Cynthia Addai-Robinson is ready to be your new favorite fantasy queen. The London-born, Maryland-raised actress is now among Middle-Earth’s royal class in Prime Video’s highly anticipated Lord of the Rings spinoff series, The Rings of Power.
Joining a property with such an intense fandom is undoubtedly a bit intimidating for any actor, especially one portraying an all-new character like Addai-Robinson’s. But, as she tells ESSENCE, “My overwhelming feeling is excitement.”
More than the fan response, the thing that excites her most is what her loved ones will think when they see it. “What I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is that I have nieces and nephews that know that their auntie is working on something, but they’re not sure what. They’re just at the age where they can really appreciate a story of this scope and this level of worldbuilding.”
Addai-Robinson portrays Miriel, Queen Regent of Númenor, the island kingdom that had long fallen by the events of the Lord of the Rings novels.
“She’s a thoughtful leader, someone that has a strong moral compass, that wants to maintain the peace and stability of Númenor. But she is navigating her people between two ideas,” she said of her character. With the kingdom toeing the line between traditionalism and progress, Miriel senses early rumblings of discontent and internal conflict brewing among the people, and as a budding queen, must figure out how to lead accordingly.
Whereas Lord of the Rings had a rich and extensive source material, The Rings of Power, which takes place thousands of years prior to the fellowship’s famed journey to Mordor, has only J.R.R. Tolkien’s notes and appendices to go on to craft the history of Middle-Earth in the Second Age, around the time the One Ring was forged. This left the writers and the cast with the task of honoring the legacy of LOTR while building essentially a new world in-universe from the ground up.
“[Tolkien] being the sort of man who took great care and put a lot of detail into some of these ideas and the building of worlds, we would always use that as the source,” Addai-Robinson explained. “What’s great about my character is that she’s thinly sketched, and I get an amazing opportunity to fill in the gaps and enhance what is there; getting to play a female character in this world in this context, with agency that gets to be fully realized, that has complexity and depth.”
The woman characters on the show are portrayed with more strength and focus than they have been in any other Tolkien adaptation – a fact that excites Addai-Robinson the most. Fans will get a view of Middle-Earth’s women from a fresh perspective, deepening the roots of the story.
But as a woman, and more specifically a Black woman, Addai-Robinson’s addition to the lore didn’t exactly excite every fan who got an eyeful of early trailers and images of the series.
As is often the case with sci-fi and fantasy properties, a racist faction of the fandom became very vocal about The Rings of Power‘s diverse casting, shooting daggers at Prime Video, the production crew, and directly at Addai-Robinson and her fellow castmates of color, balking at “forced inclusion” in what has been a traditionally white property.
“Everyone has their own way of how they navigate those online conversations. I am not naive. I know that those conversations happen. But for my own sanity, there’s a certain amount of protection that you need to have,” the actress explained. “There are things that are said online about diversity in fantasy, in Tolkien specifically, and I just flat-out don’t agree. So, I wouldn’t engage in a conversation that essentially isn’t a conversation.”
“This is the only way forward in the fantasy genre in general. You want to see the world as you know it to be even though it is fantasy, and you want to see the world as you aspire to see it,” she continued. “It would be jarring to see it any other way. I know for a fact that this what audiences want to see. Anything else is noise, frankly, and I just don’t pay attention to it.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premieres on Prime Video streaming on September 2.