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Cynthia Erivo Says ‘Widows’ Tanked Because Audiences Misunderstood Its ‘Messy’ Charm

Erivo currently stars in "Harriet," but her big breakout was Steve McQueen's heist film that didn't succeed at the box office in 2018.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by 20th Century Fox/Moviestore/Shutterstock (10102608i)Viola Davis, Cynthia ErivoWidows - 2018

Viola Davis and Cynthia Erivo in “Widows”

20th Century Fox/Moviestore/Shutterstock

Cynthia Erivo’s star is rising, from this year’s Harriet Tubman biopic “Harriet,” which has landed her squarely in the Best Actress Oscar race, to her turn next year as the queen of soul Aretha Franklin in National Geographic’s anthology series “Genius.” But her big breakout came in 2018 with Steve McQueen’s “Widows,” a big-budget, high-minded heist movie for adults.

Erivo starred as Belle, a streetwise beautician who teams up with Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizabeth Debicki to pay off the debt left behind by their criminal husbands, all of whom were killed during a bungled getaway attempt. Erivo recently spoke with Vulture’s Nate Jones about “Widows,” which earned $42 million at the U.S. box office against a production price-tag of the same, and specifically about her disappointment at the film’s audience reception, despite strong reviews, and a robust festival berth.

“I was sad for Steve [McQueen], and I wanted more for Viola [Davis] ‘cause I thought she was exceptional in it. I hadn’t seen her in anything like that, where she got to show this fierce, tough, ready, take-no-rubbish-from-anyone type side of her, and I absolutely adored it,” Erivo said. During the 2018 awards season, BAFTA nominee Viola Davis was hoped to land a Best Actress nomination, but that didn’t play out.

“I wish everyone got to really see it shine because I think it’s brilliant. But I think maybe it’s coming into its own,” Erivo said. “I always think that it will be one of those things that people will go back and think, ‘Oh my gosh, this was really, really good!'”

Indeed, a heist picture from the director of “Shame” and “12 Years a Slave” was never going to be “Taken,” even though “Widows” also co-starred Liam Neeson. And McQueen’s icy, idiosyncratic direction — bordering, in some scenes, on the avant-garde, particularly during a monologue delivered by Colin Farrell’s corrupt politician that is shot entirely outside the limousine he’s in — was never going to be for everyone.

“There’s something that’s super messy about ‘Widows,’ which I loved. There’s an expectation of a heist movie to be slick and tidy, and it just wasn’t that,” Erivo told Vulture. “I think that was its charm, but I’m not sure that everyone quite understood that. But maybe we’re getting to a place where people will.”

“Harriet” is currently in theaters, and earlier this month, director Kasi Lemmons spoke with IndieWire about why it took more than 100 years for a biopic about the abolitionist to happen.

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