Viola Davis

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Viola Davis
Viola Davis June 2015.jpg
Davis at the SAG Awards, 2015
Born (1965-08-11) August 11, 1965 (age 50)
St. Matthews, South Carolina, United States
Alma mater Rhode Island College (1988)
Juilliard School (1993)
Occupation Actress, producer
Years active 1993–present
Home town Central Falls, Rhode Island
Spouse(s) Julius Tennon (m. 2003)
Children 1

Viola Davis (born August 11, 1965)[1] is an American actress and producer. She won the 2001 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role as Tonya in the original production of King Hedley II, and the 2010 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her role as Rose Maxon in the revival of Fences.[2] In 2014, she began starring as Annalise Keating on the ABC drama How to Get Away with Murder, and in 2015 she became the first African American woman, as well as first Black woman of any nationality, to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.[3] The role also won her a SAG Award. In 2012, she was listed by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.[4]

After graduating from the Juilliard School in 1993, Davis began her career on stage and won an Obie Award in 1999 for her performance as Ruby McCollum in Everybody's Ruby. In 2008, her performance as Mrs. Miller in the film Doubt earned her several nominations, including the Golden Globe, SAG Award, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. For her lead role as Aibileen Clark in the film The Help (2011), she received nominations for the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won a SAG Award.[5][6] Her other films include Far from Heaven (2002), Antwone Fisher (2003), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011), The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2013), Get on Up (2014) and the upcoming Suicide Squad (2016).

Early life[edit]

Davis was born in St. Matthews, South Carolina, at her grandparents’ house on the Singleton Plantation, as were her five siblings.[7] The daughter of Mary Alice and Dan Davis,[7] she is the second youngest of six children.[8] Her father was a horse trainer and her mother was a maid, factory worker, and homemaker,[9][10][11] as well as a civil rights activist.[12] Her family moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island, with two-month-old Viola and two of her sisters, leaving her older sister and brother with the grandparents.[7] Davis has described herself as having "lived in abject poverty and dysfunction" during her childhood.[13]

Davis partially credits her love of stage acting with her involvement in the arts at her alma mater, Central Falls High School.[14] Davis majored in theatre at Rhode Island College, graduating in 1988; in 2002 she received an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from the college.[15] She was involved in the federal TRIO Upward Bound and TRIO Student Support Services programs.[16] While Davis was a teenager, her talent was recognized by Bernard Masterson when she entered the program at the Young People's School for the Performing Arts in West Warwick, Rhode Island while he was the director.[17]

She also attended the Juilliard School for four years,[10] as a member of the Drama Division's Group 22 (1989–1993).[18]


Viola Davis received her Screen Actors Guild card in 1996 for doing one day of work as a nurse who passes a vial of blood to Timothy Hutton in the film The Substance of Fire. She was paid $528.[19]

In 2001, she won the Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for her portrayal of Tonya in King Hedley II, a "35-year-old mother fighting eloquently for the right to abort a pregnancy."[20] She has also won another Drama Desk Award for her work in a 2004 off-Broadway production of Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage.

Davis appeared in numerous films, including three films directed by Steven SoderberghOut of Sight, Solaris and Traffic, as well as Syriana, which Soderbergh produced. Viola was also the uncredited voice of the parole board interrogator who questions Danny Ocean (George Clooney) in the first scene in Ocean's Eleven.[21] She also gave brief performances in the films Kate & Leopold and Antwone Fisher. Her television work includes a recurring role in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, starring roles in two short-lived series, Traveler and Century City, and a special guest appearance in a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode entitled "Badge".

In 2008, Davis played Mrs. Miller in the film adaptation to the Broadway play Doubt, with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. Though Davis had only one scene in the film,[22] she was nominated for several awards for her performance, including a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.[23]

On June 30, 2009, Davis was inducted into The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[24] On June 13, 2010, Davis won her second Tony Award for her role as Rose Maxson in a revival of August Wilson's Fences.[25] She is the second African-American woman to win the award, after Phylicia Rashād.

Davis played the role of Dr. Minerva in It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010), a coming-of-age film written and directed by Anna Boden with Ryan Fleck, adapted from the 2006 novel by Ned Vizzini.[26] In August 2011, Davis played the role of Aibileen Clark in the screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help, directed by Tate Taylor. For her performance, Davis garnered great critical acclaim, and eventually received two Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as her second Academy Award nomination,[27] which she ultimately lost to Meryl Streep. She also received Golden Globe Award and BAFTA nominations for the same performance.

In 2012, Time magazine listed Davis as one of the most influential people in the world.[28] Also in 2012, Glamour magazine named Davis Glamour's Film Actress of the year.[29] On June 12, 2012, Davis was presented with the Women in Film's Crystal Award by her friend and Oscar rival that year Meryl Streep.[30] On June 25, 2012, The Walk of Fame Committee of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced that Davis was part of the new group of entertainment professionals who have been selected to receive stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013.[31]

Davis reunited with The Help director Tate Taylor in Get on Up, a biopic of James Brown, playing Brown's mother.[32] Her daughter Genesis also appeared in the movie.[33]

In February 2014, Davis was cast in Peter Nowalk's pilot How to Get Away with Murder (executive produced by Shonda Rhimes for her ShondaLand production company) as the lead character.[34] It began as a series in September 2014.[35] On September 20, 2015, she became the first African-American to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.[36][37][38][39]

Davis appeared in Blackhat (2015), a Michael Mann-directed thriller film starring Chris Hemsworth.[40] In December 2014, it was announced that Viola Davis was cast as Amanda Waller in the 2016 DC Comics movie Suicide Squad.[41] In March 2015, she began filming Custody, in addition to serving as one of the executive producers.[42]

Personal life[edit]

Davis married actor Julius Tennon in June 2003.[43] They have a daughter, Genesis, whom they adopted as a newborn in October 2011. Davis is stepmother to Tennon's two sons from previous relationships.[44]



Year Title Role Notes
1996 Substance of Fire, TheThe Substance of Fire Nurse
1998 Out of Sight Moselle Miller
2000 Traffic Social Worker
2001 Shrink Is In, TheThe Shrink Is In Robin
2001 Kate & Leopold Policewoman
2002 Far from Heaven Sybil
2002 Antwone Fisher Eva May Fisher
2002 Solaris Dr. Gordon
2005 Get Rich or Die Tryin' Grandma
2005 Syriana CIA Chairwoman Uncredited
2006 Architect, TheThe Architect Tonya Neely
2006 World Trade Center Mother in Hospital
2007 Disturbia Detective Parker
2008 Nights in Rodanthe Jean
2008 Doubt Mrs. Miller
2009 Madea Goes to Jail Ellen St. Matthews
2009 State of Play Dr. Judith Franklin
2009 Law Abiding Citizen Mayor April Henry
2010 Knight and Day Director Isabel George
2010 Eat Pray Love Delia Shiraz
2010 It's Kind of a Funny Story Dr. Minerva
2010 Trust Gail Friedman
2011 The Help Aibileen Clark
2011 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Abby Black
2012 Won't Back Down Nona Alberts
2013 Beautiful Creatures Amarie "Amma" Treadeau
2013 Ender's Game Major Anderson
2013 The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Professor Lillian Friedman
2013 Prisoners Nancy Birch
2014 Get On Up Susie Brown
2015 Blackhat FBI Agent Carol Barrett
2015 Lila & Eve Lila Walcott
2015 Custody Judge Martha Sherman Post-production
Also executive producer
2016 Suicide Squad Amanda Waller Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
1996 NYPD Blue Woman Episode: "Moby Greg"
1996 New York Undercover Mrs. Stapleton Episode: "Smack is Back"
1998 Pentagon Wars, TheThe Pentagon Wars Platoon Sgt. Fanning
1998 Grace & Glorie Rosemary Allbright
2000 Judging Amy Celeste Episode: "Blast from the Past"
2000 City of Angels Nurse Lynnette Peeler 19 episodes
2001 Amy & Isabelle Dottie
2001 Providence Dr. Eleanor Weiss Episode: "You Can Count On Me"
2001 Guardian, TheThe Guardian Attorney Suzanna Clemons Episode: "The Men from the Boys"
2001 Third Watch Margo Rodriguez Episode: "Act Brave"
2002 Father Lefty
2002 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Terry Randolph Episode: "Badge"
2002 Division, TheThe Division Dr. Georgia Davis Episode: "Remembrance"
2002 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Attorney Campbell Episode: "The Execution of Catherine Willows"
2003 Hack Stevie Morgan Episode: "Third Strike"
2003 Practice, TheThe Practice Aisha Crenshaw Episode: "We the People"
2004 Century City Hannah Crane 9 episodes
2005 Jesse Stone: Stone Cold Molly Crane
2005 Threshold Victoria Rossi Episode: "Shock"
2006 Jesse Stone: Night Passage Molly Crane
2006 Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise Molly Crane
2006 Without a Trace Audrey Williams Episode: "White Balance"
2006 Life Is Not a Fairytale: The Fantasia Barrino Story Diane Barrino TV movie
2007 Fort Pit
2007 Jesse Stone: Sea Change Molly Crane
2007 Traveler Agent Jan Marlow 8 episodes
2008 Brothers & Sisters Ellen Snyder Episode: "Double Negative"
2008 Andromeda Strain, TheThe Andromeda Strain Dr. Charlene Barton
2003–2008 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Donna Emmett 7 episodes
2009 United States of Tara Lynda P Frazier 6 episodes
2014–present How to Get Away with Murder Professor Annalise Keating Lead role

Theatre credits[edit]

Year Title Role Venue
1992 As You Like It Denise Off-Broadway
1996 Seven Guitars Vera Broadway
1997 God's Heart Eleanor Off-Broadway
1998 Pericles 2nd Fisherman/Lychorida/Bawd Off-Broadway
1999 Everybody's Ruby Ruby McCollum Off-Broadway
1999 The Vagina Monologues Performer (Replacement) Off-Broadway
2001 King Hedley II Tonya Broadway
2004 Intimate Apparel Esther Off-Broadway
2010 Fences Rose Broadway

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Viola Davis Biography: Theater Actress, Film Actress, Television Actress (1965–)". (FYI / A&E Networks). Archived from the original on December 22, 2014. Retrieved September 21, 2015. 
  2. ^ Boroff, Philip (June 14, 2010). "Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, ‘Memphis,’ Win Top Tony Awards". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved July 8, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Emmy Awards 2015: The complete winners list". CNN. 21 September 2015. 
  4. ^ "The 100 Most Influential People In The World". Time. 18 April 2012. 
  5. ^ SAG Awards 2012: Complete list of winners The Associated Press via New York Daily News, January 30, 2012.
  6. ^ "The 100 Most Influential People In The World". Time. April 18, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c Rochlin, Margy (September 2014). "Viola Davis Blossoms". More (Meredith Corporation). Archived from the original on August 28, 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Viola Davis’ path from poverty in Central Falls to Hollywood glamour" February 22, 2009, Providence Journal.
  9. ^ "Veteran Actors, First Time Nominees". WSJ. 20 February 2009. 
  10. ^ a b Buckley, Michael (March 14, 2004). "Chats with Intimate Apparel's Viola Davis and New York Newcomer, King Lear's Geraint Wyn Davies". 
  11. ^ "Viola Davis: "The Help" and "Daring Yourself to Dream Big". August 1, 2011, Life Goes Strong.
  12. ^ Davis spoke of her mother's activism during an appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, relating how she had been taken to jail along with her mother at age two when Mary Davis was arrested during a Civil Rights protest (September 20, 2012).
  13. ^ "Viola Davis Tackles Fear, Shines In 'Doubt'" December 10, 2008, NPR.
  14. ^ "Viola Davis". 
  15. ^ RIC to Award 1,300 Degrees at Commencement Exercises, from the website of Rhode Island College.
  16. ^ "Viola Davis". 
  17. ^ Brown, Gita, "Exclusive What’s News @ RIC interview: Viola Davis talks about her life and her new film", What's News, Rhode Island College, August 2, 2011.
  18. ^ "Alumni News". Juilliard School. October 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-11-11. 
  19. ^ Moynihan, Rob (January 19, 2015). "How I Got My SAG-AFTRA Card", TV Guide. p. 8
  20. ^ Truly, Madly, Intimately, September 2004. American Theatre magazine.
  21. ^ Stodghill, Alexis Garrett (December 23, 2011). "Viola Davis' top 10 performances: From 'Traffic' to 'The Help'". Grio. Retrieved 8 July 2012. 
  22. ^ Caro, Mark (February 14, 2009). "Viola Davis: The Pop Machine interview". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 21, 2015. 
  23. ^ "Oscar nominations 2009: Amy Adams and Viola Davis discuss their roles in Doubt". The Daily Telegraph. January 22, 2009. Retrieved July 8, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Academy Invites 134 to Membership". June 30, 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2012. 
  25. ^ "Fences Stars Viola Davis & Denzel Washington Win 2010 Tony Awards". June 13, 2010. Retrieved July 8, 2012. 
  26. ^ Sciretta, Peter (November 30, 2009). "Ryan Fleck’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story Begins Production". /Film. Archived from the original on June 12, 2010. Retrieved June 12, 2010. 
  27. ^ Eggertsen, Chris (September 14, 2014). "Shocker: Oscar nominee Viola Davis is routinely offered 'mammy-ish' roles by Hollywood". HitFix.
  28. ^ "TIME '100 Most Influential People': Kristen Wiig, Viola Davis And Other Actors Honored". moviefone. 2012-04-18. Retrieved July 8, 2012. 
  29. ^ "Film Actress - Viola Davis". glamourmagazine. May 29, 2012. Retrieved July 8, 2012. 
  30. ^ "Meryl Streep-Viola Davis Love Fest at Women in Film Awards". showbiz. June 14, 2012. Retrieved July 8, 2012. 
  31. ^ Gans, Andrew (June 25, 2012). "Viola Davis, Helen Mirren, Jane Lynch, Olympia Dukakis, Jennifer Hudson Are Hollywood Walk of Fame Recipients". Retrieved July 8, 2012. 
  32. ^ "Tate Taylor Reunites With 'The Help’s' Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer On James Brown Pic". Deadline. September 30, 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2013. 
  33. ^ "Viola Davis - Viola Davis' Daughter To Make Acting Debut In James Brown Biopic". WENN. October 22, 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2013. 
  34. ^ "Viola Davis to Star in ABC Drama 'How to Get Away With Murder'". hollywood reporter. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  35. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (8 May 2014). "ABC Picks Up Shonda Rhimes ‘How To Get Away With Murder’, John Ridley’s ‘American Crime’, Comedy ‘Black-ish’ To Series". Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  36. ^ Nakamura, Reid. "Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson Make Emmy History With ‘How to Get Away With Murder,’ ‘Empire’ Roles". Retrieved 27 August 2015. 
  37. ^ Watch Viola Davis Explain Her Historic Emmys Speech to Ellen DeGeneres Rachel Handler. TIME. Sept. 24, 2015. Retrieved September 28, 2015
  38. ^ Viola Davis’s Emmy Speech. Michael Gold. Awards Season. The 2015 Emmy Awards. New York Times. September 20, 2015. Retrieved September 28, 2015
  39. ^ Emmy Awards: ‘Game of Thrones’ beats ‘Mad Men’, Viola Davis becomes first African American to win best actress in drama, Jon Hamm finally wins best actor, ‘Veep’ sweeps Stephanie Merry. Washington Post. September 20, 2015. Retrieved September 28, 2015
  40. ^ "Viola Davis In Talks To Star In Michael Mann’s Cyber Crime Pic". Deadline. April 19, 2013. Retrieved July 5, 2013. 
  41. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: Viola Davis Bags Amanda Waller Role In 'Suicide Squad'". 
  42. ^ McNary, Dave. "Hayden Panettiere, Ellen Burstyn Join Viola Davis in ‘Custody’". Variety. Retrieved May 15, 2015. 
  43. ^ Johnson, Zach (July 29, 2015). "Viola Davis Poses With Daughter Genesis Tennon for AARP the Magazine and Reflects on Her Life Before Turning 50". E!. Archived from the original on September 21, 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2015. 
  44. ^ Nahas, Aili; Raftery, Elizabeth (October 18, 2011). "Viola Davis Adopts a Daughter, Genesis". People. Archived from the original on October 14, 2014. Retrieved September 21, 2015. 

External links[edit]