Crime pays

How a Broad­way star and film new­comer landed one of the most buzzed-about roles of the year


CYN­THIA ERIVO WAS al­ready hav­ing quite the year when the script ar­rived. It was 2017, and she was on the set of Steve Mcqueen thriller Wid­ows

— her first film — when she re­ceived the sides. Read­ing hun­grily, Erivo was im­me­di­ately moved by what was on the page. “I was re­ally taken by all the twists and turns,” she tells Em­pire. “I thought it was a re­ally spe­cial piece.”

There was just one snag. The word was that film­mak­ers were see­ing sev­eral ac­tors. And specif­i­cally, some very big names. But what Erivo lacked in a rich film CV, she made up for in one vi­tal el­e­ment: the singing. And that’s what the role de­manded specif­i­cally: an ac­tor who could sing live dur­ing film­ing, with di­rec­tor Drew God­dard de­ter­mined to add noth­ing in the edit.

The char­ac­ter was Dar­lene Sweet, a down-on-her-luck singer and one of six strangers who check into the El Royale one rainy night in 1969. Brit Cyn­thia Erivo had dom­i­nated Broad­way, landing a Tony Award for Best Ac­tress In A Mu­si­cal for her per­for­mance as Celie in The Color Pur­ple. She didn’t just have a voice; she had the voice.

An au­di­tion fol­lowed, as did a work­shop and face-to-face meet­ing with Drew God­dard. At the end of the process: the role was hers, a role she by then craved.

“She re­ally is a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter,” says Erivo. “It was a world I could step into and be some­one else. I loved the fact that she had to sing live. It was go­ing to be a chal­lenge to do it take af­ter take af­ter take, but I wanted to see if I could do it.”

Do it she did, blow­ing away film­mak­ers and the rest of the ensem­ble cast — which fea­tures Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota John­son and the man she’d be shar­ing the most scenes with, Jeff Bridges, who plays Fa­ther Daniel Flynn, a priest who may not be en­tirely as he seems. For his part, Bridges can’t speak highly enough of the ac­tor he’d never met be­fore turn­ing up on set in Van­cou­ver.

“Oh God, it was just ter­rific,” he says. “She’s such a won­der­ful singer and won­der­ful ac­tress. She has a lot of joy,” he says. “We had a great time to­gether. It’s a lot like a play — play­ing to­gether. There’s a lot of emo­tional in­ten­sity in the film.”

Wid­ows may have been shot first, but Bad Times At The El Royale is the first out in cine­mas. And that role be­ing op­po­site your new big­gest fan, Jeff Bridges? It’s quite the first job.


Cyn­thia Erivo spoke to Em­pire on 20 July, on the phone from New York. Above: Stick ’em up: Dar­lene Sweet (Cyn­thia Erivo) threatens Fa­ther Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges).Left: Sweet (Erivo) gets an un­wel­come soak­ing.

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