Viola Davis’ career just won’t back down.
The Oscar-nominated actress co-stars alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter and Rosie Perez in new film Won’t Back Down, which opens Friday, and Hollywood insiders already are claiming that she’s getting the gold.
At 47-years-old, Davis is finding a ridiculous amount of success —she also became a first-time mom late last year to daughter, Genesis Tennon—yet she still remains humble.
EBONY.com talks with Davis about her gift, her goal and why she went wigless on Hollywood’s biggest stage.
EBONY.com: Once again, people are talking about Viola Davis for an Oscar. Third time’s a charm?
Viola Davis: Oh my God. Listen, that’s not even for me to say. This is what I do. I went to school—I went to undergrad, I went to Julliard, I went to Circle in the Square theater —because I believed in excellence. Obviously I wasn’t the beauty queen who came—not that all beauty queens are like this—but I wasn’t the beauty queen who came out of nowhere and said ‘I want to be an actress because I feel like I look cute.’ I was the person who really wanted to act, and I really wanted to do it well because I see this as a great art form that requires craft, and I do approach the work like that. So I will say that.
EBONY.com: What’s your formula? You keep picking these amazing roles —or are they picking you?
VD: I appreciate you saying that. I don’t necessarily agree with you saying that! Look: I don’t get a lot of options. It’s not like I’m looking at 20 scripts and I’m like, ‘OK, let me choose the most thought-provoking one.’ I have to create that. That’s my role. And I think that if you put most actors of color in a room, they will say the same thing. We have to bring it. But I will say this, there are some roles where the narrative is so solid, because the narrative is 80 percent of your work. When you do have a great narrative then it’s really easy to fly. It’s really easy for all that you are to be emphasized, as opposed to being in the background in a narrative. That’s more challenging. You’re in the background going ‘look at me! You know I’m more than this role! Can you see how special I am? Can you see what I do?!’ But when a narrative is really great it’s like… you know what it’s like? It’s like having a great body and having a really great designer design a dress that’s specially made for you. Then people can see you in the right color, the right cut and people can see exactly how beautiful you look. And that’s the way it is with a great narrative too. It can enhance you, enhance everything that’s good about your gift.
I think that’s part of the reason why I did take my wig of...I like them, but it felt like it wasn’t an enhancer...I was using it as a crutch. And I wanted to show people that despite all these things, I’m still cute.
EBONY.com: Every time we talk, you’re always so extremely humble —and that’s a good thing. But have you ever allowed yourself to understand the space and time that you’re in?
VD: I mean, I recognize that something has shifted. But I see responsibility. I see the access and now the power I have to somehow play my part in changing how we’re perceived in Hollywood and on narratives. That’s what I see. That’s why I started the production company. I see the deficit, that’s what I see. And I think that in order to change it, that I can’t allow myself to bask in glory too much, because I think that’ll stop me. That’ll stop me because it’ll just mean that I’m just kind of working for myself, and right now you’ve got to put something out there because there are so many young actors of color coming up and there’s not enough narratives out there that will sustain them throughout a career. Or even start a career for them. Listen me and Miss Quvenzhané Wallis from the Beasts of the Southern Wild, probably will be the two lead Black actress roles you see this year. So what that tells me is if there’s one or two a year then one actress can cover all of it. So then the other actors, what happens to all of them? Therefore, we need to create more. There needs to be more work out there for us to cover. So then, Kimberly Elise, Alfre Woodard or CCH Pounder or any number of actors out there, Octavia Spencer, Aunjanue Ellis, they don’t have to sit out, that there’s enough for all of us to shine.
EBONY.com I wasn’t aware that you’d started a production company. Is your company going to be behind the Barbra Jordan biopic?
VD: Yes it is! We’re perfecting the script right now and working with some fabulous producers, Shelly Glasser, Diane Nabatoff, and a great director, Paris Barclay, to perfect