Viola Davis the Great

Viola Davis the Great

With her new film Won't Back Down coming out this Friday, the humble Oscar nominee proves that talent is absolutely everything

Kelley L. Carter

by Kelley L. Carter, September 26, 2012

Viola Davis the Great

Viola Davis Star in WON'T BACK DOWN.

Photo courtesy of Kerry Hayes /2012 WALDEN MEDIA, LLC.

the story, because like I said before, 80 percent of work is the narrative, it’s what’s on the page people respond to, OK. And then you come in and you just enhance it. So we’re just trying to perfect that now, but it’s coming. It seems like a common thread of characters you’ve been playing the last four years —the ones that have been earning your Oscar nominations—is they’re heroines. Is that something you look for?

VD: I think that those are the projects that just find me. I think that that’s maybe a quality people feel like I emanate. That they feel that I am larger than life. I’m the reluctant hero. When you stepped on the red carpet at the Academy Awards earlier this year with natural hair, it was a moment. Your look —in some ways— usurped the Oscars itself. Did that surprise you that so many people talked about how beautiful you were, and used it to talk about the diversity of beauty in Black women?

VD: Oh God, yeah! Nobody uses those two words in a sentence: beauty and Viola. I didn’t grow up like that. I didn’t have boyfriends until I was in my 20s. Part of that was because I was extraordinarily shy, but, um, no. And especially, women of my hue are historically, traditionally, not associated with beauty. I think that’s part of the reason why I did take my wig off is because I felt that I was just addicted to the wigs. And not that you shouldn’t wear wigs, because I still do, I like them, but it felt like it wasn’t an enhancer. I felt like I was using it as a crutch. And I wanted to show people that despite all these things, I’m still cute. So look at me. Aren’t I cute? And I just felt that I needed to stop doing that and I needed to stop apologizing for that and I needed to step into who I was. I felt like that was the best time to do it, because I felt a shift in my career, and I felt that this next stage in my life and my career didn’t need to be approached with timidity, that it needed to be approached with boldness in terms of what I looked like and who I was. I feel that with Caucasian actresses, I think that they have the same issues with beauty, that people put that on women a lot. But I think that there are lots of different beauties when they think of Caucasian women. You have the girl next door, you have off-center beauty, you have the ethnic beauty, you have the quirky, geek princess. I don’t think people see Black women the same way. I think that you either are two things: you’re either beautiful or you’re not. You’ve got the wig and you’ve got the hair or you’re just not that. And I think that there are different beauties when it comes to Black women. I don’t think that we all have to look one way to be considered attractive and sexualized and sensualized. A lot of women punched their fists in the air victoriously when they saw you on that red carpet. And the dialogue that followed was inspiring …

VD: Once again I was the reluctant hero, because, trust me, I didn’t want to take the wig off on the red carpet at the Oscars! I didn’t know if that was the night to make the statement. And then I thought, what other night would be the perfect night to make the statement? Because more people are watching this than would be watching me leave a hotel in New York City with my wig off. And so I’m glad that I did it. It was a proud moment for me too. Congratulations on motherhood. Has that kind of changed how you pick projects or how you approach the work at all yet?

VD: It has. I mean, I still approach the work the same way. I have more choices now then I’ve ever had. Life was not like this after Doubt. Still, I’m still always in search of the great narrative. It’s not like I can walk into a room and say, ‘Listen’ -- even with my natural hair – ‘listen, I want to play opposite Matthew McConaughey and I want to be his love interest. Make it happen!’ It’s not like that. It just isn’t. But I do feel like I now have more power to be able to just walk in the room and say, ‘This is who I am and this is what I need.’

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