Viola Davis Talks Audiences Embracing “A Woman Of A Certain Hue” For Her Lead Role In “How To Get Away With Murder”

September 16, 2014  |  

Hollywood has lauded Viola Davis for her unforgettable supporting actress roles. No matter the character, Davis has become the glue that holds together the cast and script. Despite never receiving the role as a protagonist, Daviss gift of transforming into memorable characters always leaves audiences astounded. Although the film industry has yet to make Davis into a leading lady, the Oscar-nominated actress is preparing sweep the nation as the new head actress in charge for television. Premiering as Professor Annalise Keating in ABC Network’s “How To Get Away With Murder,” Davis will play a sharp law professor who helps her students win cases no matter what. That’s how Professor Keating finds herself involved in a crime and love triangle since using her sexuality as her master weapon.

In a featured interview with the New York Times, Davis talks about never being given the opportunity to play such a role before and the uncertainties surrounding mainstream America receiving her as such a character. She also discusses how her childhood shaped her work ethic as an actress:

On The Typical Roles She Receives

Davis earned her second Oscar nomination but soon enough returned to playing yet another government functionary or military officer. “I have been given a lot of roles that are downtrodden, mammy-ish,” she said. “A lot of lawyers or doctors who have names but absolutely no lives. You’re going to get your three or four scenes, you’re not going to be able to show what you can do. You’re going to get your little bitty paycheck, and then you’re going to be hungry for your next role, which is going to be absolutely the same. That’s the truth.”

What Viewers Can Expect From “How To Get Away With Murder” 

Davis plays Annalise Keating, a flinty, stylish defense lawyer and law professor who employs her top students to help her win cases. After those students become entangled in a murder plot on their Ivy League campus, viewers will wonder whether Keating herself was involved in the crime. Davis plays Keating as cerebral and alluring, a fierce taskmaster who uses her sex appeal to her advantage, with a handsome husband and a lover on the side. It’s the kind of woman, in other words, that she has never gotten to play.

Her Uncertainty About Being Received As Professor Keating 

“How to Get Away With Murder,” which includes Shonda Rhimes among its executive producers, will be shown on Thursday nights after Rhimes’s two hit series, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” a generous lead-in that the network hopes will result in an instant hit. But that will depend, in part, on whether viewers embrace Davis — “a woman of color, of a certain age and a certain hue,” as she says — in her new capacity. “I don’t see anyone on TV like me in a role like this. And you can’t even mention Halle Berry or Kerry Washington,” she told me, referring to two African-American stars with notably lighter skin.

What Drives Her Work Ethic As Black Actress

Davis is known for her meticulous preparation. She spent four months studying for her eight minutes in “Doubt.” For “The Help,” she imagined Aibileen’s childhood, her aspirations and even her love life. Davis’s own back story explains much about the actress she has become. Born on her grandmother’s farm, a former plantation in South Carolina, she was raised in Central Falls, R.I. As one of the few black families in town, Davis and her five siblings grew up enduring vicious taunts. “Constantly being called ‘black ugly nigger’ — those words together,” she said in the 2011 documentary “Dark Girls.” Her father was a horse trainer, her mother worked in a factory and as an occasional maid and Davis remembers being so hungry that she sometimes stole food from the grocery store and rummaged in garbage cans for scraps; her shoes had holes in the soles, and her braids were secured by the plastic clips that seal up loaves of bread. “We sometimes used lard for moisturizer because we couldn’t  afford lotion,” she recalled. “I smelled like chicken when I went to school.”

To read Davis’s entire interview, click here.



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