Cynthia Erivo Power Issue

The Power of Cynthia Erivo

The London bred actress talks authenticity, self-care, and the power in being vulnerable.

It’s hard to picture Cynthia Erivo as anything but a standout. Her style choices are fearless; she sees fashion as a form of art, gravitating toward pieces that tell a story and feel a little bit off the beaten path. Her intricately designed nails, which have featured everything from Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night (at the 2020 Oscars) to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam reimagined with Black women (at the 2018 Met Gala), always make a splash on red carpets. In fact, everything about the 5 foot 1 actress, singer-songwriter, and children’s book author exudes, well, presence.  

Cynthia Erivo Power Issue
Simone Rocha shirt, shorts, gloves and socks. Casadei shoes.

Danika Magdelena

But the British-born Nigerian admits that, prior to finishing her studies at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 2010, she was more background than center stage, using her shoulder-length hair as a tool to hide. “I was doing it for such a long time,” she tells me over a recent Zoom call. “I remember saying to myself, I’d like to walk into a room and have people just see my face.” 

So, she decided to cut her hair off. Her initial attempt, though, was met with opposition. “[My hairdresser] would only cut some of it. So I left with a haircut that I didn't want,” Erivo says. “I allowed [my hairdresser’s] fears or something she was projecting onto me to affect how I made my decision.”

A week later Erivo was back at the salon. This time, she emerged with the dramatic haircut she wanted, which she says left her with the realization that “my beauty doesn’t stem from how I do my hair.” Just as important, she learned the power of living as her authentic self.

Cynthia Erivo Power Issue
Simone Rocha shirt and gloves.

Danika Magdelena

“Being powerful is every day finding what the most authentic version of yourself is that day and sticking with it, not allowing other people's perception of who you are or what you are sway you,” she says. “How you feel about yourself — that's powerful for me.”

These days, authenticity is Erivo’s calling card, something evident when she came out as queer in British Vogue last summer. “That felt like a really wonderful moment to let myself be completely who I am,” she says. “[Now] I'm not spending time pretending to be anything other than [myself], which means my brain and my body and everything is free to create the way I want to, and I'm not using any energy in the wrong way.”

The Power of Her Craft

Each time Erivo taps into her creativity, the result is an array of diverse and strong characters: Harriet Tubman, Aretha Franklin, and her breakthrough role as Celie Harris Johnson in the 2015 Broadway production of The Color Purple. Her electric performances in roles like these have garnered her several awards and Oscar nominations, inching her closer toward the exclusive 18-member EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award winners) club. (She just needs an Oscar!) For Erivo, however, portraying famously strong, powerful women isn’t the only point. “Where most people see power, I see vulnerability,” she says. 

That vulnerability, in part, is what led Erivo to her latest role, as detective Odette Raine alongside Idris Elba in this month’s much-anticipated Luther: The Fallen Sun. Erivo calls her character “different [from] anything I’ve done before.”

Cynthia Erivo Power Issue
Christopher Kane dress. Sportmax shoes.

Danika Magdelena

“I have never seen anything like her,” Erivo says of her role in the film, which begins where the long-running, award-winning British television series left off—with a serial killer terrorizing London and Elba’s troubled title character behind bars. “She has this propensity for darkness and light. When you meet her she is very rules-oriented, and she believes in doing the best she can and being on the right side of the law. And when it comes down to it, there are things that she has to do that don’t necessarily align with her moral compass.” 

Luther isn’t Erivo’s only project with a storied history or built-in fan base. The 36-year-old is currently in London filming the Jon M. Chu-helmed Wicked, where she plays the misunderstood Elphaba in the two-film series opposite Ariana Grande’s Glinda, slated to hit theaters in 2024 and 2025. 

Again, it’s the green witch’s humanity and vulnerability that were a big draw. “Elphaba has this power she has no idea what to do with or where it comes from.” says Erivo. “And has to make the decision to lean into whatever she has, and try to understand it while being completely different and completely in opposition to what most people deem beautiful or good or right.”

Cynthia Erivo Power Issue
Louis Vuitton top, skirt and shoes.

Danika Magdelena

The Power of Wellness

For Erivo, the early call times and long hours on set means being an early riser to ensure she works out, a major part of her self-care routine.

“[Exercise] is the thing that keeps my brain working. Otherwise, I start flagging halfway through the day,” Erivo says. “I’d rather get up early, get a workout in, and be able to move through the day, then struggle halfway through the day because I haven't taken the time to work for myself.” Plus, Erivo loves the power she feels when she reaches the halfway point of a session. “It’s that middle section where you could stop if you wanted to, but knowing my brain and my mind and body have allowed me to continue to get to the end.” 

Cynthia Erivo Power Issue
Louis Vuitton top and skirt.

Danika Magdelena

That’s why five to six days each week you’ll find Erivo doing a mix of modalities, including bodyweight moves, Pilates, indoor cycling, barre, and yoga, sometimes as early as 2 a.m. when shooting. 

She is also a big runner. She runs a 10k weekly, is a fan of the SHAPE Women’s Half Marathon (she’s run it twice!) and is a sub four-hour marathoner, with her eye on the Paris and Belgium marathons as future races.

“There is something about [the marathon], that's not necessarily just physical. I love the fact that you have to engage with your brain, your mind, your heart, in order to keep going,” she says. “There's just something about that 26.2 miles that forces you to be really in touch with yourself while you're running.”

Cynthia Erivo Power Issue
Acne Studios dress. Jennifer Chamandi shoes.

Danika Magdelena

Movement isn’t Erivo’s only form of self-care. She’s also intentional about taking small moments — sipping rose or peppermint tea, having a skincare routine, playing with her two pups, Caleb and Gigi, and knitting. (Give her a week or two and she’ll knit you a colorful scarf!). It’s these everyday acts of kindness to herself that she says keep her from ever feeling depleted. The idea, she says, is to not try and save up for one specific moment to practice self-care.

“I think it is possible to be good to yourself in increments every single day, so that you're not yearning for something by the end of the week or yearning for something at the end of the month,” she says. “That you are actually actively doing it every day, so that you never feel like you're depleted, and you always feel like you're whole.”

Cynthia Erivo Power Issue
Acne Studios dress. Jennifer Chamandi shoes.

Danika Magdelena

The Power of Legacy

So what’s next for the powerhouse? Ideally, a follow up to her 2021 debut album Ch. 1 Vs. 1, but Erivo is clear she “wants to make sure that [Wicked] has me wholly before I jump into creating music.” 

But that’s the thing about Erivo, who’s in a pay-it-forward phase where she enjoys going into schools, universities, and performing arts spaces and working with young people who want to be in the business: she’s either all in or not at all. And when the curtain comes down on her final performance, that’s how she wants to be remembered—“that I never gave less than 100% to anything that I put my hands on,” she says.

Presented by Under Armour


Danika Magdelena

Carla Mejía

Jason Bolden, assisted by Abigail White

Alex Babsky

Ephraim Onyegbule

Set Designer
Gabe Gilmour

General Manager
Hayley Mason

Creative Director
Jenna Brillhart

Senior Visuals Editor
Kelly Chiello

Video Director
Justine Manocherian

Beauty Direction
Sha Ravine Spencer

Associate Photo Editor
Amanda Lauro

Talent Connect Group

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