The 42-year-old actress Cynthia Addai-Robinson doesn’t say no to a challenge. Take her latest role: Tar-Míriel in the series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a prequel to J. R. R. Tolkien’s best-selling trilogy. Her character is the enigmatic daughter of King Tar-Palantir, and the heir to the throne of Númenor, a massive island kingdom. After she is usurped by her cousin, who forces her to marry so he can become king, she becomes the indignant queen regent.
The show, which began streaming on Prime Video on Thursday, is rumored to have had a $1 billion budget for Seasons One and Two, making it Amazon’s most expensive production ever.
“I hope we did Tolkien’s vision justice,” Addai-Robinson says on the phone from her home in Los Angeles. She lives there between months-long stints shooting in New Zealand. The country’s vast rural expanses stand in for Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the mythological ancient continent that serves as the setting for many of Tolkien’s books, including The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series.
Cast in the show during the height of the pandemic, Addai-Robinson says she “moved from lockdown right into Middle-earth.”
While Tar-Míriel is the stoic queen regent of Númenor, Addai-Robinson found commonalities with her character. “I can relate to the idea of feeling isolated, feeling like I can’t speak on certain things with people who necessarily understand,” she says. “I’m no queen, though.”
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Though it’s hard to discern from her Los Angeles accent, Addai-Robinson was born in London, to a Ghanaian mother and an American father, and spent her early years in Britain. Her family moved to a quaint D.C. suburb, Silver Spring, when she was four years old.
Growing up, acting wasn’t her top priority. At school in Maryland, she admits she was an all-around over-achiever. “I was curious—very curious—and education was really fundamental in my household,” she says. As a child, performing in plays was just a side hobby. “It was sort of my way of standing out amongst a sea of other people,” she says.
That changed as she got older, and friends and family praised her performances. “It suddenly occurred to me I could pursue this as a craft, so I went and did it,” she says. An acceptance letter from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts came, and Addai-Robinson left Silver Spring for the chaos of downtown Manhattan.
After graduating in 2002, Addai-Robinson moved to the West Coast. The first few months in L.A. were draining as she bounced between auditions. “When you’re an actor, you want to feel like you can play all these different types of things, and you don’t want to be typecast or … seen in a very narrow way,” she explains.
While The Rings of Power might be her biggest role yet, it isn’t her first TV job. The highlands of New Zealand provided the location for her breakout part, in 2012, in the series Spartacus. She played a former slave named Naevia and, to prepare, trained alongside Navy Seals and the New Zealand Special Air Service. “I was in the middle of this beautiful country, training alongside these big beefy guys,” she recalls.
In the last decade, parts have come in steadily. She appeared as Aja, a witch, in The Vampire Diaries, and as Amanda Waller in the CW’s Arrow. In 2016, she acted alongside Ben Affleck in Gavin O’Connor’s film The Accountant.
Big roles keep coming. In November, her latest film, the comedy The People We Hate at the Wedding, in which she co-stars with Kristen Bell, will hit theaters. “I wanted to prove that I could do a comedic role,” she explains. “The more your roles differ, the more you keep learning.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Elena Clavarino is an Associate Editor for AIR MAIL