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Why Cynthia Erivo Felt Challenged by Telling Feminist Stories Using Dark Comedy in ‘Roar’

All episodes of the anthology series are now streaming on Apple TV+

Cynthia Erivo vividly understands the double standard that women tend to face in life — especially in their work. And she brought that understanding to her role in the upcoming Apple TV+ anthology series “Roar.”

In her episode of the series, Erivo plays a working mom who nearly dies giving birth to her second child. And throughout the rest of the episode, she juggles recovering from a traumatic childbirth, returning to work, and maintaining her relationship with her husband — all while also caring for her newborn son and young daughter.

“I think that more than anything, this sort of story expresses the experience of many mothers who have to deal with being mothers and working really high octane jobs and trying to navigate all of that experience at once,” she told TheWrap. “I think a lot of us are made to feel guilty when we can’t quite manage the whole thing at once.”

Eventually, the guilt of not being able to juggle all of these responsibilities begins to eat her alive — literally.

Erivo’s character wakes up one morning and notices that she is covered in raw, painful bite marks. Over the next several days, the bite marks take over her body.

The actress said she thought it to be a powerful physical manifestation of what was “swallowing her whole.”

“To see someone actually being eaten alive, essentially, the bite marks keep showing up and they keep showing up and they keep showing up until the one thing that’s left is for her to express so she’s not having to deal with it completely on her own,” she said. “I thought it was really, really powerful.”

“Roar” is an anthology series that also stars Issa Rae, Merritt Wever, Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Meera Syal, Fivel Stewart and Kara Hayward. Each episode is a dark comedy that features a feminist fable spanning genres from magical realism to psychological horror. They all serve as cautionary tales, of sorts, about the sexism that women face.

During a panel with several of her co-stars, Erivo expanded upon the lessons she thought audiences might learn from her own episode. 

“I don’t know that one woman’s experience as a mother is the same as any other woman,” she said. “But I do think that the overarching point is that it is hard. It’s really hard. And sometimes it’s not particularly rewarding. But then you find the light at the end of the tunnel and something about being able to have her kids, to have her life, though it is difficult, something keeps her coming back. But it does say that there are women out there who are struggling and figuring it out as much as they possibly can and that empathy is needed and space and help is needed. And we are not always good at asking for it because we haven’t historically been told that we can. And I think that there’s something really special about this episode that says you should ask for help if you need it. And no one is going to think any worse of you. A mother has the right to ask for help where she needs it.”

While the series has its grim moments, it is also laced with a sense of humor. The balance of the two is something Erivo found particularly difficult, having stayed generally in the drama lane for a good portion of her career.

“The fact that somehow we managed to sneak the humor into all of them somewhere, really feels great. I’ve never done anything like that. I don’t think I’ve done any dark comedy before and I don’t think anyone has given me the chance to sort of stretch those chops a little bit,” she said. 

She continued: “I like that, you know, having to be on set with bite marks on my skin and pretend like it’s oozing … all of the threads pulling at the edges of the extremes of it all and sort of trying to figure out how to make it as grounded as possible knowing that we’re in this ludicrous situation was for me, like kind of awesome. I had never read a script like it before. I had never been able to combine all of these different aspects of a person together in one character. So I think that the fact that you get eight different versions of that is really kind of awesome.”

“Roar” is now streaming on Apple TV+.