Viola Davis keeps it all the way real.
“It’s not my job to come into your world. It’s not my job to reduce myself, to water myself down in order to make myself acceptable to you. But when you come into my world, I may not have my wig on,” she told EBONY.com. “I may not have my eyebrows and makeup, but I’m giving you the reality of who I am as a Black woman.”
Davis has a lot to be proud of. She’s on the hit television show, How to Get Away with Murder, has been praised as one of the leading actresses on primetime television, and is preparing to launch not one, but two, new television shows on ABC.
With all that she’s accomplished, it’s easy to allow fame to go to one’s head. But not Viola. The Central Falls, Rhode Island native will never forget where she came from.
“It took 30 years, you know,” Davis said of her journey to success. “It didn’t happen overnight. It happened bit by bit, you know?”
Davis, who graduated from the Julliard School in 1993, began her career on stage and won an Obie Award in 1999 for her performance as Ruby McCollum in Everybody’s Ruby. But Davis’ mainstream breakthrough didn’t come until 2008 when she earned an Oscar nomination for her supporting role in the film Doubt.
“There’s no one story of how I got here,” the actress explained. “Luck played a huge part because there’s a lot of people out there that work hard and are more talented and they are never fortunate enough to get the position that I’m in right now.”
In this EBONY.com exclusive, Davis details her rise to the top and talks about why she will never apologize for who she is.
EBONY: You returned to your hometown this past weekend. Tell us why you were there.
Viola Davis: I was there with Vaseline Healing Project because they were doing a free health fair and health clinic in Central Falls. They were giving blood pressure screenings, flu shots, there was a dermatologist on site looking at skin issues because [skin issues] are some of the most common issues that arise for people who have limited access to health care.
Central Falls is a very financially challenged community and one out of every three persons there complains of fair to poor health. People were crying because I’ve said in every interview that when you’re poor, people don’t see you. You’re just invisible. Nobody considers you, no one’s fighting for you, and you’re not on anyone’s radar. So when someone does see you, when someone’s being your advocate, it’s very emotional. So that’s what I was doing in Central Falls. I’m the spokesperson for that Vaseline Healing Project and that partnership with Direct Relief. It was a great experience.
EBONY: But you let the people of Central Falls know that you do see them, even though you’re not poor and you were blessed with this status and level of fame.
Viola Davis: Absolutely I do! Because the little girl in me is still pretty much there. I think it’s there in all of us, that little person who…I don’t know is traumatized, hurt; you know the place where any level of joy or imagination [lives]. That little person tends to guide us through our lives in our relationships and our friendships. As we age, you either listen to that little person and acknowledge that child or you don’t. I choose to listen.
EBONY: I agree with you that money talks and your remarks actually remind me of what’s happening in Haiti in light of Hurricane Matthew. That country seems like a place that is often overlooked, but struck with the most tragedy. They need us to pay attention.
Viola Davis: Absolutely. I had someone who advocated for me when I was younger; I had my mom. I had someone who was willing to walk in inclement weather miles to the nearest hospital and demand for some doctor to see us. A lot of people don’t have that—someone willing to go the distance, and guess what happens? You can use your imagination.
EBONY: Right. To transition a little bit, I can’t help but to connect your role in HTGAWM and Kerry Washington’s role in Scandal with the influx of African-American representation in television now. Do you believe that America has finally embraced diversity in film?
Viola Davis: Here’s what I believe. I do believe that they’re finally embracing it because like I always say, you look at any bus stop in America and you’ll see a blonde, pale woman with a curly-haired baby. You are looking at the new America where, especially this next generation, it’s a lot of interracial families. That’s number one. Number two we’re not waiting for it. We’re not waiting for Hollywood. We’re not waiting for culture to embrace us. We’re dictating the narrative. Shonda Rhimes is dictating the narrative. Channing Dungey is dictating the narrative. Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson, Halle Berry, then you have John Ridley. You have a number of people who said, “You know what? This is what I love to do. This is the scope of my imagination. This is who I am and this is what I’m giving the world.”
The people who are not ready to embrace it, guess what? I’m not going to stop presenting it to you. Like I always tell people, you have to come into my world every Thursday night at 10 o’clock. It’s not my job to come into your world. It’s not my job to reduce myself or water myself down in order to make myself acceptable to you, but when you come into my world, I may not have my wig on. I may not have my eyebrows and makeup, but I’m giving you the reality of who I am as a Black woman. I’m redefining what you believe is a leading lady. But I will promise you at the end of the day, whoever I am is real! And it’s up to you to either be changed or unchanged.
EBONY: I heard that! No one should have to apologize for who they are on or off of he camera. So what’s next for Viola Davis?
Viola Davis: My husband and I have a production company, JuVee Productions. We just wrote two television shows for ABC we have a movie slate and we are venturing into the virtual reality world. It’s like my husband said. Our motto is, “Dream big and dream fierce” and it’s what I say to my daughter. Just because we’re 12.5 percent of the population doesn’t mean you just want 12.5 percent of the dreams. We want the whole dream just like anybody wants. You just gotta go for it.
Catch Viola Davis on the hit ABC drama “How to Get Away with Murder” Thursdays 10/9c.
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