Viola Davis stepped on stage at Macky Auditorium at the University of Colorado Boulder on Thursday evening to thunderous, earsplitting applause.
It’s something she’s wanted since she was a small child, but it’s not without its pitfalls.
“When you are a kid, you dream of that applause,” Davis said. “When you get older, you’re like you’ve got to live up to it.”
Davis has won Emmy and Tony Awards and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in “Fences” and is the most Academy Award-nominated black woman in history. She also stars on the television show “How to Get Away With Murder,” and appeared at CU Boulder on Thursday night at an event co-hosted by the student-run Cultural Events Board and Distinguished Speakers Board.
She answered questions about working in Hollywood as a black woman and her roles on “How to Get Away with Murder” and “The Help,” for which she was nominated for one of her three Academy Awards.
Previous speakers hosted by the organizations have included CNN journalist Anderson Cooper and actor Laverne Cox.
Davis talked about her childhood in Rhode Island where she grew up as she called it “po,” a “rung below poor.”
“The thing about being poor is you are invisible,” Davis said. “When you are poor you have nothing.”
Davis said she considers herself a hero in the Joseph Campbell sense of the word, because a hero is someone who doesn’t fit in. She said she found that in acting, which she was inspired to pursue after the watching the 1974 television movie “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” starring Cicely Tyson.
She added that her older sister, Diane, who she did not meet for several years, because her sister lived with their grandmother in South Carolina, also pressed her to find a dream upon coming to Rhode Island and seeing their low-rent housing.
“She looked around the apartment and said ‘What do you want to be?” Davis said “I said ‘I don’t know.’ She said ‘If you don’t want to be poor like this, you have to know what you want to be.'”
Davis said we are living in an age of anxiety and encouraged the near-capacity crowd at the 2,040-seat auditorium to counter that by finding ways to be a positive force.
“We live in a really broken world,” she said. “There’s a lot of fabulous things going on out there, but there is also a lot of crap.
She added that most of the people in the audience were likely “at the beginning of your race.”
“You have to ask yourself this question: Is there anything you are doing to make life better?”