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‘Rings of Power’ Star Cynthia Addai-Robinson Is Ready For the ‘White, Male’ Fantasy Genre to Move Forward
SEP 09, 2022 AT 10:54 AM EDT
Cynthia Addai-Robinson was standing on top of a mountain in the South Island of New Zealand, an area with a 360 degree view of the island only accessible by helicopter, on one of her first days of filming The Rings of Power when everything clicked for her: She was in The Lord of the Rings. “I had this internal moment of just recognizing what I was about to be part of,” Addai-Robinson says over a Zoom call from Los Angeles days before the premiere of Rings of Power. “It sounds cheesy, but I was in Middle-earth all of a sudden.”
Addai-Robinson plays Queen Míriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Amazon Prime Video’s prequel set thousands of years before the events of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. The series—which cost a reported $1 billion to produce, making it the most expensive TV show of all time—is based on the appendices of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels, notes that outline the history and culture of Middle-earth, the world where the series is set. Míriel, who makes her debut in episode 3 of Rings of Power on September 8, is the Queen Regent of Númenor, an island west of Middle-earth inspired by the legend of Atlantis. “When I got cast, I felt like I just won the lottery,” Addai-Robinson says. “I felt like I was plucked up and placed into Middle-earth. The role of Míriel has been a bit of a safe haven for me.
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But Míriel wasn’t the only Rings of Power character Addai-Robinson auditioned for. She first read for Bronwyn, a role she had helped other actor friends test for before she received the same audition herself. She sent in a self-tape at the end of 2019. That tape led to another tape which led to a reading with the director of the first two Rings of Power episodes,, J.A. Bayona. “At that point, I was thinking, ‘OK, if I’m reading for the director, I’m getting close. This could happen,’” Addai-Robinson recalls. “It didn’t happen. It went away. I remember being gutted, thinking, ‘I was so close and then it was gone.’ I mourned it, and that was that.” A couple months later, Addai-Robinson was asked to audition again, this time for a different role: Míriel. She sent in her self-tape and the world shut down. “Once the pandemic started, it was the furthest thing from my mind,” she says. “Like everyone else in the world, you weren’t sure what the future was gonna hold.” Later that summer, after a round of chemistry reads over Skype, Addai-Robinson learned she had booked the role of Míriel.
She was at home in lockdown with her husband, director Thomas Hefferon whom she had eloped with just weeks before, when she received the news that she would be moving to New Zealand in a matter of weeks and she couldn’t tell anyone. “I signed NDAs. We essentially left and didn’t say goodbye to any friends or family,” she says. “It was like leaving in the dead of night to go to the other side of the world.” But for Addai-Robinson, who has been working for more than 20 years and has starred in supporting roles in shows like Power and Chicago Med, Míriel, one of five main characters in Rings of Power, is more than just another job. “I was looking for something like this. But maybe this was looking for me. It’s mutual trying to find one another,” she says. “I can get woowoo about fate and timing and things happening when they’re supposed to, but it did feel that way. I know how hard I’ve worked to get to this point. Nothing is accidental or coincidental. There’s a lot of work that went into getting to this place and this type of role in this type of project. But I feel like I’m in some way still at the beginning of this journey. The journey of making it.”
I read you auditioned for another Rings of Power character before Míriel. What was it?
It was Bronwyn. But what’s amazing about the casting is everyone who inhabits their character truly has the essence of that character. I cannot imagine anyone but Naz (Nazanin Boniadi) in that role. You have to trust when things ultimately don’t go your way, there’s a reason for that. I had to have that moment of everything happens for a reason. What’s been beautiful is when the role of Míriel came to me, I didn’t know what it was going to entail. I didn’t know much about the character. They had kept all of the character names a secret. They had coded names and the auditions were just made-up sides. Once I saw what I was going to get to do with Míriel, it did feel fated. It felt like this is the role I’m supposed to play. This is the person that I’m supposed to inhabit. It all did work out as it was meant to work out.
Were you aware of how popular The Lord of the Rings franchise was before you became a part of it?
I had seen the movies before. I hadn’t read the books. Part of it was I had awareness of the literature, but I felt like it wasn’t as easily accessible for me. I don’t think anyone necessarily encouraged me to read the books. What I’m most excited about with Rings of Power is the visual representation of the stories and characters. I’m hoping that audiences, or even that child version of me, gets so into this, that they then go back to the books. Now they feel like they have a point of entry because they see a visual representation they can easily identify with. The best literature speaks to universality. But sometimes you need that hook, you need to see that female character that looks like you or reminds you of someone, and you go, “I love that character. Now, I want to read the books.” I know there are a lot of adults that have grown up with these stories, and, of course, we want to give them something that excites them as well. But I have a lot of nieces and nephews that are now understanding this is a huge mega epic. It makes me think back to when I was a kid and how hungry I would have been to have this. How much I would have wanted to see that in TV and film, especially in the fantasy genre. Not necessarily just Tolkien, but the fantasy genre is very white, male-heavy. This is about moving this genre forward. Fantasy, and I think Tolkien, is about inclusivity. Because it’s about people from different cultures coming together for a common cause.
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Did you ever imagine you would be in a show like The Rings of Power?
I always viewed myself as somebody who could be a main character, and I didn’t want to place myself as someone on the side. Now, it wasn’t always up to me. It’s often not up to actors. Sometimes you’re pegged as the best friend when you know you have so much more to offer. There were many opportunities I had that sense of frustration of they’re just not even going to consider me. It wasn’t necessarily I assumed it was always about my ethnicity or my race. At the end of the day, I was never going to know, but I just had to always make sure I was investing in the characters and trying to present them as fully realized human beings. The industry still has a long way to go. But certainly my time in the industry, I absolutely have seen progress. Being in Rings of Power, I never would have imagined that. A lot of people wouldn’t have imagined it. There is that sense of progress. Every time you have a small victory like that, it helps for the next set of creative minds who will now be able to dream up those stories and dream them in a more inclusive way. When I’m sitting down to watch a new show, especially in the genre space, my personal desire and expectation is to see diversity.
What has your reaction been to the seemingly racist and sexist criticism from some fans?
I don’t even know where it stems from. When I think about this particular brand of toxicity, whether it’s racist or misogynistic, there’s also a deep cynicism and to me, that’s one of the most toxic things of all. It can spread and it can make people lose themselves. It’s a reality. It’s always been there. But it does tie in with what Tolkien’s exploring. You have to decide if you’re going to let those things overtake you or if you’re going to have the strength to stand in the face of that. It’s hard to be relentlessly positive, but I find that to be the bigger strength. I think cynicism and toxicity are quite weak. It’s a good exercise to try to always lean toward the light and focus on the positive.
How do you think Míriel is different than other Lord of the Rings characters fans have seen?
The character of Queen Regent Míriel and all of the female characters in this adaptation are so fully realized. They are so complex, thoughtful and—not to overuse this word—but strong, because they are. They function independently of male characters. They have their own full inner lives. With Tolkien and a lot of his stories, they’ve tended to be very male-heavy and about male fellowship and a lot of relationships in terms of men relating to other men. For fans of Tolkien, we’re getting to present female characters with agency. That, to me, is the best thing of all because I think that’s going to feel fresh and new, even though it’s long overdue.
How do you think The Rings of Power is different from the movies?
Most people are familiar with Tolkien’s adaptations in terms of the Peter Jackson films. That’s the Third Age. For our series, we’re setting the Second Age, which spans thousands of years. There’s a lot of story to cover and to mine. With Númenor and the part of the world I represent, no one has ever depicted Númenor on screen. This is the first time we are showing what Númenor looks like. There are a lot of aspects of the show that are going to be new to viewers for the first time, and things that are going to be familiar. We’re familiar with elves. We’re familiar with dwarves. But because we’re thousands of years before. We’re in a time of relative peace. We’re in a time of relative prosperity. There’s so much that happens from where our series starts, and where it will ultimately end. Even if you’ve never read Tolkein or seen any of the previous films, you could be completely new to this and you could understand and enjoy the story. It’s not a prerequisite to have seen or read anything in advance.
How do you think Middle-earth reflects the real world?
Like many people in lockdown, my mind and heart—everything I was thinking and feeling, I was overwhelmed. It’s a nice overlap with Míriel because within the story, she’s the queen regent of the island kingdom of Númenor. It’s a society that’s at its peak, and ultimately, there’s a downfall. You have a leader that’s trying to guide her people through a time of change. There’s a lot of complexity to the storyline and to this world in the same way we’re living in complex times. Everything I was thinking about and feeling, I had Míriel to navigate that for myself. The thing about Tolkien’s stories and the reason why we would even do an adaptation at this point in time is that these stories are timeless. You can relate it to today. At the end of the day, the best stories endure because they will always resonate. There’s always something you could draw a line between what’s happening in one of his stories and what’s happening today. This adaptation is going to have a global reach. There are going to be a lot of people in different parts of the world—with very different sets of circumstances—who will all see something in these characters and worlds and be able to understand them and relate to them. Any parallels are not so specific as to only relate to one group. Everyone will be able to see these stories and have an immediate understanding of what it is to be scared, what it is to be humbled, what it is to feel a sense of guilt, what it is to navigate a complex family relationship. These are all things people understand. That’s what gives this story its power.
Have you met any of the original Lord of the Rings cast members?
I haven’t, but I would love to. When you are part of any Tolkien adaptation, you hope that paths will cross because it is this very unique fellowship. It’s such intensive work we did. I remember hearing stories about people that worked on the Peter Jackson movies, and it sounded like a similarly intensive and immersive experience. I’m sure if our paths ever cross, we could all share a pint and laugh about all the things we’ve experienced. But Rings of Power is very much its own adaptation—separate from the movies. What’s wonderful is all of these adaptations get to coexist. People who love the movies, I hope, when they see the series, they see something that’s familiar, but also different. It’s uniquely its own thing.
What is a role people would be surprised you auditioned for?
I remember I auditioned for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, the first movie. I got to read for the role of Uhura with him, and I was a massive J.J. Abrams fan. Still am. The fact I was going to meet him in person, I was trying to strike the balance of I’m fangirling out and trying to get this role and do a good job. That was one of those ones where I felt like, “OK, if I’m getting called back, I’m getting in those rooms, I must be doing something right.” I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to not only be in Star Trek, but to play an iconic role like Uhura?” But it was still early days for me. I still had a long ways to go before I had that sense of confidence and building up my resume. I was still very unknown.
Do you feel pressure for Rings of Power to live up to the expectations of Lord of the Rings fans?
It’s funny because we’ve been asked that question a lot over the course of doing this press tour. One of my other cast mates was answering the other day that he has felt pressure, and I said, “Well, you know, pressure makes a diamond.
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