2021 Emmys: Cynthia Erivo Says Telling Aretha Franklin's Story in 'Genius: Aretha' Was a 'Huge Honor'

Cynthia Erivo is nominated for her role as Aretha Franklin in Genius: Aretha at Sunday’s Emmy Awards 

Cynthia Erivo is reflecting on the "honor" of getting to play legendary singer Aretha Franklin.

The 34-year-old actress is nominated at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards for outstanding lead actress in a limited series or a movie for her role as Franklin in the National Geographic anthology series Genius.

On the PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly red carpet ahead of the show, she opened up to hosts Janine Rubenstein and Jeremy Parsons about the role.

"It was a huge honor, and it did feel like she was with us — feels like she's still watching honestly, when the nomination happened it felt like her giving me a wink and going, 'Well done,' " Erivo said of the "Respect" artist, who died in 2018 of pancreatic cancer at age 76.

73rd Primetime Emmy Awards - Arrivals

The Harriet star continued, "I knew that I wanted to be as truthful as possible with this role, and I wanted to honor her memory and the music that she made and the life that she lived because it was not an easy one, and she still came through."

"She gave the world such incredible music and brought many people together, and I wanted to make sure her story was told as fully as possible," Erivo said. "I'm really glad to be here for that."

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Erivo previously told Entertainment Weekly that she landed the part of Franklin by singing a portion of "Ain't No Way" at the 2019 Tony Awards, when a reporter asked on the red carpet what her guilty-pleasure song was.

"Unbeknownst to me, that interview gets sent to [executive producers] Clive Davis and Brian Grazer, [and] the rest is history," the Tony winner said. "I get a call from my agent, who says National Geographic is doing the next Genius and it's about Aretha Franklin and they would like you to consider playing the role, and there's a meeting coming up if you want to take it."

The 73rd Emmy Awards, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, are airing live from 8-11 p.m. ET on CBS.

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