Viola Davis made headlines during the Television Critics Association press tour in July when she said, "I have gotten so many wonderful film roles, but I've gotten even more film roles where I haven't been the show. It's like I've been invited to a really fabulous party, only to hold up the wall. I wanted to be the show." And that's what the actress, who stars in Shonda Rhimes' upcoming ABC drama How to Get Away With Murder, finally is.
When asked about that comment at BuzzFeed Brews with Facebook Live on Wednesday in Hollywood, she said, "I said that statement and I want to take it back ... I was saying that for a very simple reason, and the reason is, after a while you get tired of being the third girl from the left."
Davis, who has been nominated for two Academy Awards for her performances in 2008's Doubt and in 2011's The Help, has obviously found success in the film industry, but it hadn't always been in the most flattering roles: As she noted at BuzzFeed Brews with Facebook Live, she's "played a lot of maids."
One of the biggest struggles of Davis' career has been not being seen as more than "the maid" and not having the opportunity to truly exercise the skills she's worked so hard to hone. "I think that when you go through your life, you expect to get the best of anything," she said. "Whatever profession you're in, you expect the world to see you. Especially when you spend 10 years in acting school, which I did, you just feel like everybody is primed to be Meryl Streep, whoever you are, white, black, whatever."
"But then, you go out there," she continued. "You see all these walls that are held up because you're a woman, you're a certain age, you're a certain hue of color. And it's shocking that people don't see that. You know, Look at me. I am good, I do have talent. See me. So I think that it was a little bit of a shock after the Oscars that people were still saying, 'You know, you've got four scenes in a movie, but you're going to be playing opposite so-and-so.' And I'm like, 'I don't care if I'm going to be playing opposite so-and-so. I want so-and-so's role!'"
But now, as fierce criminal law professor Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder, Davis is that so-and-so. "You feel like you want a role that's going to be worthy of your talent," she said. "And that's why, when [How to Get Away With Murder] came along, I'm like, 'OK, I want those types of roles. I want the flashy roles. I want to be No. 1 on the call sheet.' I feel that I've worked long enough and hard enough that I deserve that. Yes, in film, you do get a lot of supporting roles, as an actor of color. You do. And I feel like, now, I want the flash!"
And finally, she got it. On a show executive-produced by Rhimes, Davis couldn't be in better hands. Rhimes' other ABC series, Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, have long been lauded for the complicated, smart, and messy women at their center and they've brought in ratings as well. Rhimes' series have been so successful, that this fall, ABC handed over its three-hour Thursday night lineup to her entirely, with Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder airing back to back to back. "I feel like Shonda gets me, all of me," Davis said. "Not just maybe what I would represent in a generic form, which is mama, maid."
"It's great working for Shonda because you don't have to try so hard to make her understand you. She gets it right away," the actress continued. "Sometimes it's like, 'OK, let me try another way to explain this to you and why this is so important.' She gets it. You know what's so great about working for her too? She has your back. That's what I'm going to say about Shonda: She has your back."