Hollywood is still grieving the death of Cicely Tyson, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 96. The groundbreaking actress took home her fair share of awards over the years, including an Honorary Oscar in 2018 and three Emmys for “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” and “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.” However, the younger generation may best recognize her for playing Ophelia Harkness on “How to get Away with Murder,” the mother of Annalise Keating (Viola Davis).
As it turns out, Tyson’s all-time favorite moment on the show was in her first episode, “Mama’s Here Now,” during the scene in which she combs her daughter’s hair and reveals family tragedies (watch above). “Uncle Clyde obviously had done something wrong to Annalise and her mother found out sometime after and she quickly made a pact with herself that he would not get away with it,” Tyson told me last year during our podcast interview. Listen to the audio below or click here to read the full transcript.
Tyson earned five Emmy nominations in Best Drama Guest Actress for “HTGAWM,” the most recent at last year’s ceremony. On the ABC legal drama, she really sunk her teeth in to the character of Ophelia, who suffered from dementia. “Frankly speaking, do people who suffer dementia, do they know that they’re suffering from dementia? Do they know? I don’t think they know,” Tyson explained in our interview. “So that’s the way I treated her. She didn’t think anything was wrong with her. People were trying to make her understand that she was different now than she was yesterday or last week, but to her, it’s absolutely normal, her behavior.”
Viola Davis, her TV daughter, released this statement on Thursday about Tyson’s passing: “I’m devastated. My heart is just broken. I loved you so much!! You were everything to me! You made me feel loved and seen and valued in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility for us dark chocolate girls. You gave me permission to dream….because it was only in my dreams that I could see the possibilities in myself. I’m not ready for you to be my angel yet. But…I also understand that it’s only when the last person who has a memory of you dies, that you’ll truly be dead. In that case, you will be immortal. Thank you for shifting my life. Thank you for the long talks. Thank you for loving me. Rest well.”
Here is Tyson’s response about her favorite “HTGAWM” scene from our June 2020 interview:
GD: I would love to talk about your role on “How to Get Away with Murder” now. Looking back on your six years playing Ophelia, do you have a favorite moment that really sticks out in your mind?
CT: (Laughs.) Yes, yes, yes. And I guess when I’m finished you’ll understand why I don’t watch my work. It was in the first season and it was Episode 13. I think it was entitled “Mama Is Here Now” and it’s the scene in which she tells Annalise what happened to Uncle Clyde. Uncle Clyde obviously had done something wrong to Annalise and her mother found out sometime after and she quickly made a pact with herself that he would not get away with it. That’s the scene she’s sitting between her mom’s legs and her mom is combing her hair and while she’s combing her hair, she’s telling her the story about how Uncle Clyde died.
GD: I remember that scene. That was a very impactful, emotional moment on the show. That’s also the moment that sticks out for me. Such a powerful moment. Somebody like Ophelia who suffers from dementia, what was the most challenging part about playing somebody like that, this extra layer to the character?
CT: Frankly speaking, do people who suffer dementia, do they know that they’re suffering from dementia? Do they know? I don’t think they know. I think that they’re treating their lives as they go on from day to day as natural and normal. It’s people that we are surrounded with that become aware of the change, and sometimes the manner in which they treat people with dementia makes those people question why they are behaving differently from the way they had been behaving towards them. So that’s the way I treated her. She didn’t think anything was wrong with her. People were trying to make her understand that she was different now than she was yesterday or last week, but to her, it’s absolutely normal, her behavior.
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