Performer of the Week: Cynthia Erivo


THE ACTOR | Cynthia Erivo

THE SHOW | Nat Geo’s genius: Aretha

THE CONSEQUENCE | “Respect” (March 21, 2021)

THE PERFORMANCE | Thirteen seconds. It took Erivo so long to convince us in Genius: Aretha’s opening episode that she embodied an icon. Erivo went Franklin (although he was four inches shorter) from a small smile to the British-adopted “Up-South” discussion in Detroit. Erivo channeled Franklin’s simmering energy with every move, whether she soulfully unbuckled lyrics, tilted her head to one side while playing the piano, or hugged the phone with glee as she picked up her first single from Atlantic Records.

In one standout scene, Erivos Franklin is seen in a music studio joking with her all-white male rhythm section. Annoyed, jealous, or both, a drunk Ted White (played by Malcolm Barrett), her manager and first husband, told Franklin to stop fooling around. But she ended her joke anyway and all the men laughed except for White. Despite the growing tension, or perhaps because of it, the actress maintained her character’s dominance by closing her eyes with White for a few seconds too long before leaving to record her singing separately. In the dressing room, the showdown continued as she looked defiantly at White, letting him know that every sad word of “I’ve never loved a man (the way I love you)” was on him. Without averting her gaze, she then took a disappointed drag on her cigarette to continue her growing contempt home.

Months later, after a show in which she was crowned Queen of Soul, she stormed past White and locked her dressing room door in one fell swoop. Erivo winced as she wiped off her makeup in the mirror, conveying both sadness and determination as Franklin knowingly stared at the black eye White gave her for divorcing him and accepted that success and Pain go hand in hand.

AWARD | We know – a lot of The Walking Dead fans weren’t done with the Princess-centric episode on Sunday. But even his critics have to admit that the actress who played the Spitfire, Paola Lázaro, was a revelation. When former Juanita Sanchez grappled with claustrophobia and trust issues, the actress nimbly peeled back the bold exterior of her alter ego to reveal the injured and broken parts underneath. And it was as awesome as it was heartbreaking. Even as a princess declared that she didn’t need her new friends – “I’m a damn superhero on my own” – Lázaro kept her expressive eyes full of longing. Princess might not have needed her, but she wanted to believe in her. In the end, Lázaro left us so overwhelmed that we didn’t think this was too new a character too soon, but rather “Encore! Encore! “

AWARD | If you’d told us a week ago that This Is Us’ edgiest character is the one who makes us cry at the end of the lesson, we would have told you to park your RV where the sun doesn’t shine. But that’s the ability of Griffin Dunne, whose performance as Uncle Nicky in Tuesday’s episode could serve as a masterclass on how small decisions can lead to big impact. The pride in his voice when Nicky told the nurse about his great niece and nephew! The confusion bordered on fear and bleeding out of him as he prepared to board a flight for the first time in decades! The heartbreaking frustration that overcame Dunne with understandable anger when that first snow globe broke! And of course that monologue in the nursery, which was delivered with a softness Dunne seldom incorporated into Nicky’s grumpy, everyday manner. Like those poor snow globes, it was a thing of fragile beauty built with care.

AWARD | Oh how much our hearts ached for Mayan’s MCs Coco in the Tuesday episode – a result of Richard Cabral’s breathtaking, if nerve-wracking, performance. After his unfortunate attempt to escape Meth Mountain last week’s premiere, Coco woke up this week to find meth had been injected into his arm by another addict, irrevocably breaking a promise Coco made to his mother as a child Never use these drugs as she did. When Coco grappled with his shame – and later unfortunately succumbed to his desire to shoot again – Cabral was particularly heartbreaking during Coco’s conversation with clubmate Gilly. “What’s the f-kin ‘difference this time?” A skeptical Gilly asked Coco about his efforts to get clean. “I broke a promise,” Coco replied in Cabral’s voice that was so full of regret that he could barely get the words out.

Which performance (s) knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in the comments!

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