All Articles Tagged "Viola Davis"
One of the many pearls of wisdom that my grandmother instilled in me before she left this earth was the art of being happy for others—even when they’ve been blessed with something that you may still be praying for. Apparently, Taraji P. Henson has also mastered this concept.
The actress was up against Viola Davis at Sunday evening’s Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Davis won, making her the first Black actress to win the award in Emmys history, and Henson believes that the universe meant for it to be that way.
“It was bittersweet,” she told Ellen DeGeneres. “We all want to make history and be important to society and everything. But then, I thought about it. It’s 2015, and we have a Black president, but no Black woman has ever won in this category. This is weird! So when I went into it, and I knew I was being nominated alongside Viola, I was just like ‘God, please give it to one of us, so we never have to say this again! Let’s just break this barrier down and keep on pushing.’”
Henson adds that the respect she has for Davis would have made winning the award slightly uncomfortable.
“I think the universe is happy. Viola deserved that award and honestly, I would have felt weird if I would’ve gotten it over her. She’s been doing it longer, and you just got to give respect and know when your time is.”
As for Davis’ now popular acceptance speech about the lack of opportunity provided to women of color in Hollywood, which attracted its share of criticism, Henson says that it was necessary.
“I feel like the universe needed to hear that message last night,” the “Empire” actress expressed. “I just think the universe orders up what it needs when it needs it, and I think the world needed to hear what she had to say last night.”
She’s such a class act. And with a positive attitude like that, there’s no doubt that Miss Taraji’s time will come as well.
I am thrilled about Sunday night’s history-making Emmys. But I must admit, I halfway stand with Nancy Grahn, the White soap-opera star who tweeted “I wish I loved [the] #ViolaDavis speech” and I heard harriet y Tubman [sic] and I thought its a fucking emmy for gods sake [sic].”
I, too, wish that I loved Davis’s speech. As impressed as I was with her emotional tribute to Black women and her public declaration that the color line in Hollywood is real (and must be reckoned with), I wasn’t exactly caught up in the #BlackGirlMagic excitement that swept across social media. What’s more, I, too, heard Harriet Tubman and thought, “Really? We’re evoking Harriet…now?”
Don’t get me wrong, I actually think there’s scant an inappropriate time to bring up Ms. Tubman. But as soon as Davis finished those prefatory remarks that she attributed to the abolitionist, I couldn’t help but to raise an eyebrow. Something about the tone and tenor of that Tubman quote seemed like overkill, not to mention that my inner fact-checker was dubious about the context and origin of Tubman’s original words.
I couldn’t track down a reliable source for Davis’s Harriet Tubman quote (and no, BrainyQuote doesn’t count as a “reliable” source). But I did discover an online copy of Harriet, The Moses of Her People, a biography by Sarah H. Bradford that was first published in 1886. In the book, there’s a passage that reads as follows:
…she seemed to see a line dividing the land of slavery from the land of freedom, and on the other side of that line she saw lovely white ladies waiting to welcome her, and to care for her. Already in her mind her people were the Israelites in the land of Egypt, while far away to the north somewhere, was the land of Canaan; but had she as yet any prevision [sic] that she was to be the Moses who was to be their leader, through clouds of darkness and fear, and fires of tribulation to that promised land? This she never said.
Now, in those sentences, I heard echoes of Davis’s Harriet Tubman quote, but I didn’t hear the quote itself. For all I know, Viola Davis may have retrieved the quote from a prestigious Harriet Tubman research vault where she sat thumbing through hours of transcriptions of interviews with Tubman for her upcoming role as the abolitionist. Or, for all I know, Davis may have retrieved the quote from someone who used it as his email signature after reading it on BrainyQuote. A site, which, again, for all I know, may have first crafted the “quote” based on Bradford’s words, not Tubman’s.
All that to say, I, like Grahn, wasn’t wowed by last night’s best actress speech. But, although she nearly lost me at Harriet Tubman, Davis quickly recovered my attention with that flawless one-liner: “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Despite my own tepid reaction to what I like to call Davis’s “Field of Dreams Speech” (per those first few opening phrases, “I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful White women…”), I emphatically applaud and affirm the How to Get Away with Murder star’s rightful place on that podium last night. I, like so many Black women, love me some Viola Davis; and I hold up her right to do or say anything she damn well pleases from the Emmys stage.
But guess what? Grahn, too, has the right to react to what Davis does and says from that Emmys stage. Which is why I’m going on the record as a Black woman who also didn’t care for the speech, but who also recognizes that there’s a thin line between not loving a speech and completely disparaging or undermining the speech-giver.
So, as much as I wish I loved Davis’s speech, I also wish Grahn hadn’t crossed that line. I wish she had spoken more humbly, more circumspectly (all the f-bombs and that “color me heartbroken” remark about people calling her racist didn’t sit well). Still, just because Grahn’s words were hurtful and irresponsible doesn’t mean she didn’t have the right to speak at all.
But there’s a slippery slope with the word “right” and who has the right to say what and to/about whom. In the case of Grahn and Davis, the slope gets even more precarious when you take into account the longtime “who has the right to say what” struggle between Black women and White women.
Grahn’s Twitter ranting about Davis reeked of dismissiveness and misplaced resentment. Two tweets, in particular, seemed particularly ill-tempered: ”Brilliant as she is. She has never been discriminated against” and “Try being any woman in TV. Wish she’d brought every woman in the picture. I wish I’d [had] opportunity to play roles she gets.”
First of all, Grahn’s so-called critiques were yet another instance of overkill that incited my inner fact-checker and, presumably, the inner fact-checker of any Black woman who has read enough Viola Davis interviews to know that her discrimination journey is a real one. It includes a fight to overcome her personal self-esteem challenges and a struggle to navigate a Hollywood landscape where there’s a dearth of roles for women of color. (Please read these great pieces by Stacia Brown and Rebecca Carroll that mention specific references about Davis being undercut by the media and her peers on several public occasions. This includes the time she was cut off mid-sentence by Charlize Theron.)
But the biggest problem with Grahn’s Twitter fingers is not that they were firing off inaccurate statements. The biggest problem is not even that what Grahn said was racist. (We can debate whether or not her comments were racist, but we know this for sure: They were rude.) The biggest problem is that this kind of blind rudeness from White women–the privilege of rudeness, if you will–is so exasperating to Black women. It’s absolutely nothing new, but it’s so damn persistent and treacherous and trying that it makes us want to holler.
When I read Grahn’s tweet about how she wishes she’d had Davis’s career and opportunities, I could picture all kinds of forward-thinking and progressive feminists of every color sighing to themselves. Saying, “See, that’s why women can’t have nice things.” Feeling disheartened by yet another moment that illustrates the longtime struggle between Black and White women, in the feminist movement and beyond, to come together.
As I emailed with my MadameNoire editor, Victoria Uwumarogie, about #AttilaTheGrahn, she made it plain. “Grahn’s way of sharing her opinions is [what] makes Black women feel like we can’t stand with White women. Because they don’t fully acknowledge or respect our experiences. And that is a reason some Black women don’t call themselves feminists.”
I won’t go so far as to say it’s not okay or permissible for Grahn, or any woman for that matter, to undervalue the experiences of another woman. The glory of feminism, after all, is wielding and sharing an unshakeable belief that it’s okay and permissible for women to say whatever we damn well please. And that goes for all women, whether or not those women are Black, White or otherwise, and whether or not we choose to quote Harriet Tubman or Harriet Beecher Stowe or Harriet the Spy.
But I will say this: Every woman’s words are permissible, but not all words are helpful. And by “helpful,” I don’t mean positive. I mean productive. And, look, we should know by now–and by “we,” I’m talking to both Black women and White women–that it’s just not productive when women go tit for tat with each other over who has had it worse.
I am not saying that White women need to nod along to everything Black women say or do, or vice versa. But, going back to what I said about the “thin line between not loving a speech and completely disparaging or undermining the speech-giver,” it’s time for White women and all women to stop dismissing each other. (That means: White women dismissing Black women for not having really struggled; Black women dismissing White women for flaunting their privilege; White women dismissing other White women for being too badass; Black women dismissing other Black women for not being badass enough).
Look, I’m not naive enough to suggest that Black women and White women should cease and desist to argue and disagree. No, there are too many dissenting voices, on both sides, that are too valuable for all that can-we-all-get-along jazz.
But I am strident enough to tell White women this: You must be more careful about how you bring Black women into your critiques and conversations and know that being more careful doesn’t make you any less bold. What’s more, the charge to be more careful doesn’t mean that you should stop bringing Black women into your critiques and conversations. In fact, you must keep doing so, as we also will keep bringing you into ours.
In response to Grahn’s critiques about Viola Davis, MadameNoire’s Veronica Wells wrote a great piece that essentially told Grahn to “shut up” (which, I admit, is understandable since Grahn was essentially telling Davis, “You didn’t struggle! You won! Now, shut up and be happy, girl!”).
Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to silence Grahn, or even to tell her “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I would, however, share these words with her that my father always repeats to me:
Be good and, if you can’t be good, be careful.
“She Has Never Been Discriminated Against” Soap Star Nancy Grahn Discredits Viola Davis’ Speech & Experience
Last night, Viola Davis made history by being the first African American women to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
And her speech was one for the record books.
She opened it with a quote from Harriet Tubman.
“In my mind I see a line and over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful White women with their arms stretched out to me over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.”
And then, in her own words she spoke:
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
She thanked the writers for redefining what it means to be beautiful, sexy, a woman and Black. And even acknowledged her fellow actresses of color for taking us over that line.
It was beautiful, poignant and timely. With whoops and screams, the audience seemed to appreciate it. Kerry Washington had tears in her eyes. But not everyone was pleased.
“General Hospital” star Nancy Lee Grahn expressed her disapproval… explicitly.
In a series of tweets, she wrote:
“I wish I loved #ViolaDavis Speech, but I thought she should have let @shondarhimes write it. #Emmys
Nancy could have stopped there. We would have still side-eyed her but she could have explained her way out of it. It was the subsequent tweets that dug an irreparable hole. In response to someone else, she said:
“@nxssy I do 2. I think she’s the bees knees but she’s elite of TV performers. Brilliant as she is. She has never been discriminated against.”
Grahn was immediately criticized. But she still didn’t get the picture.
“@MelioraEsq and I heard harriet y Tubman [sic] and I thought its a fucking emmy for gods sake [sic]. She wasn’t digging thru a tunnel.”
She really did it with that last one. Grahn’s tweets began 11 hours ago and she is still, as I type, being roasted for believing that the Underground Railroad was a system of tunnels beneath the earth, leading to freedom.
Black Twitter is “kindly” letting her know that they were not.
Grahn has since deleted the last two tweets and apologized for her ignorance and acknowledged that she needed to check her privilege.
“I apologize for my earlier tweets and now realize I need to check my own privilege. My intention was not to take this historic and important moment from Viola Davis or other women of color but I realize that my intention doesn’t matter here because that is what I ended up doing. I learned a lot tonight and I admit that there are still some things I don’t understand but I am trying to and will let this be a learning experience for me.”
Then later: “30 yrs an advocate 3 human rights & now i’m a racist. Color me heartbroken. Twitter can bring out the best & sadly tonight the worst of us.”
I don’t know what I can say today that I don’t say any other week. It just surprises me that for all their power, influence and privilege in this country there are White people who still find a way to take offense when a person of color merely references their oppression. I truly wonder why it affects them so strongly and so negatively. Is it guilt? Are they threatened or is it just uncomfortable? Perhaps it would be easier for the collective White ego if we were to just pretend that discrimination doesn’t exist in the entertainment industry and Hollywood at large?
Either way, those days are over. I want to say that Grahn’s assertion that Davis had never experienced any discrimination was elitist or entitled. But what it really was, was just stupid. How dare she believe that she could speak to another individual’s experience, as if she had been there with her through every step of the journey that led to last night’s win? She wasn’t there. She doesn’t know. And though she’s been fighting for human rights for decades, there’s clearly more work to be done when she believes she, as a White woman, can tell a Black woman’s story better than the Black woman who already told it.
In my frustration, I just have two words for Nancy Grahn and the millions of other privileged White men and women who seem to believe Black folks are just speaking out about discrimination and injustice as a way to pass the time: Shut up.
Instead of finding ways to discredit your fellow actresses, women of color, listen, really listen to what they have to say. A Black woman saying she has experienced discrimination doesn’t mean that women, even White women, don’t have a hard time in the game. No one’s ever denied that. But why do you want to silence a colleague when she’s speaking about what’s real for her and others like her? The opinions expressed in the tweets may or may not have solidified Grahn’s status as a racist. I don’t know her. But I do know that the act of ignoring and then attempting to discredit or silence Black pain, experience and triumph is one that is deeply rooted in racism. And I hope Nancy sees that now.
Going into the 2015 Emmy Awards ceremony, I was cautious with my excitement. While this year’s show highlighted more Black actors and actresses than ever before, you can never be sure if those nominations will turn into a win. There are often politics at play in the selection of who wins what awards, and people of color have always managed to come out on the bottom. But this year, all that has changed.
I should’ve known something was in the air when Andy Samberg dropped a few jokes about the lack of diversity in Hollywood in his opening number. But I never could have been prepared for what was to come.
I watched with great pride as a joy-filled Viola Davis gave a standing ovation to a shocked and emotional Regina King. She did so to celebrate after King won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her role in the ABC anthology drama, American Crime. I was thrilled to see this woman who I had grown up watching on 227 and Southland and watched grow into a mega-talented actress and director receive her accolade. It was about time.
There’s no possibility of Taraji or Viola winning. They’d never give us more than one award in the same event. That’s what I thought to myself after King’s win. Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis had turned in such monumental performances on their respected shows that I hoped one of the ladies would win. But as a regular award show viewer, you start to note and expect patterns.
Then, the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series came up. I tempered myself. Now, Uzo Aduba is new to this category since they changed Orange is the New Black from a comedy to a drama. There’s no denying her talent, but she already won last year. She’s not a Tina Fey or Julia Louis-Dreyfus to mainstream Hollywood, so there’s no way they’d ever give her two awards in a row.
And yet, they did. When Jamie Lee Curtis announced her name, I was as surprised as Aduba herself. She got to the stage and was barely able to keep the tears in as she shook her way through a very grateful acceptance speech.
By the time Adrian Brody sauntered onto the stage to present the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama award, I was seriously doubting myself. Well, maybe people are ready to give credit where credit is due… When Brody called Davis’s name, I was taken aback. My eyes teared up and I stood up to get closer to the TV. As Taraji P. Henson, her fellow nominee, ran to Davis and hugged her with all of her might, I could barely contain my tears. To see this display of two Black women in their bliss, one congratulating the other, fully knowing the impact of the history being made, was Black Excellence embodied for all to witness on a national scale. Then cut to Kerry Washington weeping and clapping in the audience and my thug was all the way gone. The tears were a’flowin’.
And then there was the speech:
“”In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’
That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.
You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be Black.
And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you.”
The first Black actress to win the award for best leading actress in a drama series. Can you believe that? Debbie Allen was the first Black actress to receive the nomination for her role in Fame, and she would go on to receive the nomination four consecutive times, but she never took the award home. Other actresses like Alfre Woodward and Cicely Tyson have received the nomination as well, as well as Kerry Washington, but the “White streak” would not be broken until last night.
Inevitably, her speech will probably be taken out of context. Inevitably, someone will complain that she excluded White women and it will turn into a pseudo #AllActressesMatter narrative and a watered down diversity debate. People can do all they want to destroy this moment, but it will be to no avail. For last night, we watched three beautiful, talented and accomplished Black women make Hollywood history. And hopefully, in the years to come, people of color being recognized for their talents in Hollywood will become commonplace instead of being an anomaly.
Viola Davis made history at the Emmys on Sunday night as the first black actress ever to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” she said in her acceptance speech. (Read the full speech here.)
But the How to Get Away with Murder star is definitely not in rest mode, saying after her win that she’s back to work on Monday. “That’s how I digest it, ‘cause I can press the fast-forward button and I know that I’m gonna have to continue to be an actor, continue to make choices, continue to perform in a show every week,” she told ET Online.
Most importantly, the 50-year-old actress also noted that her mom duties never slow down — three-year-old daughter Genesis was already in bed when Davis tried to call her after the show. “She probably fell asleep,” the actress laughed, joking, “You ask how I handle the success, this is it. People are just not impressed by me at home.”
“Hopefully my daughter won’t break [the Emmy],” Davis laughed. “She’ll probably put candy in there.”
We’ve been locked in to see Viola Davis in her first leading role on the small screen from week to week, and can’t wait for the new season which begins this week on ABC. Brilliant, charismatic and seductive, Davis’ character Annalise Keating is smack-dab in the middle of murder, and more murder, with four students at the college where she serves as a law professor.
Davis has us intrigued — from her deep expressions to the delivery of every succinct line, and it’s been this way since the first time we spotted her onscreen. Still, it appears that her star is only beginning to shine so here are some details you may not know about the actress. Take a peek at our six little-known facts about Emmy winner Viola Davis, here.
1. Her role in The Help may have hit closer to home than people may think, as her own mother was a maid, factory worker and a civil rights activist.
2. Davis studied theater at Rhode Island College and went on to attend the Juilliard School in New York City. Although her love for acting started early, she didn’t score her first role until the late 1990s, a bit part in the film, Substance of Fire.
3. In 2001, Davis scored a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her contribution to Broadway’s King Hedley II.
4. In 2012 — post-The Help — she was noted as one of Time Magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
5. She and her husband, fellow actor Julius Tennon, adopted a daughter named Genesis in 2011. When the baby was 16 months, she was already plotting out her love life. Davis told People magazine she hoped to set Genesis up with Sandra Bullock’s son. “I’d absolutely love to set her up with Louis. That kid is so cute. He’s going to be a bruiser. But let’s try to get a play date in first. If they are ever in the same place, we’ll get them together.”
6. Davis grew up, in her words, abject poverty. “… for God to have brought me to this moment [of winning an Emmy] is kind of miraculous,” Davis marveled to ET. “It’s as miraculous as a tree growing from a seed.”
The Season 2 Premiere of How to Get Away with Murder is Thursday, September 24 10:00 p.m. (ET)
#BlackGirlMagic ran wild at last night’s Emmys when Viola Davis became the first Black actress to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
It’s the role of Annalise Keating in How To Get Away With Murder that brought Davis the win, of course, but it’s the actress’ perseverance in an industry that doesn’t necessarily want to see women like her succeed that allowed her to make history. Quoting Harriet Tubman in her acceptance speech, Davis said:
“In my mind, I see a line. And over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can’t seem to get over that line. Let me tell you something: the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Recognizing “people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black,” Davis went on to shout out Taraji P. Henson, Kerry Washington, Hallie Berry, and Gabrielle Union, saying “Thank you for taking us over that line.”
And then more tears ensued.
Watch Viola Davis’ moving speech below. Also, special shout out to Uzo Aduba who took home an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her role as “Crazy Eyes” in Orange is the New Black and Regina King who was named Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for American Crime.
Shonda Rhimes is on top. And when a Black woman’s on top, it only makes sense that Essence would feature said woman on the cover of their publication. Shonda’s appeared on the cover before. But her influence and effect on the industry warrants more than just one cover. So Essence honored her with six for the October issue. But it’s not just Shonda, it’s all of the Black actors and actresses she’s put on during her reign.
The covers feature actors and actresses from “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How To Get Away With Murder,” and “Scandal.”
Check out the covers and some excerpts from the upcoming article on the following pages.
Friday, gritty crime thriller, Lila and Eve starring Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez, is slated to hit theaters. As previously reported, the film follows the heartbreaking tale of two mothers who take justice into their hands after losing their children to violent crimes. A brief synopsis of the film, which is directed Drumline‘s Charles Stone III, reads:
A tense and exciting film, Lila and Eve tells the story of Lila (Academy Award Nominee Viola Davis), a grief-stricken mother who in the aftermath of her son’s murder in a drive-by shooting attends a support group where she meets Eve (Jennifer Lopez), who has lost her daughter. When Lila hits numerous roadblocks from the police in bringing justice for her sonÂ’s slaying, Eve urges Lila to take matters into her own hands to track down her sonÂ’s killers. The two women soon embark on a violent pursuit of justice, as they work to the top of the chain of drug dealers to avenge the murder of Lila’s son.
Tuesday, A+E Studios debuted an emotional clip from the upcoming release on Essence.com and it’s guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings.
Lila and Eve will be released in theaters as well as on VOD Friday, July 17. Will you be checking it out?
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.