A Conversation with Actress Viola Davis

Kam Williams | 2/14/2013, 12:22 p.m.

Viola Davis is a critically acclaimed actress who garnered her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in “Doubt.” She received her second Oscar nomination, this time in the category of Best Actress, for her portrayal of Aibileen in “The Help,” based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel.

Davis also received a Screen Actor’s Guild Award and an NAACP Image Award for that powerful performance.

Next fall, Viola will be seen in the sci-fi action adventure “Ender’s Game” opposite Harrison Ford, as well as in the drama “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” alongside Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and William Hurt. And she is currently in production on “Prisoners” starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

A veteran of the stage, Davis returned to Broadway in 2010 in the revival of August Wilson’s “Fences” alongside Denzel Washington. Her performance in the 1987 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play earned her a Tony Award, as well as the Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award. In 2001, she was awarded a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Tonya in “King Hedley II.”

A graduate of The Juilliard School, Davis also holds an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts Degree from her alma mater, Rhode Island College.

Congratulations on winning another NAACP Image Award. I loved your performance in “Won’t Back Down.”

Thank you very much, Kam.

Do you think the movie suffered from political blowback, the way that “Zero Dark Thirty” has been hurt at the box office because of controversy?

Yeah, I think it definitely suffered from that, because we were in an election year and because education is a hotbed issue. And people have strong opinions about public school education, unions, charter schools and parent-trigger laws. Occasionally, the timing of a movie is just bad and I think, in the case of this movie, it was probably the worst.

What interested you about “Beautiful Creatures”?

What interested me was that the character wasn’t what she appeared to be. That she had different secrets to be discovered. When you first meet her, she’s kind of just woven into the fabric of this family. But then you see the tribal scarification on her back, and you see her channeling spirits. And then you learn that she’s the keeper of a library that’s the gateway to different worlds. I like that. I like when there are different layers to peel away. It was just subtle enough to play and to craft.

Have you ever made a romantic fantasy before? Is “Kate & Leopold” the closest you’ve done to something like this?

I didn’t think of “Kate & Leopold,” but yeah, I guess so. It’s the only other time I’ve tried this genre.

In this case, the film is more akin to the “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” series.

I love young adult fantasies. While I say that, I have not seen all of the “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” movies. But I’ve read all of the books, and I love them. I love them because I enjoy being transported to a different world and having my imagination challenged. That’s a huge part of what we do as actors. We have to imagine ourselves in a different world. And when you are in a young adult fantasy, it challenges you in the best way.