Category: Articles

“Ms. Tyson Has Always Been My Muse”: Viola Davis on the Life-Changing Magic of Cicely Tyson

Viola wrote this great piece for Vanity Fair about the talented Ms. Tyson whom she is not only co-stars with on HTGAWM but also her friend.

With a career spanning six decades and dozens of film credits, honorary Oscar winner Cicely Tyson is a bastion of Hollywood achievement. Viola Davis looks back at a lifetime of brilliant performances.

s. Cicely Tyson is elegance personified. She is excellence. She is courage. When I think of her, I think of the Stevie Wonder song: “Show me how to do like you. Show me how to do it.”

The first time I encountered her I was a little girl living in a tenement building in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where we had electricity in only one part of the apartment, and hooked our television into an extension cord we ran from one side to the other. There, sitting on the floor with my sisters, I watched the made-for-TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, in which she depicts a woman’s life from her enslavement on a southern plantation at about age 23, to her joining the civil rights movement at nearly 110. When my sister said, “That’s the same actress,” I couldn’t believe it. Back then, I lived in a sea of white faces, onscreen and off, and here was this woman who looked like me—and she was performing magic.

Good actors, through very hard work, are able to transform for a role, but Ms. Tyson—the Harlem-born daughter of immigrants, discovered in her teens by an Ebony magazine photographer—transcends that. She embodies the depth of a character, her history, her memory. It was impossible not to fall in love with everything she did, this chocolate girl with a short fro fighting to portray a wide-ranging humanity too rarely afforded to actresses of color: our sexuality, our anger, our joy, our wildness. As a teenager I watched her heart-rending performances in her Academy Award-nominated role in Sounder, and alongside Richard Pryor in Bustin’ Loose, and as a Chicago schoolteacher in The Marva Collins Story. Later, when I was a student at a Circle in the Square Theatre workshop, I came across photos of her on Broadway in the 60s, sharing the stage with Alvin Ailey and Claudia McNeil in Tiger Tiger Burning Bright, and shining in Sidney Poitier’s staging of Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights.

When I was cast as Annalise in ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder, I could think of no one other than Ms. Tyson to play her mother. Those first scenes we filmed together were more poignant than I could have imagined. There I was sitting on the floor like a little girl again, no wig, no makeup, and there was the then-91-year-old Ms. Tyson behind me, all grace and grit, her strong hands parting my hair and scratching my scalp the way hundreds of thousands of black mothers have done for their daughters; the way mine did for me.

A few years ago she told me a story about how, when she played Jane Foster on East Side/West Side with her own short hair, almost 50 years before I first bared my own on network television, she would get a boatload of mail every week—a boatload, she kept saying that word—from African American women who said she was a disgrace to the race, wearing her nappy hair and looking ugly on screen. “You also took that wig off, and you also got a boatload of messages,” she said to me. “But they were all positive.” Those famous Shakespeare lines comes to mind: “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.” Ms. Tyson has always been my muse, leading me down this path of life, holding the lantern, paving the way.

The Wisdom of Viola Davis: “Anger Is Underrated”

The Hollywood Reporter featured Viola on the cover of their special issue that has been released! Personally I feel she is a great choice!

In a candid discussion, the ‘Widows’ star — and Sherry Lansing Leadership Award honoree — reveals herself to best-selling author and leadership guru Brené Brown in a raw exchange about trauma, healing, politics (“I see America as that uncle who loved you more than anything, but has a record for murder”) and how Time’s  Up is changing Hollywood: “Now, I don’t have to walk into the room like a dude, have a pretend penis and sling it on the table” to be heard.

Viola Davis and Brené Brown first spoke in May 2017. Davis had recently won her Oscar for Fences, and Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston and the author of multiple best-sellers on courage and vulnerability, was developing her 2017 book, Braving the Wilderness. Brown’s work as a leadership consultant has earned her fans in Silicon Valley (Melinda Gates: “Brené taught me that leadership requires admitting what you don’t know instead of pretending to know everything”), Hollywood (her A-list acolytes include Reese Witherspoon, Amy Adams, Laverne Cox and Oprah Winfrey, who calls her a “soul mate”) and well beyond (her two TED Talks have close to 50 million views between them).

Brown was eager to interview Davis because “she’s such an incredible example of what it means to belong to yourself before you belong to anyone else.” And Davis embraced being part of Brown’s book because the actress had begun to speak more openly about the traumas of her past — growing up extremely poor, hungry and abused in Central Falls, Rhode Island — and her healing path, which includes her art as well as her activism on behalf of impoverished families. The star has helped raise more than $20 million to fight hunger as an ambassador for the Hunger Is campaign, and has donated funding to the local library and the high school theater program in her hometown, as well as supported a community health clinic there.

Davis’ 2017 conversation with Brown ranged from her damaged childhood (“I was a bed-wetter until I was 12 or 13. I smelled. Teachers complained about the smell and sent me to the nurse’s office.”) to the fear and anxiety she carried into her adult life and, finally, her awakening, at age 38, to her own strength.

Today, the 53-year-old Davis’ star is shining brighter than ever: The perennial awards contender has notched two more Emmy nominations (she won in 2015 for ABC’s Shondaland drama How to Get Away With Murder, becoming the first black woman ever to take the drama lead actress honors) and is in the Oscar conversation now for her work on Steve McQueen’s female-centered heist film, Widows. JuVee, the production company she founded with husband Julius Tennon in 2011 (the same year they adopted their daughter, Genesis), recently announced a first-look feature deal with Amazon (JuVee’s overall TV pact with ABC is ongoing). And THR’s 2018 Sherry Lansing Leadership Award honoree says she is “defiantly in the season of finding myself again.” So in a searching conversation on Nov. 26 — edited for length and clarity — she and Brown picked up right where they left off.

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Viola Davis Attached To Star In ‘The Fighting Shirley Chisholm’ For Amazon Studios

Deadline gives us the exciting news for a new project!

EXCLUSIVE: Days after Oscar winner Viola Davis and Julius Tennon’s JuVee Productions announced a first look feature production deal with Amazon Studios, the first project is moving forward: The Fighting Shirley Chisholm in which Davis will produce and star as the U.S. Representative who was both the first woman and the first person of color to seek a major American political party’s nomination for President.

Amazon studios acquired the title in what we understand was a fierce bidding war, with Homegrown Pictures’ Stephanie Allain (Hustle & Flow, Dear White People) and Mel Jones producing with JuVee. Maggie Betts (Novitiate) will direct the screenplay written by Emmy-nominated writer Adam Countee (Silicon Valley, Community, Mindy Project).

Countee had long been interested in telling Chisholm’s story and his research led him to write the feature script on spec about the trailblazing congresswoman who never backed down as her bid drew ridicule and bigoted backlash. Chisholm ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968 from New York’s 12th congressional district and became the first black woman elected to Congress. In January 1972 she announced her presidential bid in a Baptist church in her Brooklyn district. That election ended with George McGovern getting the Democratic nomination and losing to incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon.

Davis can currently be seen starring in the critically acclaimed Widows from director Steve McQueen and stars in Amazon Studio’s Troupe Zero, alongside Alison Janney and Jim Gaffigan. Davis won an Oscar for her supporting role in Denzel Washington’s feature adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences in 2017 in addition to a Golden Globe and SAG award for her performance. She won a drama Primetime Emmy in 2015 for her lead actress role in ABC/Shondaland’s How to Get Away With Murder. Davis is the first black actress to be nominated for three Oscars, and one of the few to have an Emmy, Oscar and Tony Award win.

Davis is repped by CAA, Lasher Group and Lichter, Grossman, Nichols, Adler & Feldman Inc. Homegrown Pictures is repped by UTA, Artists First and Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer Mandelbaum Morris Bernstein Trattner & Klein. Countee is repped by UTA and 3Arts. Homegrown is dedicated to creating content by and about women and people of color with authentic stories, depictions and representation with the company amassing more than 100 award nominations with wins from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Film Independent Spirit Awards, Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP and more.

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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