Category: Interviews

The mighty voice of Viola Davis

Women in the World released this video of Viola’s discussion from yesterday!

Viola Davis talks about a life journey that’s taken her from the depths of privation to the heights of Hollywood, overcoming discrimination against her race, gender and poverty all the way.

Viola Davis: ‘I do see a moment becoming a movement’

The Associated Press released a slightly more complete part of Viola’s discussion at Women in the World Summit yesterday.

At the Women in the World Summit in New York, Viola Davis discusses the visible effect of Time’s Up in Hollywood and how concerned she is about the real-life impact of sexual assault on women.

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.”

Women in the World Los Angeles Salon Interview with Tina Brown

Viola was interviewed by Tina Brown for the Women in the World Los Angeles Salon show. Viola talks about her upbringing and being compared to Meryl Streep.

Tina Brown hosted an inspiring group of women for a night of engaging conversation live from Neuehouse Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. Closing the show was award-winning actress Viola Davis who discussed her humble upbringing and and working in Hollywood as a woman of color.

Viola Davis Recalls Childhood Racism and Demands More Diversity Onscreen

Here is a great article from People of Viola talking about some of her past and her desire for more diversity.

Viola Davis does not mince words when it comes to discussing her difficult childhood — one that was filled with violence and racism so traumatizing, she wet the bed until she was 14.

The Oscar-winning actress took to the stage at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston on Thursday, and told the audience of how she was subjected to violence at school and at home.

Born on a former slave plantation with no toilet or running water, Davis moved to Central Falls, R. I. with her family in 1965 where they were the only black family in town. Living in absolute poverty in an apartment infested with rats, Davis was constantly taunted by her classmates, who would throw sticks and bricks at her.

“The strongest memories I have of school up until 4th grade is constantly being called ‘nigger.’ ‘Black nigger.’ Third grade was just overwhelming,” says Davis. “As soon as the bell would ring, I’d stay in the front of the line so I could start running, because when I looked back I would see eight to nine boys who would pick up anything on the side of the road and yell, ‘you ugly black nigger.’”

Things at home weren’t much better.

“My father was an alcoholic. There was a lot of domestic violence. I was a bedwetter until I was 14, and a lot of times we didn’t have any money for laundry,” said Davis. “There was no money for food, and as soon as the welfare check came the first of the month, after two weeks that food was gone.”

Davis has since found strength and a sense of empowerment from opening up about her early struggles.

“I wanted a life bigger than that. I wanted food in the refrigerator. A call to adventure,” she said. “How do you do it when you live in shame? If I don’t own my story and step inside of it, then I stay outside of it, and always have to hustle for my worthiness. … Everything that was put before me gave me everything that I needed to step into me.”

She had to fight to find her voice in Hollywood also. The star shared that receiving a nomination for an Academy Award was a real turning point for how she felt about her career.

“Until I got the Oscar nomination for The Help and realized I hit the wall, I needed to reconcile the fact that the world out there has done a job on dark-skinned women,” Davis told the crowd. “I no longer wanted to see myself onscreen as someone’s chatty best friend.”

Davis said she hopes that Hollywood will consider telling more diverse stories about more diverse women.

“I see women of color onscreen, and entering the screen five, 10, 15 minutes, an hour into the movie, and I don’t know who they are,” she said. “When I look at the world, I see that a lot of black women are out there suffering from domestic violence and AIDS.”

Viola Davis Had the Best Answer About Her How to Get Away With Murder Character’s Pansexuality

Viola Davis’ How to Get Away With Murder character Annalise Keating is a lot of things, including a pansexual.

Creator Pete Nowalk confirmed the character’s sexuality at the 2017 TCA summer press tour during a GLAAD panel when asked about harmful tropes, with TV shows sometimes portraying LGBT people as bad people.

“I got really lucky in not having to make my characters perfect,” he said. “Because they’re all bad people… you don’t necessarily have to make them do things that aren’t real…Viola’s character—we’ve never said, but I think she’s pansexual. She gets to just be bad in all the best ways. In that way it’s very liberating to write any LGBTQ character on the show.”

Davis told E! News she’s happy Nowalk revealed it because she wasn’t sure how much she could reveal.

“I love the idea that she’s just searching for love and intimacy and whoever will give it to her. I love that it’s not coming from a place of damage and being screwed up because I don’t think it’s screwed up. I think it’s an interesting, liberating thought to just seek the person who is seeking you. It’s kind of an interesting 21st Century element to place in this character,” she said.
“I’m at a place where I just want to do anything that is different. And anything that I feel is going to touch people in a way. I think a lot of homosexuals and the LGBT community, they’re kind of feeling like they’re on the outside now and I think it’s wonderful to have a character like that to relate to and is not once again coming from a place of damage but coming from a place of seeking, of really wanting to be loved and love,” she continued.

Click play on the video above to hear more from Davis about her character.

How to Get Away With Murder returns Thursday, Sept. 28 at 10 p.m. on ABC.

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