Viola Davis “I Wasn’t the Beauty Queen Who Came Out of Nowhere”

“Won’t Back Down” New York Premiere

Viola Davis spoke with EBONY.com about her new role in the film Won’t Back Down. In the chat, the Oscar-nominated actress touches on new Oscar talk for her latest role and. how she chooses acting parts in general. Davis also talks about the Barbara Jordan biopic she and her production company are working on.

I’ve seen the trailer for Won’t Back Down. I don’t see an Oscar nod coming for that project, but I do think she could ultimately score won on the Jordan project.

Anyhow, check out excerpts below:

EBONY.com: Once again, people are talking about Viola Davis for an Oscar. Third time’s a charm?

Viola Davis: Oh my God. Listen, that’s not even for me to say. This is what I do. I went to school—I went to undergrad, I went to Julliard, I went to Circle in the Square theater —because I believed in excellence. Obviously I wasn’t the beauty queen who came—not that all beauty queens are like this—but I wasn’t the beauty queen who came out of nowhere and said ‘I want to be an actress because I feel like I look cute.’ I was the person who really wanted to act, and I really wanted to do it well because I see this as a great art form that requires craft, and I do approach the work like that. So I will say that.

EBONY.com: What’s your formula? You keep picking these amazing roles —or are they picking you?

VD: I appreciate you saying that. I don’t necessarily agree with you saying that! Look: I don’t get a lot of options. It’s not like I’m looking at 20 scripts and I’m like, ‘OK, let me choose the most thought-provoking one.’ I have to create that. That’s my role. And I think that if you put most actors of color in a room, they will say the same thing. We have to bring it. But I will say this, there are some roles where the narrative is so solid, because the narrative is 80 percent of your work. When you do have a great narrative then it’s really easy to fly. It’s really easy for all that you are to be emphasized, as opposed to being in the background in a narrative. That’s more challenging. You’re in the background going ‘look at me! You know I’m more than this role! Can you see how special I am? Can you see what I do?!’ But when a narrative is really great it’s like… you know what it’s like? It’s like having a great body and having a really great designer design a dress that’s specially made for you. Then people can see you in the right color, the right cut and people can see exactly how beautiful you look. And that’s the way it is with a great narrative too. It can enhance you, enhance everything that’s good about your gift.

EBONY.com I wasn’t aware that you’d started a production company. Is your company going to be behind the Barbara Jordan biopic?

VD: Yes it is! We’re perfecting the script right now and working with some fabulous producers, Shelly Glasser, Diane Nabatoff, and a great director, Paris Barclay, to perfect the story, because like I said before, 80 percent of work is the narrative, it’s what’s on the page people respond to, OK. And then you come in and you just enhance it. So we’re just trying to perfect that now, but it’s coming.

And since we’re talking Oscars, here’s Viola on snatching off that wig and letting her scalp breathe last year on the Oscar red carpet (which was gorgeous):

EBONY.com: When you stepped on the red carpet at the Academy Awards earlier this year with natural hair, it was a moment. Your look —in some ways— usurped the Oscars itself. Did that surprise you that so many people talked about how beautiful you were, and used it to talk about the diversity of beauty in Black women?

VD: Oh God, yeah! Nobody uses those two words in a sentence: beauty and Viola. I didn’t grow up like that. I didn’t have boyfriends until I was in my 20s. Part of that was because I was extraordinarily shy, but, um, no. And especially, women of my hue are historically, traditionally, not associated with beauty. I think that’s part of the reason why I did take my wig off is because I felt that I was just addicted to the wigs. And not that you shouldn’t wear wigs, because I still do, I like them, but it felt like it wasn’t an enhancer. I felt like I was using it as a crutch. And I wanted to show people that despite all these things, I’m still cute. So look at me. Aren’t I cute? And I just felt that I needed to stop doing that and I needed to stop apologizing for that and I needed to step into who I was. I felt like that was the best time to do it, because I felt a shift in my career, and I felt that this next stage in my life and my career didn’t need to be approached with timidity, that it needed to be approached with boldness in terms of what I looked like and who I was. I feel that with Caucasian actresses, I think that they have the same issues with beauty, that people put that on women a lot. But I think that there are lots of different beauties when they think of Caucasian women. You have the girl next door, you have off-center beauty, you have the ethnic beauty, you have the quirky, geek princess. I don’t think people see Black women the same way. I think that you either are two things: you’re either beautiful or you’re not. You’ve got the wig and you’ve got the hair or you’re just not that. And I think that there are different beauties when it comes to Black women. I don’t think that we all have to look one way to be considered attractive and sexualized and sensualized.

Read Viola Davis’ interview in full at EBONY.com.

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