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Tony-winning actress Cynthia Erivo steps into the shoes of the conductor of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, in Kasi Lemmon’s biopic Harriet. But when news of the casting of a British actress over an American was announced last year, it didn’t come without some backlash.
Writer-director Kasi Lemmons spoke to the Hollywood Reporter Writer Roundtable on the casting choice, saying that while Erivo was attached to the film before she had joined, and she knew “there would be a conversation about it,” she felt “so excited about it in terms of culture bearing.”
With African Americans behind-the-scenes in roles of producers, writers, director, costume designer, production design, composer and hair and makeup, Lemmons explained, “I felt that we were bearing the culture of the Harriet Tubman story beautifully.”
“About Cynthia, you just don’t get any better,” she continued. “She was prepared in every way you could possibly be prepared to play this role. She was prepared physically, emotionally, spiritually to play Harriet Tubman. And she was wonderful.”
Lemmons also discussed the process of writing the script for Harriet, spending “seven months of pure research on Harriet and the Underground Railroad,” explaining how she felt she was “in conversation” with Tubman.
She explained: “I would ask her directly. ‘Harriet, how do you feel about this? Are we cool? Am I going too far? Did this happen?’ And I would wait until I felt that I was getting the answer.”
The full Writer Roundable is set to air Feb. 2 on SundanceTV. Lemmons appears on the roundtable panel along with Lorena Scafaria (Hustlers), Charles Randolph (Bombshell), Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit), Anthony McCarten (The Two Popes) and Destin Cretton (Just Mercy). Follow all the Oscar-season roundtables at THR.com/Roundtables.
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