Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr. Talk ‘Harriet’: This Year’s ‘Black Panther’

Leslie Odom, Jr. and Cynthia Erivo at the Essex House Hotel in NY. (MMoore Photo)

*“Harriet” is this year’s “Black Panther” but with a real-life superhero, Harriet Tubman. She single-handedly rescued 70 slaves after escaping from the plantation.

The deeply religious Tubman aka Mosses then went back to rescue over 700 more. EUR caught up with stars Cynthia Erivo (Harriet Tubman) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (William Still) in New York. Still, a member of the Underground Railroad was instrumental in Tubman’s rescues.

 EUR: Uniformed people are saying they don’t want to see another slave movie, not realizing Harriet Tubman was a warrior, an abolitionist and it’s all depicted in this film. Explain how relevant this film is.

CYNTHIA ERIVO: I think it’s extremely relevant. I think we’re in a time where we need some sort of example of resilience and strength and a will and power from a black woman. Really. We certainly haven’t seen it in the center of a story like this before. And to know that it is a real-life person who existed is really special, and it’s time to tell the story. I was just really proud to be a part of this story.

LESLIE ODOM, JR.: I think it would have been relevant 25 years ago. I think it would be relevant 15 years from now. It’s always good to be reminded of the potential that one person has to change the world and to and to save lives. I know people feel like that. But if Kasi Lemmons (Director) made another slavery movie, I’ll watch it. I’m just one of those people, you know, who would watch every world war II movie you wanna make. I’ll watch every new perspective kicking Hitler’s ass. Like, bring it. So I feel the same way about slave movies. I mean, look, we’re just getting the Harriet Tubman movie now. How many stories have we not heard? That’s my feeling.

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Cynthia Erivo  as Harriet Tubman in “Harriet.”  Photo:  Glen Wilson / Focus Features

EUR: What was it like making this movie and what was its impact on you?

LO: I’m, I’m impacted with every project I work on, which is why I’m careful about which ones I take because you kind of carry them with you. With William and Harriet, it’s just a reminder of the power of the individual. It’s makes me ask questions about what I’m doing with my life, how I’m using my life to help somebody else. How am I being of service?

CE: It was exhausting to the mind, body and soul. It was a lot. There were moments where I was just spent because you are leaning into the emotional turmoil that Harriet was feeling, the loss that you have to go through every time we film a scene. And when we filmed that scene between her and John and them leaving each other, we’re filming that over and over again. Filming the scene of my dead sister, doing it over and over again is painful. So it did impact me. It’s stayed with me. I can remember those moments very, very vividly like they were yesterday. But I knew that it was necessary to tell the story and one can only imagine what she had to actually go through. So having that in my mind, it helped to inform me that whatever I was going through, I was always going to be okay because she managed to make it.

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Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still in “Harriet,” Photo: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

 EUR: The music is definitely a part of the story. The lyric video is so powerful, I find myself watching it over and over again. Was the music another tool that inspires you in some of those scenes?

CE: Music is like my language, you know, so I know the power it has. I know what it means to tell a story. There’s something very special about using it specifically to communicate because you can’t say it. To be able to sing that song it felt like calling the spirits.

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Marie Moorehttp://eurweb.com
Veteran syndicated journalist who covers film and television.

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