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Viola Davis: ‘I Always Want to Be a Complete Person’

Shondaland.com gives us a peek at the Widows Q&A.

In a post-screening Q+A, the cast and director of “Widows” talked collaboration, representation, and what they learned on set.

Steve McQueen’s latest effort, “Widows,” dropped onto Must See Lists late last year with little more than the reveal of its cast. After all, who wouldn’t be intrigued by a political thriller, heist, melodrama (yes, it’s all of these things) starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Bryan Tyree Henry, and Daniel Kaluuya. And from the deep intimacy of its opening shot, to the many sharp twists throughout, “Widows” delivers. It is, without exaggeration (or spoilers), everything one might expect from a McQueen movie that also happens to be co-written by the mystery-thriller expert, Gillian Flynn.

Meshing together low stakes local politics and high stakes action, “Widows” follows Veronica (Davis), Linda (Rodriguez), and Alice (Debicki), three women whose dead husbands leave behind a few million dollars worth of unfinished business in their wake. When the widows’ lives are threatened by a wannabe Chicago Alderman, Jamal Manning (Henry) and his brother Jatemme (Kaluuya, in easily one of the scariest performances of the year), they have to take matters into their own hands in order to survive.

We were lucky enough to attend a recent screening that concluded with a Q+A panel featuring, McQueen, Davis, Rodriguez, and Kaluuya. In the brief time they had with the audience, each artist shared what originally drew them to the project, some of the lessons they took away, and a few gems that will definitely make our second viewings (and third, and fourth — to be honest, this movie is coming for its things this awards season) that much more compelling.

Why this project, and why now?
“… It’s just a case of wanting to tell stories. It’s that simple … I wanted to put that fabric of our current political and socio-political, racial, environment into the sort of DNA of [‘Widows’]. It’s honest. It had to happen, because otherwise, it becomes just another heist story. We all know about what’s happening around us, and to sort of put that into a narrative is very important. [The difficulty in arranging] child care. Horrific sort of politicians. False prophets. It’s in our everyday.” – Steve McQueen

“I have always wanted to be in an action movie, ever since ‘Get Christy Love.’ I’ve always wanted to kick somebody’s ass, because I wanted to kick people’s ass in life. And there was something about channeling that power [while making ‘Widows’] that I did like. But I didn’t necessarily sign on to it because of the action part of it. I signed on to it because I felt that it was a complete story. And [my character Veronica] was a complete character. And actually the thing that really struck me was [that] the core of [‘Widows’] was a love story. This woman is in love with a man, [Liam Neeson], and that is usually what’s not associated with me either. I always want to be a complete person. I always feel like that’s the elusive thing when it comes to people of color, you know what I mean?” – Viola Davis

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Viola Davis: ‘I stifled who I was to be seen as pretty. I lost years’

Success hasn’t come easy for the Oscar-winning star. She talks to Benjamin Lee about the limited roles black actors are offered, why The Help was a missed opportunity, and how she learned to take the lead – in life and on screen

In the opening scene of Widows, the new thriller from artist-turned-director Steve McQueen, Viola Davis lies in bed, passionately kissing her on-screen husband, Liam Neeson. A kiss between a married couple might not seem remarkable, but for Davis it is a groundbreaking moment.

“For me, this is something you’ll not see this year, last year, the year before that,” Davis says, sitting in her living room in Toluca Lake, Los Angeles. “That is, a dark-skinned woman of colour, at 53 years old, kissing Liam Neeson. Not just kissing a white man,” she adds, “Liam Neeson, a hunk. And kissing him sexually, romantically.”

We meet after Davis has finished her photoshoot for the Guardian, a simple grey robe now pulled over her shimmering evening gown. She turns up the heating in the sparsely furnished open-plan room that opens out on to the rest of the ground floor; assistants mill around the house, and her eight-year-old daughter, Genesis, who greeted me at the door, pops in and out.

Davis predicts that few people will want to talk about the significance of the Widows’ kiss. “Nobody will pay attention to that. And if you mention it to someone, I think they’ll feel like it’s hip and it’s funky that they didn’t notice it. But will you see it again?” she asks. “If you don’t think that’s a big deal, then tell me, why isn’t it happening more?” She sighs. “There’s a part of me that can answer that.”

After a three-decade career playing more than 75 mostly supporting roles, Widows – an adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s 1983 British miniseries – marks Davis’s first lead role in a major studio movie. She plays the wife of a master criminal (Neeson), forced to continue his work after his death. It’s a film that’s both familiar and fresh; a heist movie, but spearheaded by a group of strong-willed female characters (played by Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo) whose racial diversity is almost incidental, something that Davis says is unusual.

“I always say that one thing missing in cinema is that regular black woman,” she says, maintaining direct eye contact, as she does the whole time I’m with her. “Not anyone didactic, or whose sole purpose in the narrative is to illustrate some social abnormality. There’s no meaning behind it, other than she is just there.” Davis says she wants to play the sort of roles Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep have had. “I would love to have a black female Klute, or Kramer, or Unmarried Woman, or Annie Hall. But who’s gonna write it, who’s gonna produce it, who’s gonna see it, again and again and again?”

In the past 10 years, Davis has become one of the most decorated actors in Hollywood – winning Tonys for roles in August Wilson’s stage plays King Hedley II and Fences, an Oscar for the big-screen take on the latter and an Emmy for her performance in Shonda Rhimes’s pulpy TV series How To Get Away With Murder. She’s a Grammy short of an EGOT, a full sweep, but tells me it’s not going to happen: she can’t sing.

Davis refers to her latest role as a “gift” from McQueen, “because it was just a woman in the middle of a narrative who was facing personal challenges”. Widows is undoubtedly more multiplex-leaning fare than the director’s previous work (Hunger, 12 Years A Slave), though his script, co-written by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, raises issues of political corruption, poverty and police brutality.

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Viola Davis on What ‘The Help’ Got Wrong and How She Proves Herself

Viola did a recent interview with the New York Times where she answers fan questions. She talks about roles that she regrets and the challenges she has faced in her career.

TORONTO — The Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis is the star of the new crime drama “Widows,” which debuted here last week at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be in theaters Nov. 16.

I sat down with Ms. Davis at the Ritz-Carlton to ask her questions from our readers. They wanted to know about past roles, challenges and regrets, and she spoke about what “The Help” lacked and how “Widows” made her feel vulnerable. Here are edited excerpts from her responses.

Can you share either your top three personal or professional challenges that have greatly influenced your career? — Mohun, Dallas

I’d say, No. 1, finding really great dramatic or great roles that I felt were worthy of my potential and talent.

No. 2, always having to prove my ability. I’ve had to do that in sometimes substandard material, sometimes good material, but very very seldom times great material.

No. 3 would be responsibility. The responsibility of feeling like I am the great black female hope for women of color has been a real professional challenge. Being that role model and picking up that baton when you’re struggling in your own life has been difficult. Looking at the deficit and seeing that once you’re on top, you can either take the role of leadership or you can toss it in the garbage and say, “I’m just out to save myself.” I choose to be the leader.

What was the first day of filming with Meryl Streep [for “Doubt”] like? — SNA, New Jersey

Absolutely terrifying, but not because of anything that she was projecting. She could not be any less intimidating. Everything was coming from me, 100 percent. It was a rehearsal. We rehearsed it first because it’s based on a play. So I showed up an hour early, and I just stared at the door waiting for her to come in. And I think I probably ran up to her when she first came through the door, which I’m sure she’s used to, but when I look at it in hindsight I’m very embarrassed.

Have you ever passed on a role and regretted it? — Toti Plascencia, Chicago

I have passed on a lot of roles. There have been one or two that I regretted for maybe a minute, and then I let it go. As I’m growing older, I pass on roles because of my experience of knowing once the movie’s out, I’m going to have to promote it. And I don’t want to promote anything that I don’t believe in.

Almost a better question is, have I ever done roles that I’ve regretted? I have, and “The Help” is on that list. But not in terms of the experience and the people involved because they were all great. The friendships that I formed are ones that I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I had a great experience with these other actresses, who are extraordinary human beings. And I could not ask for a better collaborator than Tate Taylor.

I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard. I know Aibileen. I know Minny. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom. And I know that if you do a movie where the whole premise is, I want to know what it feels like to work for white people and to bring up children in 1963, I want to hear how you really feel about it. I never heard that in the course of the movie.

What character has been the toughest to portray? — Lauren McMillen, W.Va.

Rose in “Fences” was difficult because it was difficult translating it to the screen.

Annalise Keating [from the TV series “How to Get Away With Murder”] is tough because I have to go into a realm that is not me. She has a very colorful sexual life. I would not describe myself as being that person.

And Veronica [in “Widows”] was very difficult because she’s got a vulnerability that cost me something as Viola. That has something to do with images onscreen. How many movies have you seen where you see a dark-skinned woman of 53 with her natural hair in bed with Liam Neeson? But I had to get past the fact of what the outside world has not seen, and focus on what the world was.

All of my characters cost me something. I feel like if they don’t cost me anything, then I’m not doing my job.

Viola Davis Knows What’s Wrong With Hollywood… and How to Fix It

Viola is featured on the newest issue of Variety magazine. She talks about her new film Widows that is premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, the Hollywood Pay Gap, and other issues that she has faced in Hollywood.

It was a familiar dilemma for Viola Davis. What to do with her hair?

The star of the upcoming film “Widows” needed to know what kind of wig or extensions she should wear to play Veronica Rawlins, the leader of an unlikely band of robbers scrambling to pull off a dangerous heist. Director Steve McQueen’s answer shocked the Emmy-, Tony- and Oscar-winning actress.

“I said, ‘Your own hair is beautiful — just wear it that way,’” recalls McQueen. “Veronica is a wash-and-go kind of girl.”

For Davis, the decision to appear on-screen in close-cropped, curly hair was liberating and represented an important social statement.

“You’re always taught as a person of color to not like your hair,” she says. “The kinkier it is, the so-called nappier it is, the uglier it is.”

McQueen stressed that he was interested in reflecting reality. More women looked like her, he told the actress, than like the artificial and idealized images of female beauty that Hollywood frequently projects.

“We’re into a zeitgeist where people are fighting for their space to be seen,” says Davis. “People have to know that there are different types of women of color. We’re not all Foxy Brown. We’re not all brown or light-skinned beauties with a big Afro. We have the girl next door. We have the older, dark-skinned, natural-haired woman.”

“Widows,” which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival and debuts in theaters on Nov. 16, represents other important firsts for Davis. It’s a commercial action pic from a major studio (20th Century Fox) that rises or falls on her performance, as well as a chance for the 53-year old actress to solidify her position on the A-list. Julius Tennon, Davis’ husband of 15 years and the co-founder of their production company JuVee, says the impact could be seismic.

“This could change the face of her career up to this point,” he says. “It’s a chance for Viola to be seen as the lead actor in a global movie.”

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11 Inspiring Viola Davis Quotes on Beauty, Confidence and Knowing You’re Fabulous

I love this feature that People.com did on their site! Hopefully that means there will be a feature on Viola in their new The Beautiful Issue People issue.

The Oscar winner knows that she’s fabulous — and she wants other women to know that they are, too

ON HER MANTRA
“My go-to saying is that a privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, and I would tell my younger self exactly that—you are absolutely perfect the way you are.”
— to InStyle

ON DECIDING TO WALK THE RED CARPET WITHOUT A WIG AT THE 2012 EMMYS
“I would not say that I was 100 percent comfortable until I walked onto the carpet. And I’ll tell you why: Number one, I felt like I had to be. Number two, I just wanted to be me. Every time you walk that carpet, the pressure to be your authentic self, but at the same time not stick out … That balance is something we are all trying to reach when we walk out the door every day. How do we fit in, but be ourselves and be true to ourselves?”
— to Refinery29

ON GROWING COMFORTABLE WITH HERSELF
“The fall hasn’t happened. I’ve been blissfully comfortable in my own skin. I think what’s happened is probably just so many years of not feeling comfortable, that maybe I just got tired. Maybe all of the experiences I’ve had have just marinated into this beautiful pot of me.”
— to Today

ON WHAT SHE HOPES TO TEACH HER DAUGHTER
“I don’t care how stereotypical it is, beauty has got to come from the inside. It’s got to come from owning her story — all of it. Her failures, her insecurities, her strength, her joy, all of it. There’s not one thing she can leave on the side of the road and not claim. That’s all I want for her.”
— to Refinery29

ON WOMEN BEING WORTH MORE THAN THEIR LOOKS
“We need to stop that with girls. We need to stop saying that all of their value is in the way they look, and whether they’re pretty or not. I hate it when people say things like, ‘She has a lot going for her because she’s beautiful.’ But what else is she? Because by the time she’s 65 and doesn’t have that tight rear end anymore, then you’re saying she has no value? That needs to stop. It’s the most detrimental thing to suggest that’s the only value you have.”
— to InStyle

ON NOT BEING AFRAID OF AGING
“What’s released me most from the fear of aging is self-awareness. I’ve never determined my value based on my looks or anything physical. I’ve been through a lot in life, and what has gotten me through is strength of character and faith.”
— to InStyle

FIRING BACK AT THE TV CRITIC WHO DESCRIBED HER AS ‘LESS CLASSICALLY BEAUTIFUL’
“I think that beauty is subjective. I’ve heard that statement my entire life. Being a dark-skinned black woman — you hear it from the time you get out of the womb. ‘Classically not beautiful’ is a fancy term of saying ugly, and denouncing you, erasing you. Now it worked when I was younger; it no longer works for me now … Because really at the end of the day, you define you.”
— on The View

ON WHY ANNALISE KEATING’S SENSUAL SIDE IS SO IMPORTANT
“We’ve been fed a whole slew of lies about women. [By TV standards,] if you are anywhere above a size 2, you’re not having sex. You don’t have sexual thoughts. You may not even have a vagina. And if you’re of a certain age, you’re off the table.”
— to ELLE

ON REDEFINING BEAUTY
“Just like we have to redefine strength, we have to redefine beauty. It’s not even about beautiful, it’s about being who you are. It’s about being honest. It’s about stepping into, ‘This is how I am in private, this is how I look, this is how I act, this is my mess, this is my strength, this is my beauty, this is my intelligence,’ and then putting it out there that this is who I am.”
— to New York

ON LEARNING TO EMBRACE HER LOOKS
“Nobody uses those two words in a sentence: beauty and Viola. I didn’t grow up like that. I didn’t have boyfriends until I was in my 20s. Part of that was because I was extraordinarily shy, but, um, no. And especially, women of my hue are historically, traditionally, not associated with beauty. I think that’s part of the reason why I did take my wig off is because I felt that I was just addicted to the wigs … I felt like I was using it as a crutch. And I wanted to show people that despite all these things, I’m still cute. So look at me. Aren’t I cute? And I just felt that I needed to stop doing that and I needed to stop apologizing for that and I needed to step into who I was.”
— to Ebony.com

ON THE ADVICE SHE’D GIVE OTHER WOMEN
“I just look at women sometimes and I just want to ask them, ‘Do you know how fabulous you are?’ I look back at pictures of myself and I remember thinking, ‘I was so fat when I was growing up. I was 165 pounds when I graduated from high school. I was a mess.’ And then I look back at pictures of myself, and I’m like, ‘You were fabulous.’ I wish I would have known that then.”
— to ELLE

Viola Davis on Pay Inequality: ‘If You See Me the Same, Pay Me the Same’

Variety released some clips from an interview with Viola on the red carpet of yesterday’s Power of Women New York event.

On the red carpet for Variety‘s Power of Women New York event Friday, Viola Davis shared her thoughts on the #MeToo movement, its implications, and the lasting effects of sexual assault.

“I think the conversation now is people really feel like the impact is just a woman loses her career — it’s way deeper than that,” Davis said. “You lose your life in that moment.”

Davis acknowledged the progress #MeToo has made in terms of giving women voices, but she expanded on how discussions surrounding the movement could be more productive beyond sexual assault’s effects on women’s job prospects.

“The conversation that people need to have is what sexual assault does to that individual,” Davis said. “The moment that sexual assault happens and the trauma happens, how it spirals into side effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, drug addiction, rage issues, body dismorphic issues.”

The actress also clarified and elaborated on an earlier comment she made at the Women in the World salon on Feb. 13, in which she called to action those who say she is as one-of-a-kind as Meryl Streep. “If there is no like me, pay me what I’m worth,” Davis said at the event.

At Power of Women, Davis spoke about the intersectional implications of the comment: “What I mean by that is black women are paid significantly less than Caucasian women, and Hispanic women are also paid significantly less.”

She expressed her desire to be seen as a woman, too, pointing out the similarities between women’s struggle to be paid the same as men and the barriers facing women of color who want to be paid the same as white women.

“If white women make half as much as white men, we make not even a quarter of what white women get. And then we don’t have the same opportunities to get paid more,” Davis said. “What I’ve invested in my career is exactly the same. And so if you see me the same, then pay me the same, which is what women are saying about men.”

To watch the interview clips visit Variety’s page.

Viola Davis Tells Women This is the Year of Owning Who We Are: ‘We Are All Worth It’

Viola Davis is speaking out about the importance of women owning who they are, imperfections and all.

Speaking at the 11th Annual Women in Film Pre-Oscar Cocktail Party in Beverly Hills, California, on Friday, the How to Get Away With Murder actress — who is among the list of star-studded presenters for the 2018 Academy Awards on Sunday — gave a rousing speech calling for women to embrace their often complicated identities.

“You know I was telling a story to the women at my table…I told my five-year-old daughter at the time you know I said, ‘Genesis you’re very complicated.’ And she said, ‘Mommy, take that back, take that back,’ ” the 52-year-old said.

And although the Academy Award-winning actress tried to tell her daughter she meant it as a compliment, her daughter Genesis, now 6, didn’t see it that way.

“I said, ‘Genesis, that’s a compliment. That means you’re multifaceted, that there’s a lot of different things in you.’ [But] she said, ‘Mommy, you’re trying to tell me that I’m confusing,’ ” Davis added.

Acknowledging that being a woman can often feel confusing, “especially in this past year that we have [had] testimonies of sexual assault,” Davis emphasized how important it is for women to value themselves.

“We’re still worth it,” she added. “With all of our imperfections, with all of our complexities and confusion, we’re still worth it.”

“This is a year of owning who we are. You either own your story and you share it. Or you stand outside of it always hustling for your worth,” Davis continued.

“We are all worth it. That is what we need to come into [a] room with. That’s what we need to go into 2018 and 2019 with. That the privilege of a lifetime is being exactly who we are,” she concluded.

Immediately following Davis’ speech, the event’s co-host Emma Stone commented, “No one should ever have to follow Viola Davis ever.”

“This has been a historic year for so many reasons. Many of you are a part of that. As you said, it’s a tipping point and it’s very exciting, and it can be very jarring at times,” Stone continued, as she introduced tennis star Billie Jean King.

“I’m so inspired by the voices I’ve gotten to listen to, and the things I’ve learned,” she added. “Keep it up and congratulations.”

The 2018 Oscars ceremony will be held at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4 and will be televised live on ABC at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.

(Source)

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