Category: Interviews

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.

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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American Libraries Newsmaker: Viola Davis

Viola Davis has accrued some serious hardware—an Emmy, a Golden Globe, an Oscar, and two Tonys—for her roles in film, television, and theater. Now the actor is taking on children’s literature. American Libraries caught up with Davis to talk about libraries, storytelling, and her forthcoming book, Corduroy Takes a Bow (Viking Books for Young Readers, September), before her Closing Session appearance at the 2018 Annual Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans on June 26.

What was the inspiration for Corduroy Takes a Bow? Was Corduroy an iconic character for you growing up?

He was an iconic character for me, but more so for my daughter Genesis. I would read to her every single night, and that was the book that stuck. I had to read it over and over and over again. I’m always trying to please my daughter. I always think, “What can I give my daughter?” It’s an homage to her.

What was it like stepping into the role of a children’s book author?

Intimidating. The thing about the world of children’s books is you have to allow the character to be who they are. You have to allow Corduroy to be curious without making him look like he’s mischievous. There’s got to be a lightness to it. Just to be able to tell a fluid story, to have that friendship between Lisa and Corduroy, to keep it fun—it was intimidating.

What role have libraries had in your life?

[Libraries] changed my life. I remember I was in kindergarten at Broad Street School, and school would be out at 2 o’clock, and I would walk to Adams Memorial Library on Central Avenue in Central Falls [Rhode Island]. I would stay there until it got dark.

It was almost like stepping into the Land of Oz. I would just take book after book after book off the shelf. It was a relief from my life—that’s how I saw it.

Then there were the librarians. Denise always saved half of her lunch for me. It was like Pavlov’s dog. As soon as I ran into the library, I would stand by the front desk and wait for Denise. She always had half a tuna-fish sandwich and a little cake [for me], and then I’d go downstairs to the children’s section.

Your production company, JuVee Productions, emphasizes character-driven narratives and mentorship. How do you decide what projects to take on and whose voices to amplify?

I always try to amplify the voices of people who are usually voiceless and on the periphery. The docuseries The 4%—4% of prisoners who are on death row are actually innocent. Two Sides of the Truth—police-involved shootings from both perspectives. Hollywood wouldn’t necessarily push these stories, but they intrigue me. I have to feel like I’m not watering it down to make it palpable.

Manchild in the Promised Land [by Claude Brown] was the first serious book that I read that changed my life. It was straight, no chaser. It was honest and insightful and that’s what I look for in narratives: what’s different, what’s going to wake people up, what’s going to give them a dose of truth.

In interviews you’ve spoken out about the gender pay gap. Librarianship is a profession that’s about 85% women but still deals with similar inequities. Was there a piece of advice someone gave you, or something you learned, to help you combat inequities in your career?

When I first started out, I just had to take the job. I didn’t have any money for my Screen Actors Guild card. But at a certain point, you have to understand your worth. At a certain point, you have to say no. That’s what women have to understand, because men do it. Men do it with even less of a résumé. And I always use [TV producer] Shonda Rhimes’s quote: “I deserve everything that I get, because when I walk in the room I expect to get it.”

Is there any other genre or creative outlet you’d like to take on? Are you going to go for the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony)?

If I were to give you an honest response, I would say no. I’ve gotten increasingly not ambitious. I want to be on the beach in Hawaii somewhere. I want to meditate, even though I’m crappy at meditation.

But every genre imaginable, I would love to take on. I watch Jurassic Park, I’m like, “I’d like to run from some dinosaurs.” I love character-driven anything. I just want to be woken up. I just want to be surprised.

No one knows what works anymore. Sometimes tentpole movies don’t work. They have the tendency to have the same archetypes. If someone says, “When did film start becoming different?,” I want my name to be in there. And the EGOT thing … yeah, maybe [laughs].

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