Viola Davis doesn’t mince words. She rolls them out deliberately and reels us into her story with long strands of honesty, strength, elocution and hope.
Born in a one-room sharecroppers shack, Viola rose from abject poverty to claim the entertainment industry’s rare triple crown — Emmy, Tony and Oscar.
“A hero is someone who is born to a life he doesn’t fit in,” Viola said.
Because her father groomed horses for a living, the family moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island just after Viola was born. The only black family in that town, they lived in such desperate conditions that Viola and her sisters slept with sheets wrapped around their necks to protect them from biting rats.
Her father, Dan Davis, battled alcoholism and beat her mother so badly Viola recalled mopping up the blood.
“I was a bed wetter until I was 14-years old,” Viola said. She also had to wash her clothes out in the sink “with soap, or dishwashing liquid or whatever I could find to get them clean.”
“I thought I was fabulous,” she said. “But my life didn’t reflect it.”
Then, one day, Viola and her family watched the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman on the small working TV with tin foil rabbit ears that rested on a broken TV in their apartment. In the movie, the incomparable actress Cicely Tyson ages from 18 to 110-years old.
Suddenly, nine-year old Viola had a purpose.
“It wasn’t just the story, it was the craft. It shifted my world in such a powerful way. It was the passion. I decided I was going to be an actress,” she said. “And I believed it.”
That self confidence and an incredible work ethic eventually earned Viola an advanced degree from Juilliard. She worked four jobs in college, two of them off campus “and I didn’t own a car,” she said.
These days Viola and her husband Julius Tennon run JuVee Productions, a Los Angeles based artist-driven company that develops and produces independent television, films, theatre and digital content. She won an Academy Award for Fences, and also stars in ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder, for which she won an Emmy.
“My strength is that I own my story, the good and the bad,” she said. “We are our history.”