Magazine article Variety

Actress Viola Davis Sails over 'Fences'

Magazine article Variety

Actress Viola Davis Sails over 'Fences'

Article excerpt

"Ms. Tyson and Ms. Streep were the only actors I talked about back in the day," Viola Davis says, about her childhood in Central Falls, R.I., when she was "just a little girl with a really, really big dream."

Fast-forward to today and Davis, 51, is getting her star Jan. 5 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame from none other than "Ms. Streep" - as in Meryl.

"That wasn't part of the dream," Davis says, chuckling. "I feel like this is the best vision board coming to fruition."

"Ms. Tyson" - as in Cicely - was also an integral piece to Davis' childhood vision board when she set out to become an actor at 6 or 7 years old after seing "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman."

"She looked like me," Davis reminisces. "Her looking like me made me believe I could do it, but what she did for me was something way beyond entertainment value - it was of transformative value. I felt like if I did that, I could make a life and it could be a beautiful life."

Coinciding with Davis' star is a Golden Globe nomination and SAG nod for the film adaptation of August Wilson's "Fences," a role that landed her a Tony Award for the 2010 Broadway revival. Though she was snubbed for her starring role in "How to Get Away With Murder" (she was eligible in both the TV and film categories this year), Davis became the first-ever black woman to win the 2015 Emmy for leading drama actress for her standout work on the ABC hit.

An even bigger career trophy for Davis is that Tyson plays her on-screen mother on "Murder."

Speaking of on-screen mothers, when talking about the biggest challenge in adapting "Fences" to the screen, after having done the play in 114 Broadway performances, Davis says having a daughter of her own enabled her embrace her character more so than she did in the theater.

"How I got to feel about that final scene, I never got on the stage, and I felt like I did in the movie because since the play, I had a child," Davis explains of the final moments when her character, Rose, gives a sobering, motherly speech to her son who has just returned for the funeral of his father, played by Denzel Washington, who directed the film and who also won a Tony Award for the 2010 revival.

Davis has garnered rave reviews for "Fences," and is a frontrunner for a supporting actress Oscar nomination this year. Many critics say that the film with Davis and Washington is actually better than their version of the play.

"You have to trust the work that you did with the character and just live and breathe and let the cameras do all the other work."

Though critics are praising the film, Davis admits her favorite medium is the theater. Then film. Then TV.

"I get to spend more time with the character," she says of her stage work, which began as a student in the theater program at Rhode Island College, followed by four years at the Juilliard School. "I get to investigate more, I get to try more things and see what sticks, I get to try and fail and then try again. Each performance is a chance to learn and grow, also because the audience is always different. You get just more chances.

"I also love the stage because I don't have to worry about all the other stuffthat comes with the occupation."

The other stuffshe's referring to is the media, the awards-season pressure, the red carpets, the box office and ratings.

But still, she credits her TV role - a job that comes along with all "the other stuff" - with truly turning her into an A-lister.

"The thing with Annalise," she says of her "How to Get Away With Murder" character, "The No. 1 thing it's given me is it's exposed me to the world. That is what changed my career," she states firmly, acknowledging the strange dichotomy of her least favorite medium and the very platform that has served as her mainstream vehicle.

" 'The Help' changed it, too, but 'How to Get Away With Murder' is the thing that really changed my career. …

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