, not being able to vote felt paralyzing. Waiting to see what happens, knowing that you're a part of the community but not quite part of it enough that you can vote was really, really tough," she said. Based on her experience, Erivo admitted that she wished to become an American citizen one day.

A tiny fact about Cynthia Erivo

With her booming voice and larger-than-life presence as a performer, it's surprising to learn that Cynthia Erivo is quite short. The actor is listed at barely five feet, one inch and she told NPR that "a lot of people don't realize I am as short as I am until they meet me." Erivo explained how chairs can be difficult and for speeches, sometimes she'll "swallow my pride and ask them for a little step so I can reach the podium." She revealed one of her favorite secrets when it comes to sitting on stools, especially during performances, is to wear a dress long enough that viewers can't notice her feet don't touch the ground. Alternatively, "I spend a lot of my time in heels," Erivo revealed. But she also admitted the heel advantage is squandered around others wearing sky-high footwear. According to Erivo, the worst part of her height is "people assume that because you're small, you are weak or ... you're also childlike." As a result, Erivo often needs to "correct people and let them understand, well, actually, I'm a fully grown adult. I just happen to be small."

In the 2019 film "Harriet," Erivo portrayed Harriet Tubman, a Civil War hero who led slaves through the underground railroad from the South to freedom. More than just the dramatization of Tubman, Erivo also nailed the height comparison. According to National Geographic, Tubman was also quite short and measured in at five feet, two inches.

The truth behind Cynthia Erivo's music

In the midst of many projects and rapidly rising fame, Cynthia Erivo had to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. "I did feel really lonely," she admitted to the Independent about lockdowns and restrictions. "I remember I was in L.A. on my own ... I had loads of people around me, but I felt like I was doing my life solo, and it was going really fast at that time," Erivo explained. According to the actor, "I was sort of like in the middle of what felt like a storm. And I felt like I was just by myself and I just didn't know how to really handle it completely." As a result, she began working on original music. Though she had become famous singing songs on Broadway, Erivo found solace in writing songs. 

While the pandemic clearly affected her state-of-mind, it also helped create the foundation for her debut album "Ch. 1. Vs. 1." According to her official website, "I felt helpless at the start of the pandemic." But she used this emotion to create music in the hope of helping others. More than just the pandemic, Erivo said her one song took on a new life and became "even more powerful" after George Floyd's death. Erivo also hoped her album could help listeners, especially auditory learners, better understand the state of the world through her perspective.

Cynthia Erivo struggled with her family

One of the most revealing aspects that Cynthia Erivo explored in her album "Ch. 1. Vs. 1" was the strained relationship with her father. To write and sing the song "You're Not Here" about the difficult subject, it allowed Erivo "to be totally honest just for once, really. Because I think that that's how I was able to sort of move on and let it go," she told the Independent. Erivo revealed that prior to confronting the reality of her relationship, "I was sort of pretending that it was fine." When she was younger, Erivo's parents separated and her father decided to leave the family when she was 16 years old. Even more, Erivo revealed that she was the first to learn about the big life change. "He told me that he was out of our lives. And I sort of had to relay the message to everyone," Erivo told NPR about her dad. According to the singer, her dad revealed the news in public and in the middle of her school day. She said the experience of her dad leaving, plus having to share this news with her mom and sister, "was deeply disappointing, deeply heartbreaking."

Erivo revealed that as of 2021, she hadn't spoken with her dad after that fateful day. According to her website, Erivo sometimes wished things were better with her dad but in her 30s, she believed "he's not going to be a part of my life at all."

Cynthia Erivo reveals her beauty secrets

One of the most recognizable features of Cynthia Erivo, besides her gorgeous voice, is her septum piercing. The choice in accessory has become a signature item for the actor, especially in more traditional environments. "Being able to work a septum piercing on the red carpet just feels liberating," she told The Times

Erivo also became a red carpet favorite for her unique sense of fashion. As recapped by W, the actor took many fashion risks with great success while promoting her film "Harriet" in 2020. In addition to clothing choices, Erivo became known for "her self-expression; her hair and makeup concepts have always been gorgeously idiosyncratic." In an interview for Vogue, Erivo explained how her beauty routine has long been a sense of pride so she makes time to experiment, even with her busy schedule. She also detailed how makeup artists wouldn't always have shades for darker skin tones. As a result, "It took me a while to start trusting that people would have my makeup with them, so I'd always bring everything with me, just in case."

Erivo wasn't always so confident in her looks. She told The New York Times, "When I was 15, I didn't think I was the prettiest at all." Fortunately, Erivo said in her 20s she learned to love every unique part of her. "Just because I don't look like everybody else doesn't mean that I can't be just as beautiful," she said.

Cynthia Erivo's most controversial role

When Cynthia Erivo was cast to play Harriet Tubman, she faced backlash as a British actor portraying an American hero. Prior to the announcement, Erivo already appeared on stage in "The Color Purple." As she told The Hollywood Reporter about the Tubman backlash, "At first I was naive, because I didn't know that it would be a huge problem for me to play this woman, because I had come from playing African American women onstage." But she was determined to prove her skeptics wrong and told Shadow and Act about her approach to the role, "I didn't take it lightly. I love this woman." Upon release of "Harriet," Erivo asked audiences to "see it and then make your judgements," she told Oprah.

The idea for the movie started decades earlier and the casting choice was almost disastrous. According to the Los Angeles Times, a studio executive asked in 1994 if Julia Roberts could play the lead in a film about Tubman. Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard revealed it took about 25 years for his screenplay to turn into a reality and the timing worked out to give Erivo space to shine. For her performance, Erivo was nominated in the Best Actress category at the Oscars. But as the only person of color to be nominated that year in the major acting categories, Erivo said the recognition was "bittersweet," per BBC. "I want to make sure it doesn't look like this every single time," she said.

Cynthia Erivo earned her respect

As a young girl, Cynthia Erivo remembered listening to the radio in the car with her mom on the way to school. She recalled one station in particular "would always play Aretha Franklin. She was always my hero," Erivo told the Los Angeles Times. By the time she became a famous actor, Erivo still held onto the love for her childhood idol. 

Once, on the Tony Awards red carpet, Erivo sang "Ain't No Way" by Franklin when asked by Variety about a song she loves. Reportedly, this clip made its way to producers working on a National Geographic series about Franklin, which helped Erivo land the role. "This one is more of a joy because I love Aretha Franklin," she told The Guardian about portraying one of her favorite singers. Erivo explained that she had a chance to twice perform for Franklin in person, once in "The Color Purple" and another at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors. During the performance in front of Barack Obama and others, a camera spotted Franklin singing along to the words. "It's just one of my favorite things to keep going back to," Erivo said of the moment with her idol.

For her role in the TV series, Erivo admitted that it took some practice to try and match Franklin's inimitable voice. But she was up to the challenge and explained, "I've been singing for a long time, so I know my instrument."

The connection between Cynthia Erivo and Oprah

Cynthia Erivo clearly earned her way into the entertainment business through natural talent. But it helped to have a little assistance from a powerful figure in the industry like Oprah Winfrey. According to the British Theatre Guide, Winfrey backed the production of "The Color Purple" during the musical's limited run in London in 2013. Reportedly, the opening night "had the feeling of a West End try-out rather than a fringe musical." Sure enough, this would be a try-out for Erivo who played the role of Celie. 

The show later transferred to Broadway, with Erivo as the only cast member from the London version to come to New York, per The Guardian. Winfrey herself had been connected to the story since her role in Steven Spielberg's 1985 film adaptation. In Erivo's first big role in America, she told BBC that Winfrey became her "mentor and friend." According to Erivo, she had lunch with Winfrey before relocating to New York and the famous TV host "said I should be unafraid of what might be coming next, because there'll be some wonderful things — but just to be open, grateful and happy."

Erivo added that with Winfrey as the producer of the Broadway revival, she was always willing to give advice when necessary. On the red carpet at the 2016 Tony Awards, Erivo explained that Winfrey advised her and the cast "to be in the moment and don't be afraid to say 'yes' to things."

From purple to gold for Cynthia Erivo

Though she successfully transitioned from the London production of "The Color Purple" to the Broadway revival, Cynthia Erivo almost didn't land the part in the first place. In an interview for The Cut, Erivo said she had to go against tough competition to join the British version of the show and producers "wouldn't see me for a little bit and then they changed their mind, that I could come in and audition." According to the actor, "I knew that it was the show that I was supposed to be doing. It was just pulling at me, and I wanted this to be part of the story that I was telling for myself."

During the Broadway production, Erivo was relatively unknown compared to her Oscar and Grammy-winning co-star Jennifer Hudson. But Erivo proved her star power and showed that she could belt along with the best in the business, especially in duets with her and Hudson. As a result of her amazing performance on stage, Erivo won the Tony award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. "It's been incredible — the journey that we've had and I've been able to take has been nothing like I could ever imagined," Erivo told BBC. She also broke up a sweep by "Hamilton," which won the three other acting awards for musicals at the Tonys. But more importantly, for the first time ever, all four of the musical award-winners were Black actors.

A look inside Cynthia Erivo's favorite things

When she's not delighting audiences, Cynthia Erivo stays busy in her time off. But she also likes to unwind with more "normal things," Erivo told Page Six. For example, she doesn't shy away from household chores. "I was on my hands and knees cleaning the floor and the kitchen this morning. I do have my own washing matching but I do miss going to the laundromat, I love the smell of fabric softener," Erivo admitted. The actor added that she hoped to later visit her neighborhood laundromat in Brooklyn. Though she greatly benefited from her Broadway performances in "The Color Purple," Erivo revealed that the role limited her personal expression. "I do love to get my nails done," she said. But while on stage, she couldn't wear extravagant nails and "I had to settle for simple short manicures." Fortunately, she was free to resume "getting the long nails with designs."

Erivo is also dedicated to her health and fitness. The actor detailed that she loves herbal tea and starts every day with juice and exercise, which can include weightlifting. Then, in the evening, "I like to do four sets of 10 to 15 push-ups, then four sets of 40 mountain climbers, just to get the blood moving," she told The New York Times. But she makes sure to treat herself as well and during her Broadway run, Erivo kept "a treasure chest of candy in her dressing room."

Who is Cynthia Erivo dating?

As of 2015, Cynthia Erivo was romantically linked up with another talented thespian. She dated actor and singer Dean John-Wilson, who was the star of the "Aladdin" musical in London. In an interview for The New York Times, Erivo referred to John-Wilson, also a Brit, as "my other half." In the lead up to John-Wilson's debut in the role, Erivo admitted "I was there listening to 'A Whole New World' about 50 million times." Her man was also thoughtful and bought her a charm bracelet, which included charms to commemorate trips to Spain and Thailand, plus other mementos. 

But the two split up, and by 2019, Erivo was dating Mario Martinez. According to Vanity Fair, the two met while Erivo was still dating John-Wilson. Allegedly, Martinez continued to ask her out whenever they crossed paths, even though she was taken. "He chased me," Erivo said about Martinez. "Then the last time, I was not with my ex anymore — except this time he did not ask," Erivo detailed. Instead, Martinez "just walked up to me and gave me a kiss."

During an interview with the Independent, Erivo said, "I'm not going to answer about my sexuality just because it's private." The singer wrote a song about "Black female queer love" because to her, the community was too often underrepresented. Erivo added that she wanted to talk about the subject "in a really delicate and intimate and thoughtful way."

The charitable side of Cynthia Erivo

Beyond just wowing audiences with her stunning voice and electric performances, Cynthia Erivo also used her talent for philanthropic efforts. For example, she designed a cow to be auctioned off for CowParade 2021. To raise funds for the organization God's Love We Deliver — who deliver meals to people in need — Erivo created a cow with roses and a nose ring, similar to her famous septum piercing. The fake cow was set to "graze" at the Hudson Yards in Manhattan. Another one of Erivo's projects is helping with the Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by Mariska Hargitay from "Law & Order: Special Victims' Unit." Erivo is on the Board of Directors for the organization that works "to transform society's response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse," according to its website.

Erivo went all over the country helping others, like when she traveled to Texas in 2021. At the 21st annual Austin Street Center charity luncheon, Erivo was the keynote speaker. According to the event website, "Erivo is a fearless voice for women and people of color, raising awareness and setting new standards for diversity across the arts."

Even before becoming famous, Erivo helped support others, like when she raised over 700 British pounds for the 2014 Race for Life London in Hyde Park. On her fundraiser page, Erivo wrote she was "running 10k for Cancer Research UK because They are helping to really make a difference!!"

How much is Cynthia Erivo worth?

For her performance in "The Color Purple," Cynthia Erivo nearly achieved an EGOT for the role — winning all awards except an Oscar. She then transitioned to TV and film, portraying famous figures like Aretha Franklin and Harriet Tubman in addition to more kid-friendly projects like "The Boss Baby: Back in Business." This scripted work, in addition to her children's book and music career, created multiple streams of income. As of 2021, Erivo was worth an estimated $3 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

After relocating to the U.S. for "The Color Purple," Erivo spent some of her money on living arrangements. In 2017, the actor admitted that she spent much of her time outside of Manhattan. "The major perk of living in Brooklyn is that everything is there," she told Page Six. "If I did not want to leave Brooklyn I could stay there the whole time," Erivo added. 

By 2021, Erivo also experienced what it was like to live in California. She revealed on "LIVE with Kelly and Ryan" that she moved to Los Angeles right before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Erivo admitted she often worked from home, at least she had an impressive backyard and garden, as seen in the video interview. She also spent some of her time indoors as the narrator for the audio book "Wild Swan." Erivo shared a video of her home studio including an impressive recording microphone and a little "comfy chair."