Viola talks to the Huffington Post on why Annalise had to take her wig off in the final scene of How To Get Away with Murder’s episode.
‘Annalise Keating is all over the place,” says the woman behind her on screen, Oscar nominee Viola Davis, “I’m concerned with my health. She just wants power. She wears a heavy duty mask every day, which must be exhausting. I couldn’t do it.”
Annalise Keating is the central figure in ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ – a thriller drama from the guiding hand of Shonda Rhimes, the one-woman game-changer who, with ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and more recently ‘Scandal’, has been credited with redefining the role of women of colour on US primetime TV, something of which Viola is in no doubt.
“She redefined us as something bold and strong,” she asserts, sounding both of these down the phone. “We’re no longer supporting, we’re not necessarily nurturing, we’re not asexual. We’re none of it. And Shondra doesn’t apologise or make a big deal of it. So the viewer simply forgets, and we can all get on with the story.”
When ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ debuted in the States, along with acclaim for its zinging storyline of law professor Keating and her students becoming entangled in a murder conspiracy that shakes the entire university – think ‘Scandal’ meets ‘The Secret History’ – there came an admiring but controversial article by New York Times writer Alessandra Stanley, describing Rhimes as “an angry black woman” and Viola Davis as “not classically beautiful”. How’s this stunningly beautiful actress feeling about those words today?
She laughs. “I think those kind of statements have been heard by women of colour their entire lives.
“It’s a label, and I’m pleased that the reaction it caused meant we were part of a huge moment in history.
“So many women were messaging, using the hashtag #notclassicallybeautiful, with pictures of themselves – afros, crew cuts, weaves, you name it. It was phenomenal.”
With this seamless, segue into the topic of hair, I must ask Viola about a key scene for Annalise Keating – the moment when she divests herself of her trinkets, her designer clothes and finally, and significantly, her wig. That must have been quite a moment to film…
“I pushed for that to happen.” says Viola. “I said, she’s not going to bed with her wig on.
“It could be powerful and liberating, but she’s got to take her wig off. Because who Annalise is in public is a big fat lie, and we have to see her taking off the armour, which is so thick, it becomes all the more dramatic when she removes it, and you see all the pain.”
“I did feel vulnerable,” she confides of this momentous scene that will surely come to voters’ minds come Awards Season, before laughing, “but still not as vulnerable as doing all the sex scenes. When I know members of my family are going to be watching.”