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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)

Strong Statements with Viola Davis

Viola is on the cover of the new Net-A-Porter Magazine.

When an actress is as straight-talking, insightful and impassioned as VIOLA DAVIS, nothing is out of bounds – as she puts it, authenticity is her rebellion. AJESH PATALAY hears from one of TV’s most candid stars about sexual liberation, the value of women of color, and her #MeToo experiences

There is no shortage of women raising their voices against abuse and injustice right now. But what a woman, and what a voice, is Viola Davis. On January 20, the Oscar-winning actress took to the stage at the Women’s March in LA to speak about rape and trafficking, and how no change is great unless it costs us something. She did the equivalent with words of reaching into our chests and tearing at our heartstrings.

And not for the first time, either. On winning an Emmy in 2015 for her role as law professor Annalise Keating in ABC’s hit series How to Get Away with Murder (the first African American ever to win in the Lead Actress category), Davis didn’t squander the moment with thank yous. Instead, she talked about the lack of opportunity for women of color, quoting her heroine Harriet Tubman, and delivered one of the most rousing speeches of the year: “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.”

One newspaper called it “a masterclass in delivery”. But they might as well have called it a masterclass in one woman knowing exactly how she feels and not being afraid to say it. Which is how I find her, sitting on a sofa in a house in the Hollywood Hills, talking frankly about everything you’d want her to set the record straight about: #MeToo; ‘Time’s Up’; the gender pay gap; #OscarsSoWhite; and, well, the How to Get Away with Murder/Scandal crossover episode, which brings together the characters of Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) and Keating for the first time ever. “I don’t know how else to describe it,” Davis says, beaming. “It felt like we were creating history. I mean, to have two really strong, well-written, well-rounded characters in the same room together, who are women of color? It’s black-girl magic at its best.”

Davis knows all too well that roles like Annalise Keating don’t come along often, “especially for a woman who looks like me,” she says. “I’m 52 and darker than a paper bag. Women who look like me are relegated to the back of the bus, auditioning for crackheads and mammas and the person with a hand on her hip who is always described as ‘sassy’ or ‘soulful’. I’ve had a 30-year career and I have rarely gotten roles that are fleshed out, even a little bit. I mean, you wouldn’t think [these characters] have a vagina. Annalise Keating has changed the game. I don’t even care if she doesn’t make sense. I love that she’s unrestricted, that every week I actually have to fight [showrunner] Peter Nowalk not to have another love scene. When does that ever happen?”

Has playing voracious Annalise changed the way she sees herself sexually? “Yes, and it’s been a painful journey,” she says, laughing, presumably because these sex scenes often take place across desks and up against walls. “It costs me something,” she continues, more earnestly, “because very rarely in my career – and in my life – have I been allowed to explore that part of myself, to be given permission to know that is an aspect of my humanity, that I desire and am desired. I always felt in playing sexuality you have to look a certain way, to be a certain size, to walk a certain way. Until I realized that what makes people lean in is when they see themselves. There’s no way I am going to believe that all women who are sexualized are size zero or two, all have straight hair, all look like sex kittens every time they go to bed and want sex from their man, all are heterosexual. I am mirroring women. I always say it is not my job to be sexy, it’s my job to be sexual. That’s the difference.”

She breaks off: “That’s my daughter, by the way.” And there, standing behind me, is a pretty girl in a blue dress. “Say hi, Gigi! I’m doing an interview.” Mother and daughter blow kisses to each other across the room, and then the six-year-old, whose name is actually Genesis, scoots off with her nanny. It’s a side to Davis I’d like to see more of, the doting mother. I’d also like to see more of the off-duty side; the Davis who throws barbecues and drinks tequila and likes hot-tubbing with her actor-producer husband, Julius Tennon. “I’m actually fun,” she cries at one point, as if to free herself from all this serious talk. But we both know she has a lot more to say, including about race.

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Viola Davis on what it means to be ‘a black Meryl Streep’

Women in the World released this article about Viola’s interview with Tina Brown.

The award-winning actress talked with Tina Brown at the 2018 Women in the World Los Angeles Salon

‘If you’re dedicated to change, let it cost you something.’
‘Poverty seeps into your mind, it seeps into your spirit.’
‘People say, “You’re a black Meryl Streep … We love you. There is no one like you.” But what I get is the third girl from the left.’
‘I’m not hustling for my worth. I’m worthy. When I came out of my mom’s womb I came in worthy.’
‘We have been riding the caboose of the train and it’s time enough for that.’

Actress Viola Davis drew gasps and applause from the audience during an electrifying interview in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. In a powerful conversation with Women in the World CEO Tina Brown–that ranged from Davis’ traumatic childhood to her experiences in Hollywood as a woman of color–the actress did not pull any punches about how vulnerable her rise to success has been. Even now, with a 30-year-career behind her, including Emmy, Tony and Academy awards, she shared that she still finds herself “hustling” for pay parity and substantial roles.

“I have a career that’s probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver. They all came out of Yale, they came out of Juilliard, they came out of NYU. They had the same path as me, and yet I am nowhere near them. Not as far as money, not as far as job opportunities, no where close to it,” the 52-year-old actress observed, in a vigorous takedown of the inequities experienced by women of color in Hollywood.

“People say, ‘You’re a black Meryl Streep … We love you. There is no one like you,” she said, eliciting an audible gasp from the more-than-200 salon attendees at Neuehouse Hollywood. “OK, then if there’s no one like me, you think I’m that, you pay me what I’m worth.”

And that needs to extend to offers of substantial roles, too, she argued, “As an artist I want to build the most complicated human being but what I get is the third girl from the left.” When Brown asked her about making the most of her limited screen time in the film 2008 film Doubt, for which she earned a best supporting actress nomination, Davis said her days of hustling to prove herself are over.

“It’s gotten to the point [where] I’m no longer doing that. I’m not hustling for my worth. I’m worthy. When I came out of my mom’s womb, I came in worthy,” Davis said. “You’ll have a Shailene Woodley, who’s fabulous. And she may have had 37 magazine covers in one year. 37! And then you’ll have someone — a young actress of color who’s on her same level of talent and everything. And she may get four. And there is sense in our culture that you have to be happy with that,” Davis mused.

“I always mention what Shonda Rhimes said when she got the Norman Lear Award at the Producers Guild Awards about two or three years ago,” she continued. “She held it up and she said, ‘I accept this award because I believe I deserve it. Because when I walk in the room I ask for what I want and I expect to get it. And that’s why I believe I deserve this award. Because Norman Lear was a pioneer, and so am I.’ And that’s revolutionary as a woman, but it’s doubly revolutionary as a woman of color. ‘Cause we have been riding the caboose of the train — we really have. And it’s time enough for that.”

Davis did not always feel that way, though, describing the trauma she carried with her from her childhood, that haunted her even after finding early success. “The getting out is precarious,” she explained of “crashing and burning” at 28. “Emotionally I did not get out.”

Davis was raised in abject poverty in Rhode Island, by an alcoholic father who she witnessed abusing her mother. “I was a rung lower than poor,” she said, describing her rat-infested childhood home, going to school hungry, smelling, and covered with shame. “People see poverty as just a financial state,” she said. “Poverty seeps into your mind, it seeps into your spirit, because it has side effects.”

That experience of feeling “invisible” and traumatized is at the core of her commitment to speaking out for those who can’t speak for themselves, she said, including an emotional address to the January 20 Women’s March in L.A, where Davis spoke on behalf of “the women who don’t have the money and don’t have the constitution and who don’t have the confidence and who don’t have the images in our media that gives them a sense of self-worth enough to break their silence that is rooted in the shame of assault and rooted in the stigma of assault.”

“It cost me a lot to be on that stage and share my personal story,” she told Brown. “The way life works is its got to cost you something. That’s when you know you really made the sacrifices.

“If you’re dedicated to change, let it cost you something.”

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