Category: Interviews

Viola Davis: “You’re not an actor if you create something based on a social message.”

This is a translated version of an article from Vogue Portugal. Viola was interviewed about her work in the film “Widows”.

The American actress is the protagonist of Widows , the latest film by Steve McQueen, which arrives in theaters in Portugal on November 15. Having this debut in sight, we wanted to talk to Viola Davis to get the conversation up to date.

There are few actresses with the talent and charisma of Viola Davis. For Steve McQueen, he is at the level of the great female stars of the 1940s: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn. Some may even disagree. After finishing his studies at the famous Julliard School, Davis began to build his name on the stage before venturing into the world of Cinema and Television. Steven Soderbergh was one of the first to notice in his talent, eventually choosing Viola for Out of Sight (1998), Traffic (2000) and Solaris (2002). Denzel Washington also surrendered to the American actress and worked with Davis in Antwone Fisher (2002) and Fences (2016).

His more mainstream mediatism came with his first Oscar nomination, with a small but overwhelming role in Doubt (2008), where he starred opposite Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It has achieved another milestone with The Help (2011), an emotional view of the vital, yet blatant, importance of the inequality and position of African-American maids in the southern US states at the height of the Civil Rights movement. It was with Fences that she finally won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress , an adaptation of Denzel Washington’s August Wilson play, which had previously performed and garnered a Tony Award. To complete the prize pool, Denzel’s feature film brought him a BAFTA and a Golden Globe , while the hit series How To Get Away With Murder earned him an Emmy , naming himself the first African- win a statuette for Best Actress in prime time.

Recently, Viola Davis is protagonist of Widows , the new film of Steve McQueen. In the feature film, she plays Veronica, the wife of the charismatic thief played by Liam Neeson, Harry. In this plot, she is left alone and needs to survive without her husband. In order to do so, he must carry out an assault he had already planned but left him behind and now needs to realize it with the help of the members of his widow gang. Elegant and reserved, Veronica is not the kind of woman who imagines herself to be performing an assault of this caliber, yet Viola Davis convinces her otherwise and shows that there is no other possible way to do so.

This is the type of paper that could result in more trophies to join the collection, but for Viola Davis herself, this work offers you two advantages. One of them the opportunity to work with McQueen, director of Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and 12 Years A Slave (2013) – winner of an Oscar. The second was to have the power to break some boundaries and challenge some of Hollywood’s insights – something I discuss below.

Do you remember when you met Steve McQueen? Was it with this movie, or had it already been found?

I already knew him. I wanted to say it was about The Help … But it was definitely at the BAFTA party in Los Angeles. One of those conversations where he basically asked me, “Why do not you have better roles?” If they knew Steve, they knew he did not care what words he chose. Your forte is to move on, but I believe that was the theme of the conversation during the party.

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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 Praises Feminism & Is Inspired By Her Daughter

Viola sat down with Access and talks about her award while at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards.

Viola Davis talks with Access’ Kit Hoover at the 2018 Glamour Women of the Year Awards about finding inspiration from her 8-year-old daughter. Plus, hear Viola share why she thinks her marriage to Julius Tennon works so well.

Build Series | Steve McQueen, Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez & Elizabeth Debicki Discuss “Widows”

From Academy Award-winning director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) and co-writer and bestselling author Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) comes a blistering, modern-day thriller set against the backdrop of crime, passion and corruption. “Widows” is the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Oscar winner Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

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 on Annalise Keating memes and gifs

During her recent press for Widows, Will King spoke with Viola on those Annalise memes and gifs everyone loves to share on social media.

“She’s not someone who edits herself.”

Snippet from Viola Davis’ interview with Will King where she shares her opinion on the How to get away with murder character’s popularity on the internet

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.

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