Viola Davis is a renowned American actress as well as producer. This Primetime Emmy Award winner is of black ethnicity. Born in a poverty-stricken family, Davis worked hard to overcome her challenging early years. She ventured into acting and appeared on TV, films, and stage and earned considerable name and fame in less than a decade. She is the first black actress to win the Triple Crown of Acting—Oscar, Emmy and Tony Awards—and also the first black actress to be nominated for three Academy awards. Besides this, Viola Davis was also honored by the African-American Film Critics Association twice. Working steadily on screen and stage since the late 1990s, Davis earned scholarships and studied theater in New York. She first performed on stage out of New York and subsequently landed on the small screen, doing occasional roles. The actress also began doing small roles on the big screen simultaneously. It was Davis’ passion and love for acting that fetched her dozens of television sitcoms and films. No doubt, both her small and big screen credits are truly remarkable, but it is on the stage where her talents have truly shone. Over the years, Davis has been frequently doing stereotypical African-American roles, bringing a distinguished maturity to even small parts. The actress had also been listed as one of the hundred most influential people in the world by the ‘Time Magazine.’
Childhood & Early Life
Viola Davis was born on August 11, 1965 at her grandparents’ home in St. Matthews, South Carolina.
Her father, Dan Davis, was a horse trainer and mother, Mary Alice, was a maid and factory worker besides been a civil rights activist. The actress is the second youngest child of her parents’ six children.
Two months after Davis was born, the family moved to Rhode Island taking her and two of her sisters along and leaving her older brother and sister with her grandparents.
Her parents’ income was insufficient to support the family. They lived in abject poverty in rat-infested apartments and endured occasional food shortages.
At the age of two, Davis along with her mother was taken to jail after the latter was arrested during a protest.
She attended the Central Falls High School where she developed the love for stage. Following her schooling, she studied theatre at Rhode Island College, graduated in 1988. After graduation, she attended the Juilliard School in New York City.
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In 1996, Viola Davis made her Broadway debut in ‘Seven Guitars’. In this play, she played the role of a musician. The same year, she appeared as a nurse in ‘The Substance of Fire’. This drama was her screen debut for which she got her Screen Actors Guild card.
In 1998, she played a small role in Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Out of Sight’.
In 2001, she appeared as a mother who fights for the right to abort a pregnancy in the play ‘King Hedley II’. Davis was awarded the Tony Award for this Broadway play.
Davis also did many television series. One of her most notable roles was of a serial killer in the television show ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’ episode named ‘Badge’.
In 2002, this African-American beauty caught the attention of critics when she appeared in ‘Antwone Fisher’. In this film, she hardly had any lines, yet her presence was noticeable.
In 2008, Davis's career reached great heights after she portrayed the character of ‘Mrs. Miller’ – the mother of a boy who may have been molested by a priest in ‘Doubt’.
In 2010, Viola Davis retuned to the stage one again and gave another show-stopping performance in August Wilson's ‘Fences’.
In 2011, she appeared in the screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel ‘The Help’. This film highlighted the racial divide between the white housewives and their black servants.
In 2014, she again teamed with ‘The Help’ director in ‘Get on Up’ – a biopic of singer James Brown. In the movie, she played the role of the singer’s mother. The same year, she was cast as Professor Annalise Keating in ‘How to Get Away with Murder’. This mystery drama series is running on ABC television since then.
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In 2008, Viola Davis’ nuanced performance in ‘Doubt’ made her acting career achieve new heights. Her character of ‘Mrs. Miller’ made a tremendous impression with such a small role.
In the film adaption of Kathryn Stockett’s book ‘The Help,’ the star appeared as the maid who gets interviewed by a white writer for a book. This role resembled the real-lives of her mother and grandmother – typical African women working in cotton and tobacco fields and cleaning other people’s homes.
Awards & Achievements
In 2001, Viola Davis won the ‘Tony Award’ for Best Featured Actress in a Play as well as the ‘Drama Desk Award’ for the portrayal of her character ‘Tonya’ in ‘King Hedley II’.
In the year 2010, she won the Tony Award for ‘The Best Actress in a Play’ for her character of Rose Maxson in ‘Fences.’
In 2011, she won two Screen Actors Guild Awards for ‘The Help’ in the categories ‘Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role’ and ‘Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture’.
In 2014, she won Screen Actors Guild Award for ‘Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series’ for ‘How to Get Away with Murder’.
In 2015, she won the Screen Actors Guild Award for ‘Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series’ for ‘Fences’. The same year, she won, Emmy’s ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series’ Award for ‘How to Get Away with Murder’.
In 2016, she won the prestigious Oscar award for ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role’ for ‘Fences.’ The same year, she received British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for ‘Best Actress in a Supporting Role’ for the same role.
Viola Davis is the first African-American actor/actress to win five Screen Actors Guild Awards. She also became the first black actress to fetch the Triple Crown of Acting, winning the Oscar, Emmy and Tony in different acting categories in different years.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 2003, Viola Davis married the actor Julius Tennon.
In October 2011, the couple adopted a girl who was named Genesis. The couple also has a son and a daughter who were born from Tennon's previous marriage.
Viola Davis has contributed a lot to her hometown of Central Falls that is situated in Rhode Island. In the year 2016, she inaugurated a community health center there.
She has also donated a lot to the Central Falls High School and the city’s library.
Viola Davis has a net worth of $3 million.
She took help from her mother regarding the portrayal of a maid’s character in ‘The Help’.
She along with her daughter Genesis appeared in ‘Get on Up’.