All Articles Tagged "Viola Davis"
Viola Davis On The Importance Of Portraying A Real Woman On TV: “You Take Off Your Bra, You Let Your Titties Sag”
The “How to Get Away With Murder” scene in which Annalise Keating removes her makeup and wig is one that we will probably be talking about for years to come. The removal of her both literal and allegorical masks presented her to viewers as a flawed woman, which naturally added to her relatability. Inside of The Wrap’s Emmys issue, the 49-year-old beauty opens up about the experience and why it was important that Annalise never came across as the “Vogue woman.”
On scoring the leading role in HTGAWM:
I wish I had a more dramatic story, but my manager called and said, “Hey, this is a chance for a lead in a Shonda Rhimes show,” and at first I thought, “do I put Viola Davis in a TV show?” And I was thinking yes you could put this Viola Davis in a TV show. But I read the character and it was unlike anything that I’ve played before. She’s sexy. She’s not maternal. I get a lot of maternal characters. So I thought it was a chance to step outside of my comfort zone. And also a chance to be No. 1 on the call sheet. To see what it feels like to really carry a show was very attractive to me.
On why Annalise Keating is such a valuable character:
Well I’m happy that you say that, but I just felt like in the midst of this fiction–which it is, it’s fiction, it’s a soap opera, it’s salacious, it’s tantalizing and all that–I felt like there should be something in each episode for women to look at and feel like it was familiar. To feel like Annalise is familiar. Taking her wig off, me not being a Size 2, me being obviously 49. I always say I hold it up for the regular people out there. There’s still something very human in each episode, and when I say “human,” I mean flawed. Things that we probably do in private that we don’t want anyone else to see. But when we see it in actors and when we see it onscreen, it makes us feel less alone. And I felt like which each episode I tried to at least achieve that in the midst of this kind of pop fiction. And I think that’s why people root for her.
On the importance of Annalise’s flaws and the infamous wig scene:
I didn’t want to be the woman who came in with the sexualized–I say sexualized, not sexy, because sexy is a certain self-consciousness to sexuality–I say that Annalise is sexual. Every time you see that sexual, mysterious, kind of cold woman, she always looks like she has that blow-dried hair and that dewy skin and, you know, those Double-Zero clothes. I did not want to be that woman because I don’t know that woman. And I’ve been watching that woman in movies for several years. And I felt like this was my chance to woman up. Because I think that how we are as women, just in real life, is very interesting. And I think that in the hands of a woman–and I’d like to think that, in my professional life anyway, I have a certain braveness and boldness–I want to present women as they really are.
I remember one woman wrote me after that scene when I take the wig off, “That’s me except I still have the retainer in my mouth.” It’s not always about being pretty. But it is about uncovering and feeling comfortable with the way we are and the way we look when we’re in private. You know, as soon as you walk through the door, what do you do? You take off your bra, you let your titties sag, you let your hair come off–I mean my hair. I mean, I don’t have any eyebrows. I let my eyebrows be exactly what they are. And it’s me. And I wanted that scene to be somewhere in the narrative of Annalise. That who she is in her public life and who she was in her private life were absolutely, completely diametrically opposed to one another. Because that’s who we are as people. We wear the mask that grins and lies.
Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson, though they have been in the game for decades now, are getting their moments in the sun when it comes to Hollywood. “How To Get Away With Murder,” added more fuel to an already hot Thursday night lineup and “Empire” keeps breaking records for Fox. These ladies are doing it.
And when you’re making money in Hollywood, that comes with some perks and benefits, including award nominations and magazine covers. Viola and Taraji were recently featured on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter along with other Emmy nominated actresses Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Lange, Lizzy Caplan and Ruth Wilson.
The ladies talked about everything from the times they thought about giving up, their current roles and what they want to do in the future. See what Viola and Taraji had to say in the excerpts below and then check out the full interview with the rest of the ladies here.
Was there ever a time they thought about quitting acting?
VIOLA DAVIS I felt that way before I even started. I didn’t know how to get into the business. The only thing I had was a desire, and people thought I had talent. But then what? How do you get a job? How do you audition? I didn’t come from people who could pay my bills. So I dove in. When your passion and drive are bigger than your fears, you just dive. I’ve been on my last unemployment check before with no way to pay my bills, but we stay in it because we all know it’s an occupational hazard.
TARAJI P. HENSON High school was the only time I ever can remember [thinking about] quitting. I auditioned for Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., and didn’t get accepted. At that age, their word was law. It meant I couldn’t act! So I went to college to be an electrical engineer. I don’t know why I did that — I still count on my fingers, and I failed calculus with flying colors. But then I rerouted my life — enrolled at Howard University, took up theater and studied the craft. I felt like I was armored enough to come out to Hollywood. And I knew that I would get told “no” a million times.
On their iconic roles
TH: I hate that bitch. She’s stolen my identity! (Laughter.) My friends don’t want to talk to me unless it’s about Cookie.
VD: The thing I had to get used to with TV was the likability factor. People have to like you, people have to think you’re pretty. I was going to have to face a fact that people were going to look at me and say: “I have no idea why they cast her in a role like this. She just doesn’t fit. It should have been someone like Halle Berry. It’s her voice, and she doesn’t walk like a supermodel in those heels.” And people do say that, they do. But what I say to that is the women in my life who are sexualized are anywhere from a size zero to a size 24. They don’t walk like supermodels in heels. They take their wig and makeup off at night. So this role was my way of saying, “Welcome to womanhood!” It’s also healed me and shown a lot of little dark-skinned girls with curly hair a physical manifestation of themselves.
Their bravest role
TH: Playing a pregnant whore in Hustle & Flow. No one wanted to touch that movie. But when a character scares me like that, I tell myself, “Taraji, it’s your job to make the people empathize with her.” I wanted people to reach through the screen and hug her. Go find that ho on the corner and save her! (Laughter.)
VD: I refuse to drink a smoothie for breakfast to get down to a size 2. It’s just not going to happen with me. I’ve done a couple of sex scenes in How to Get Away With Murder, even one where was I thrown up against the wall, and I’m like, “I really don’t want to get thrown up against the wall anymore.” I threw my back out! (Laughter.) I had to just allow myself to be uncomfortable. I’m not going to stand in front of a mirror, or else Viola will kick in and go, “OK, my titties are saggy and I have stretch marks.”
TH: I want to play a superhero. I want to be a Bond girl. I want to play a man. I want to play a white woman. (Laughter.)
VD: I’d like to go back to Broadway and revisit [Henrik Ibsen’s] Hedda Gabler at some point. But I mostly want what [actress] Lynn Redgrave said to me once. I did a reading of Agnes of God with her right before she died. She told me she’d left L.A. many years ago, and I asked her why. She said one thing she felt after many years in the business was that her past hadn’t counted for anything. I want to feel like my past has counted for something. I’ve been doing this for 27 years. I’ve performed in basements, churches, off-Broadway. I want the work to reflect my level of gifts and talent. I don’t want it to reflect my color, my sex or my age. That’s what I want most.
You can watch the videos from Taraji’s commentary in the video on the next page.
In Variety’s revealing video series, Actors On Actors, Jane Fonda and Viola Davis interviewed one another about acting as older women, taking and fighting for complex character roles and how they make changes to their characters.
During their intimate chat, Davis told Fonda the reason she believed her How To Get Away With Murder character Annalise Keating was so sexual in the first season:
“It takes time to settle into a character. [And] For me, knew she was kind of bold and big and dramatic. As I was going along, I found her heart, somewhere in there. I thought to myself ‘Why is she so strong? Why is she so in your face? And I found out: what if she had been sexually abused?‘ Who has no boundaries like that? Who has a boyfriend and a husband? And is just out there, sexually? The answer was just very, very real. Oftentimes when women are sexually abused, you know, they compartmentalize and hold it [the experience] in that place and then it can play out in so many messy ways.”
Davis’ explanation about Keating’s behavior is troubling and makes such a dynamic character seem one-dimensional. Her statement allows room for the assumption that women who enjoy sex are adulterers or have cold personalities, and make such choices because they were sexually violated as a child.
Some women enjoy sex because they seek pleasure, intimacy and even agency. Some are in it for the attention or to bolster their ego. Other women cheat because they are bored, want multiple sex partners but are afraid to tell their partner or don’t feel appreciated in their relationship.
Separately, there are women with abrasive personalities who would say that culture is to blame. Or simply have the character traits that make friendships and other close relationships impossible. In other words, there are many kinds of women who do things for a variety of reasons. Actresses, producers and even fellow writers should stop reducing, recycling and misrepresenting the images of sexual abuse victims.
Below is the full interview between Davis and Fonda. Do you agree with Davis’ assessment of Annalise Keating?
This summer, Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez will take the screen in the dramatic indie film, Lila And Eve. Previewed in January at the Sundance Film Festival, Lila And Eve centers around two mothers whose children have died.
The women meet one another at a grief support meeting and quickly form a friendship. When Lila is not satisfied with the police investigation regarding her son’s death, Eve encourages her to take matters into her own hands. The two then begin to investigate the case and find Lila’s son’s killer, however, they become extremely vengeful in the process.
With drama, murder, grief and drugs intertwining in the film, it appears Lila And Eve will be nothing short of a hit summer thriller.
Directed by Charles Stone III (Drumline), Lila And Eve will debut on July 17th in theaters and on demand.
Take a look at the trailer, below!
Good news ladies and gentlemen. One of our absolute favorites, Ms. Viola Davis has not only gotten more work as a Black woman in Hollywood, she’s going to be taking on the role of one of our beloved heroines, Harriet Tubman.
According to Deadline, the Oscar nominee is set to play the former slave turned revolutionary for an HBO biopic. The script will be based off the biography Bound For The Promised Land, written by historian Kate Clifford Larson. The book tells the story many of us know quite well, how Tubman escaped through the Underground Railroad and then returned to eventually lead more than 300 slaves to Freedom in the North. The story also details how Tubman fought with the Union army during the Civil War.
The screenplay will be written by Kirk Ellis and produced by Doug Ellin. I’ll save you several Google searches and let you know that most of the people behind the scenes, including the author of the biography, are White.
And while it would have been nice to have our stories written and told by people who look like us, I take a bit of comfort in knowing that Davis and her husband Julius Tennon are also serving as executive producers through their company JuVee Prods.
This is great news. And we’ll be sure to keep you updated as additional information (and trailers) are made available.
There has been a lot of dissent among the Black community about the number of films depiction Black people in downtrodden, subservient roles. While I’ve always felt they were necessary, I still understood the argument. So, I’m happy to see that a film about a woman, a former slave, taking her freedom, and that of others, into her own hands is heading to the screen.
Will you watch?
Nothing could have prepared me for what we witnessed last night on the season finale of “How To Get Away With Murder.” I experienced pretty much every single emotion. And when it ended, my mouth was literally on the floor. But I won’t hold you too long, let’s get into all the drama.
It’s Hollywood’s biggest night, and while black folks might not have picked up many nominations (Selma is nominated in the Best Picture category, and “Glory” is nominated for Best Original Song), I was quite surprised to see how many of our stars showed up for the the big ceremony. What are they looking like? I have all their looks for you to see, and talk about, here. So who looked amazing and who didn’t? Let’s chat!
In a custom Calvin Klein gown, Lupita returned to the Academy Awards red carpet a year after winning. Her heavily adorned pearl dress with its open back and keyhole detail is one-of-a-kind, and she definitely looks one-of-a-kind on the carpet. And while I like what they’ve tried to with her hair recently, I actually prefer this close, cropped and curled look. Steal!
I’m not going to do a full recap of “How To Get Away With Murder” because I’m tired; but I do want to speak about it a little, simply because I felt like last night’s episode was so Black. And I appreciated the hell out of the writers and actors for making it so.
I don’t have to tell y’all how rare it is to see an authentically Black moment on network television. As much as I love “Empire,” “Scandal” and “Being Mary Jane,” shows that feature Black people, there are few moments where I say to myself “This is my life!” (Doesn’t stop me from appreciating the drama though.)
But last night, there were so many moments that reminded me of Black folk, the good and the bad. There was Ophelia, Annalise’s mother, played by Cicely Tyson, suggesting that she forget the assault perpetuated against her body by her Uncle Clyde. Because that’s what men do, they take things. This could have just as easily been described as a woman’s issue but the notion of suppressing our pain, choosing to talk about only the happy times, or making light of real trauma has been something of a problematic coping mechanism for Black folks in this country, and abroad, for generations.
Then there was the moment where Michaela, discussing Nate’s arrest, asked Annalise: “How are we supposed to be ok with this? He’s innocent…and Black.”
And Annalise responded: “Injustices happen in courtrooms everyday in this country.”
With all the murderers/policemen walking away from the Black bodies they’ve slain unscathed; and in many cases, richer, this comment couldn’t have been any more true, timely and a nod to the very real pain and frustration we’ve been feeling.
But the best and most impactful Black moment, for me, happened as I watched Annalise sit in between her mother’s legs while she parted, scratched and combed her hair. I felt that. And I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it was beautiful.
Annalise, a grown woman who usually presents togetherness, was not too grown or too together to sit in between her mother’s legs, talking about their troubles.
Black girls turned women across the world know that story. Even though Ophelia was combing far too hard for my tenderheaded scalp, I remember those days crouched on the floor, nestled near the place that brought me into the world. There’s something about being in between your mother’s legs that makes you keenly aware of the natural hierarchy in the house, even if that house is your own.
While I hated getting my hair combed or washed as a child; watching Cicely Tyson rake through Viola Davis’ fro, all I could do was smile with nostalgia and even appreciation at the love and care my own mother put into maintaining me and my sister’s hair.
The moment was only made all the more sweet when Cicely Tyson’s character revealed that while Annalise thought she knowingly let her be raped, she had actually avenged and protected her child. And even though my mother never had to kill anyone for me, protecting her children is what she and all the good mothers do. And I treasured seeing that reflected on television in such a way.
Viola Davis says now that she’s the star of a striving television show, she has princess problems, like being photographed by the paparazzi when she’s not looking her best on her way to Target.
“I literally rolled out of bed and rolled into a Target with [my daughter] Genesis, and the paparazzi caught me. I wore a wool hat and my Jimmy Kimmel sweat jacket. I was just not looking great. But it’s not a big idea. Those are princess problems. In the grand scheme of life, that’s very minuscule to complain about.”
Before “How To Get Away With Murder,” Davis, a two-time Academy Award nominee, wasn’t exactly inundated with meaty roles. While award committees appreciated her work, studio executives didn’t believe she could bring audiences out as the lead in a film.
“There’s the reality of being an actor, especial after two Academy Award nominations, and there’s the fantasy. People oversimplify it by saying, start a production company, get your own stuff going on…as if it’s that easy. I’ve had a production company for years. We have great projects coming up, but it’s been a battle okay? At the same time, you have to stay relevant because you have to be bankable to the foreign market. So when How to Get Away with Murder came along, I had my a-ha moment. I knew it would have a great time slot, and I would be a lead in a TV show. I’d get to play a role that’s sexualized, messy, all those of things I never get to play. And at the same time, I can be relevant.”
Looks like that plan is certainly working like a charm.
So happy for Viola!
This issue of Entertainment Weekly will be on news stands on Friday.
When I think of strong women who are comfortable in their own skin, Viola Davis is actually one of the first people who comes to mind. However, the Academy Award-nominated actress says getting to this place of seeing herself as sexy didn’t happen overnight.
“It feels awesome. It really does. I love it. I went to Julliard in New York and I always tried to be the 90-pound White girl,” she told Essence.
According the Davis, it wasn’t necessarily because she didn’t like herself, but during her time spent at Julliard, many of the women portrayed in classical works were White, small and dainty, which caused her to try to shrink herself.
“Only because we did a lot of classical training and all of the ingénues in Shakespeare were very small women. So I tried to make myself small. Literally. I don’t know how I did that. I was like thinking, ‘Small. Light.’ I would try to have a higher voice, which sounds ridiculous right?”
Because her definition of “sexy” was so narrow, the actress says that she felt she had to hide herself to be portrayed in this light and also, to fit into these roles.
“I felt like there’s only one way to be sexy. It’s almost like I felt like I had to disappear.”
Thankfully, there are folks like Shonda Rhimes and HTGAWM creator Peter Nowalk, who are able to imagine sexy female heroines in various shapes and sizes.
“It feels really good to embrace exactly who I am and be my sexy or be my sexualized. To be my woman, you know? And it’s been the joy of my life. It really has and I think it found me at the right time of my life. When I really am very unapologetic for who I am. That helps other women, too. I think women want to see themselves on TV. I really do. I think we’re in the 21st century, I think we have to woman up. I think a lot of women have womaned up and we want to see ourselves and it feels great.”
“And Shonda Rhimes, too, is the one who is fearless with it,” Davis continued. “You see it with Chandra Wilson, with Sandra Oh, Kerry Washington. She does it. She walks the walk.”
Check out Viola’s full interview here.
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