Viola Davis Q&A: ‘How to Get Away with Murder’
“It terrified me on one hand, but on the other hand I found it very exciting,” says Viola Davis as we chat via webcam (watch above) about a season two twist on “How to Get Away with Murder” – specifically, the revelation of her past romance between her character, powerful defense attorney Annalise Keating, and a female colleague played by Famke Janssen. “Every human being comes with mystery, and sexuality is one of them, and certainly we know with Annalise that her whole past is a mystery. She’s definitely a woman you can’t put your finger on.”
Annalise has been a mystery from the very beginning, but season two revealed some of what has made her the “enigmatic and hard” woman she is, including the loss of a baby and her involvement in the death of her student Wes’s mother. Those revelations haven’t made Annalise likable, per se, but that’s fine with Davis.
“I’ve found since I’ve been on TV that a lot of times people have such a need to like you, and especially when you’re a woman,” she explains. “I don’t think they have the same need for James Gandolfini in ‘The Sopranos’ or Anthony Hopkins in ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ There’s an understanding when you come to the plate when it’s a man that you’re agreeing to go along for the ride, and you’re going along with their complexity and that’s what I’m doing.”
As we spoke, Davis was nearing the end of production on the film “Fences,” in which she stars alongside Denzel Washington who also directs. Based on the play by August Wilson, it tells the story of a father who struggles to come to terms with race and family in the 1950s. She and Washington both won Tony Awards in 2010 when they performed it on Broadway. Of the film version she admits, “It has been the ride of my life.”
The film version is “way more intimate,” says the two-time Oscar nominee. “You always want to be intimate on stage also, but there’s so much you have to do to project and there’s so much technique also that weighs into it, whereas the camera picks up everything, and the emotion in the scenes are huge.”
“Fences” opens in December, and if it turns out to be an awards contender Davis could make history as no black actress has ever earned three Oscar nominations. “It’s been me and Whoopi Goldberg. We are the two African-American actresses who have gotten the most nominations in the history of the Oscars. That is reflective of the level of narratives and opportunities that are out there for us,” she says, noting that great actors like Peter O’Toole earn numerous nominations in part because of the higher volume of great scripts they’re given a chance to play.
So is the industry getting better when it comes to giving opportunities to a wider variety of people? “I think we’re getting it, and I’m praying it continues. I’m praying it’s not just a fad,” she says. People “want to see their own images, to want to see themselves reflected in art. I’m hopeful.”