Cynthia Erivo becomes soul legend Aretha Franklin in biopic TV series 'Genius'

Tom Beasley
Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin in the third season of biopic TV show Genius. (National Geographic/Richard DuCree)

National Geographic has shared a new image of Cynthia Erivo in character as Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin to mark what would have been the music icon’s 78th birthday.

The British Oscar nominee will portray Franklin in the upcoming third season of Genius, due to premiere in May.

Each season of the series follows a different figure from history, with the previous two featuring Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein and Antonio Banderas as Pablo Picasso.

Read more: Erivo on responsibility of Harriet Tubman role

Franklin, who passed away in 2018, sold more than 75 million records in her career and still stands as the most-charted female artist in the US.

National Geographic shared the new image of Erivo, as well as a video of various cast and crew members paying respect to Franklin on her birthday.

Erivo previously told Yahoo Movies UK she was excited to play Franklin and keen to deliver a respectful portrayal of an American icon.

She said she was gratified to receive the support of Franklin’s family, who have not offered their approval to a fictionalised take on the singer before.

Read more: David Oyelowo defends Erivo playing American icons

The 33-year-old said: “[The family’s support] means a lot because it's sort of like a seal of approval and they're happy with me.

“The thing I wanted more than anything was to know that they were okay with me playing her because she was an incredible figure in everyone's life, not to mention theirs.

“So I want to make sure they are happy with who is doing it.”

Cynthia Erivo is playing Aretha Franklin in Genius. (AP/Chris Pizzello/StudioCanal)

The role of Aretha Franklin is Erivo’s latest foray into US history after her Oscar-nominated turn as abolitionist icon Harriet Tubman in Harriet.

Erivo was also nominated for Best Original Song for Stand Up, which appeared over the movie’s credits and was performed live at the Academy Awards ceremony.

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A win in either category would have allowed Erivo to complete the rare EGOT honour by winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

The star has already earned an Emmy, Grammy and Tony for her work in various versions of musical The Color Purple.

Genius will air on National Geographic over four consecutive nights in the USA, from 25 May.