Viola Davis is a force to be reckoned with on stage and screen. She is the youngest person with the coveted Triple Crown — an Oscar, Emmy and Tony — to prove it. In an interview with John Wertheim on “60 Minutes,” Davis opened up about various aspects of her life, including how she knew she had what it took to make it.
Topics ranged from Davis’ most recent film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” with late actor Chadwick Boseman to her growing up in poverty and her road to stardom. They even discussed Davis’ childhood imaginary friends “JaJa” and “Jagi.”
“They were our imaginary friends, me and my sister Deloris, who were the closest in age. And we would play these, like, two rich white women from Beverly Hills. We would imagine all these fabulous dishes that we would be eating. And at the same time as a way to escape our lives into these sort of shadow characters who were everything that we weren’t,” Davis said, noting they helped “catapult” her into having big dreams of being an actress.
When Wertheim asked Davis is she knew she “had talent deep down,” Davis responded, “Oh yeah.” Wertheim reiterated, “you did,” and Davis replied “Abso-freakin-lutely.”
Davis said she also never grasped the concept of it being too hard to make it in Hollywood because she was used to things being hard.
“Hard didn’t register for me at that point. Everything was hard. … I took that with a grain of salt,” Davis said. “It was hard for me to wake up in the morning and go to school when there’s no heat, there’s no hot water … So being rejected, working really hard for six weeks, five auditions a week, and not gettin anything, that didn’t register to me. The only thing that registered to me was I thought it was awesome to be an actor. I saw it as an honorable profession.”
What she didn’t know, Davis shared, was her full worth. She credits legendary playwright August Wilson, who wrote “Ma Rainey,” for helping her get there.
According to Davis, Wilson “would always say, ‘Viola, you are just so beautiful.’ And — I don’t know. I never felt feminine. I never felt like I could fit into that sort of confines of what it meant, or the stereotypical ways of what being a woman was about until I did ‘Seven Guitars.’ ”
Davis also told Wertheim she was optimistic about “racial equality” and fearful of “divisiveness within our own country.” It isn’t the first time she has discussed her feelings about her worth or racial injustice.
In a July interview with Vanity Fair, Davis said, “When I was younger I did not exert my voice because I did not feel worthy of having a voice.” Now feeling worthy and valued is a “fundamental need” for her, according to Vanity Fair.
Noting her experiences as a child and at Juliard where she didn’t see her history reflected, Davis said, “It was a very Eurocentric training. It was the type of school that did not acknowledge my presence in the world.” Once she knew better, Davis said she decided to do her part in standing against systemic racism.
“I feel like my entire life has been a protest. My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest. It is a part of my voice, just like introducing myself to you and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Viola Davis.’ ”
Ironically, Davis said her anger over racial injustice led her to discover Wilson’s work while at Juliard. Her new film is a full-circle moment and she celebrates what the real-life Ma Rainey represented.
“Yeah, I love this one. I love this picture because I’m always wondering, “Who is she? Who is she really,” beyond the gold teeth, beyond the sereneness you see in this?” Davis said. “She was a combination of a woman from her time period, which is right in that smack dab in Jim Crow, feeling worthless, but, at the same time, knowing who she was deep inside.”
Davis’ latest interview had online users in an uproar about her talent, which was bolstered after Netflix released a first-look clip of Davis playing Ma Rainey.
“I have never EVER seen a character @violadavis played whether based on reality or fiction that she didn’t bring to life and embodied. One of if not the greatest stars,” @MShangole tweeted.
“This scene alone is enough for me to tell y’all that I have watched Ma Rainey’s BB already. Them giving her roles that she can calmly clap back to everyone who underestimated her!” added user @HasheemAsiya.