It’s three days after the Los Angeles premiere of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and Cynthia Addai-Robinson is still beaming, far away from the flashing lights and star wattage of the lavish bash held at Culver Studios. She’s even gushing about the fact that she somehow managed to miss seeing one A-list attendee.
“The day after, you see some of the photos from the carpet, and I was like, ‘How did I miss Michael B. Jordan? Where was I?’” says the 37-year-old actress, who stars as Queen Regent Míriel in the much-anticipated series that just debuted on Amazon Prime (and which our critic called “a triumph”). “I must have had my head turned the other way.”
But Addai-Robinson is also giddy with relief about not having to keep “The Rings of Power” details hush-hush from her family, friends and fans anymore. “We wrapped filming over a year ago, so we’ve had to hold onto this giant secret for longer than a year,” she says. “Now that it’s finally out in the world, and people are seeing it and reacting to it, it’s just a really nice culmination of a very long time of secret-keeping.”
Really, though, all the high-security, high-stakes dealings behind the prequel series to the beloved “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy go much further back — to a pre-pandemic world that sometimes feels as distant as Middle-earth. Addai-Robinson (who previously starred in the CW’s “Arrow,” USA Network’s “Shooter” and the Starz series “Spartacus”) first auditioned in June 2019 for a different role — one she prefers not to reveal. “I’ll keep it to myself,” she says, clearly having gotten the tight-lipped thing down.
But inhabiting the fantasy land of elves, dwarves and hobbits didn’t seem to be her destiny. “I went through a process with the first role, got far enough along, and then I didn’t get the job,” the actress tells Alexa. “So I sort of had that period of mourning where it was like, ‘Oh man, I really wanted to be part of that, and I guess it wasn’t meant to be.’ I mentally moved on as you do when you’re an actor, because you hear ‘no’ more than you hear ‘yes.’”
Fate, however, intervened to keep her “LOTR” dreams alive. “They asked me to do a tape [to audition] for a different role, literally, right before the pandemic,” says Addai-Robinson. “I did it, then the lockdown happened, and it was the furthest thing from my mind because the whole world was just trying to kind of navigate day to day.”
But later in 2020, she won the role of Queen Regent Míriel, and was whisked to New Zealand with her husband, Irish filmmaker Thomas Hefferon. Shooting in a place where coronavirus cases were low during the worst stage of the US pandemic was another fortuitous turn of events.
“It goes without saying that it was a very distressing time for most of 2020. So, to get this opportunity — not just for the work and the role but for our lives — to sort of have this winning lottery ticket that literally plucked us up and placed us gently into one of the countries that had kept COVID at bay, I genuinely could not believe my good luck.”
Still, it wasn’t easy leaving friends and family behind during such a turbulent time, especially under the cloak of secrecy. “I had signed all these NDAs; I wasn’t allowed to say what I was working on, what the role was,” she explains. “We just had to tell our friends, ‘Look, we’re leaving for a project, can’t tell you what, can’t tell you where. As soon as we are able, we will say more.’ So we sort of left in this very strange way.”
But the actress — who also had some New Zealand friends from working there on “Spartacus” — was able to find “a new sort of family” in the large ensemble cast of “The Rings of Power.” “That we had this very, like, galvanizing experience, it made us very, very close as a cast,” she says. “And we really had to lean on each other. We celebrated holidays and birthdays, and we helped each other when people were struggling. It was a full range of emotions and experiences, and I think all of that translates into the work itself. You see all of that reflected in these characters and sort of embedded in the story.”
Helping Addai-Robinson get into character were the elaborate costumes that made her fit to be Queen. “The costumes are incredible and one of the elements that definitely helped transform me,” she says. “You show up in your sweatpants and your T-shirt, and then you start putting on these layers, and literally your posture starts to change. You have your costume on, and people treat you differently when you step outside of the trailer … I felt like a queen in all of those garments.”
The LA-based star — who was born in London but naturally sounds all-American, having moved to the US at an early age — also adopted a British accent for the role.
“Basically, when I would get into the car to go to work, the accent was on,” says Addai-Robinson, who would stay in voice for her character on set even when cameras weren’t rolling. “And when I would get into the car to go home, I would switch off. There were probably some crew members that never heard me as I actually sound.”
Addai-Robinson — who, after catching the acting bug to help overcome her shyness as a kid, went to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts — will also go British when she co-stars with Allison Janney, Kristen Bell and Ben Platt in the upcoming romantic comedy “The People We Hate at the Wedding,” due on Amazon Prime in November. “Right after ‘Rings of Power,’ I immediately went on to ‘The People We Hate at the Wedding,’” she says. “And so I went from New Zealand to London. I was excited to get to do something like this because it was a complete 180 from ‘Lord of the Rings’ … something that was contemporary and fun, but also still has some dramatic elements.”
But there were no altar-cations for Addai-Robinson when she married Hefferon in 2020. “Well, I’m really lucky … my own wedding was drama-free because I eloped,” she says. “If you want a low-drama, no-drama wedding, you go that route.”
For now, though, Addai-Robinson is embracing her inner queen — and the significance that her “Rings of Power” character has in a fantasy genre that has not always employed actors of color in such regal roles. “I mean, to me, inclusivity, diversity in genre is the only way forward,” she says. “I literally cannot imagine it any other way. And as somebody who is also not just a performer but a fan and audience member, it’s what I would expect to see. It’s what I want to see.”
No doubt, Addai-Robinson — who calls her Ghanaian mother “the No. 1 queen in my life” — is proud to be a part of the change that she wants to see with “Rings of Power.”
“I just think a lot about when I was a kid … absolutely wanting to sort of make a version of this for that child version of myself,” she says. “And for all the kids that I have in my life — my nieces, my nephews, the children of my friends — so that this sparks something for them. The whole thing was really much bigger than myself.”
Photographer: Victoria Will; Editor: Serena French; Stylist: Anahita Moussavian; Photo Editor: Jessica Hober; Fashion Assistants: Madeleine Shepherd, Gillian Hormel; Hair: Ryan Taniguchi at TMG-LA.com; Makeup: Nichole Servin at 3Plus Management using Milk Makeup; Lighting Director: Timothy Young; Digital Tech: Colin Gerse; Stills Producer: Savannah Shipman; Lighting Assistant: Thomas Patton; Assistant: Brendan Anderson
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