×

Viola Davis Has Plenty to Say — And to Change

Viola Davis made history last year as the first black woman to win the Emmy for lead actress in a drama, but the accomplishment still has not sunk in.

“It’s not my style to walk around and think, ‘I can’t believe I won an Emmy.’ I just don’t think like that,” confesses the star of “How to Get Away With Murder.” “It’s hard to see myself the way others see me. From my perspective, I’m just Viola.”

She drew raves for her powerful acceptance speech, in which she quoted Harriet Tubman and referenced the struggles women of color have faced finding roles on screen. “Absolutely, there’s been progress,” Davis says. “It’s like the old saying: When you know better, you gotta do better. Now we know better.”

Do you think much about awards, or are they just a nice bonus?

You can place so much importance on it, and, really, at the end of the day, it has very little to do with what you do. It’s not just about the hair and the makeup and the gold statue — it’s the work. Awards stress you out. It’s beautiful, though. I’m grateful.

Did you write last year’s Emmy acceptance speech in advance?

I did not write it. But speeches — that’s my side job. I tell the young people on set that I always have something to say. I’ve been doing this for 30 years; I’ve been on this planet for 50. You give me a minute and a half, I absolutely have something to say.

Where do you keep your Emmy?

I keep it in my office upstairs — or should I say my husband keeps it in the office upstairs?

You recently signed a production deal with ABC Studios. Why do you want to expand your role behind the camera?

I think that being an actor, in terms of the business, is the least powerful position you could be in. When you see your entire career as a journey, and when, as an actor, you’re gaining power, I think that you need to do something with it. You need to be the change that you want to see. I want to be able to look back at this time, this renaissance, when you have so many different narratives out there on television, and understand that I pulled some weight in it — that I was a participant, that I was at the table, that I was active. I’m always talking about opportunity or lack thereof for people of color, so at some point I have to put my money where my mouth is. So, producing — the opportunity afforded itself to me, and I took it.

How does “How to Get Away With Murder” compare with other work in your career?

It stands high on the list. I understand that people will say, “I loved you in ‘Doubt,’ I loved you in ‘The Help,’ ” and that’s fine. But this is the only role where I can play everything. I can play the sexuality, the intelligence, the heart. To me, Annalise is alive. Annalise is fully a woman.

Which do you prefer, TV or film work?

People always say, “Don’t you feel bad leaving your movie career for TV?” And the only thing I can say is, “What movie career did I have?” I do five or eight days on a movie, I get my salary, and then it would be over and I would be on to the next [movie], doing my five days of work, and that was it. I think people have in their minds that movies are just more prestigious. I think that’s changed now.

What do your fans think of Annalise?

The response I get is usually very positive, even from people who don’t like Annalise. Even from lawyers! People come up to me now. I’m recognized more. Everyone is a critic. We all feel like we understand what the actor does and what the actor is supposed to do. Likability is the big thing, and that has absolutely nothing to do with being an actor. The foundation of acting is to create a human being, and human beings are flawed — and some are completely unlikable. By the way, what’s so interesting about likability is that I know for a fact that nobody is having this conversation with a man. No one had this conversation with James Gandolfini or Anthony Hopkins or Robert De Niro. The likability factor is not at the [forefront] of the conversation — creating a dynamic character is. We all loved Hannibal Lecter even though he was a cannibal.

What do you want to see in season three?

I loved some of the episodes this past season — just knowing more backstory on some of the characters and [going deeper, getting them] more fleshed out. That’s all I want to see.

What other shows are you rooting for this year?

This is a horrible question for me because I do not watch television. I do not have time. I’ve watched “Fixer Upper” on HGTV! I’m rooting for all the actors in “Roots” because I understand it’s fantastic. I love Sarah Paulson and Courtney Vance [in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”].

More TV

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Joins TikTok App to Promote NBC's 'World of Dance'

    Jennifer Lopez is the latest celebrity to hop on TikTok, the short-form video app owned by Chinese internet giant Bytedance — more proof of the app’s growing traction, and reflective of media companies’ desire to reach its young-skewing base. Lopez had a very specific aim: to get fans excited about “World of Dance,” the NBC [...]

  • Jussie Smollett, Method Man, Danielle Brooks

    Jussie Smollett Episode of TNT's 'Drop The Mic' Pulled In Wake of Scandal

    TNT has pulled an upcoming episode of its hip-hop roast battle show “Drop the Mic” featuring “Empire” star Jussie Smollett. The episode, set to air March 6, was yanked following the arrest of Smollett on Thursday for allegedly staging a hate crime against himself. In the episode, Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee on “Orange Is [...]

  • Reese Witherspoon Davita Scarlett

    Starz to Develop 'Kin' Series With Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine

    Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine banner has inked a deal with Starz to develop “Kin,” Variety has learned. The multi-generational family drama comes from “Queen Sugar” and “Constantine” writer Davita Scarlett, who developed the project with Chester Jones III. Witherspoon and Hello Sunshine film and TV head Lauren Neustadter are on board as executive producers alongside [...]

  • David Shuster Michelle Makori I24

    Altice Aims to Carve Out Niche in Cable With Global-Themed i24News

    Who would invest in the U.S. launch of a linear, 24/7 cable news network in the current climate of bloodletting for niche cable channels? Patrick Drahi, the French-Israeli media mogul who controls Altice USA and Altice Europe, that’s who. Multiple system operator Altice USA is slowly but steadily expanding the cable distribution base for i24News, [...]

  • Sunday Night Football Ratings

    Pete Bevacqua Expands Oversight of NBC Sports

    Pete Bevacqua, who joined NBC Sports Group as president in September of last year, will gain more oversight of the NBCUniversal unit in the wake of a recent restructuring of the executive ranks of the corporation. Bevacqua retains his role as president, but will oversee the entire NBC Sports Group portfolio, adding NBC Olympics, production, [...]

  • 'Robin Hood' Director Otto Bathurst to

    Showtime's 'Halo' Series Enlists 'Robin Hood' Director Otto Bathurst

    Showtime’s adaptation of the wildly popular video game “Halo” has found its new director. The network has announced that Otto Bathurst will assume the director’s chair for multiple episodes, as well as serving as EP for the live-action series. Bathurst’s most recent directorial credits include last year’s adaption of “Robin Hood” with Taron Egerton and [...]

  • 'Haunting of Hill House' Renewed, Creators

    'Haunting of Hill House' Renewed as Anthology, Creators Ink Overall TV Deal at Netflix

    “The Haunting of Hill House” is returning to Netflix–sort of. The streaming giant has ordered a new installment in what they are calling “The Haunting” anthology, meaning the  next chapter of the horror series will feature an entirely new story and new characters from those seen in the first season. In addition, Netflix has entered [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content