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Viola Davis

Viola Davis
Viola Davis June 2015.jpg
Davis at the 2015 SAG Awards
Born (1965-08-11) August 11, 1965 (age 51)
St. Matthews, South Carolina, U.S.
Alma mater Rhode Island College (1988)
Juilliard School (1993)
Occupation Actress, producer
Years active 1992–present
Home town Central Falls, Rhode Island
Spouse(s) Julius Tennon (m. 2003)
Children 1
Awards Full list

Viola Davis (born August 11, 1965)[1] is an American actress and producer. She is the only black woman to be nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one, and is the only black actor to win the Triple Crown of Acting.[2][3][4] In 2012 and 2017, she was listed by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.[5][6]

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. She played supporting and minor roles in several films and television series in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including the films Kate & Leopold (2001) and Far from Heaven (2002), and the television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In 2001, she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role as Tonya in the original production of August Wilson's King Hedley II. Davis' film breakthrough came in 2008 when her supporting role in the drama Doubt earned her several nominations, including the Golden Globe, SAG, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Greater success came to Davis in the 2010s. She won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her role as Rose Maxson in the revival of August Wilson's play Fences.[7] For her lead role as 1960s housemaid Aibeleen Clark in the comedy-drama The Help (2011), she received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress among others, and won a SAG Award.[8][9]

Since 2014, Davis has played lawyer Annalise Keating in the ABC television drama, How to Get Away with Murder, and in 2015 she became the first black woman to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.[10] Her portrayal also won her two SAG Awards in 2015 and 2016. In 2016, Davis played Amanda Waller in the superhero action film Suicide Squad and reprised the role of Rose Maxson in the film adaptation of Fences,[11] for which she won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Critics' Choice Award, SAG Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.[12][13] Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, are the founders of the production company JuVee Productions. Davis has starred in their productions Lila & Eve (2015) and Custody (2016).[14]

Early life and family

Davis was born in St. Matthews, South Carolina, at her grandparents' house on the Singleton Plantation.[15] She is the daughter of Mary Alice (née Logan) and Dan Davis,[15][16] and is the fifth of six children.[17] Her father was a horse trainer and her mother was a maid, factory worker and homemaker.[18][19][20] Her mother was also an activist during the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of two, Davis was taken to jail with her mother after she was arrested during a civil rights protest.[21]

Two months after she was born, her family moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island, with Davis and two of her sisters, leaving her older sister and brother with her grandparents.[15] She has described herself as having "lived in abject poverty and dysfunction" during her childhood,[22] recalling living in "rat-infested and condemned" apartments.[23]

Davis is the second cousin of actor Mike Colter, who is known for portraying the Marvel Comics character Luke Cage.[24]


Davis attended Central Falls High School, the alma mater to which she partially credits her love of stage acting with her involvement in the arts.[25] As a teen, she was involved in the federal TRIO Upward Bound and TRIO Student Support Services programs.[26] When enrolled at the Young People's School for the Performing Arts in West Warwick, Rhode Island, Davis' talent was recognized by a director at the program, Bernard Masterson.[27] Following graduation from high school, Davis studied at Rhode Island College, majoring in theater and graduating in 1988. She was awarded an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from the college in 2002.[28] After her graduation from Rhode Island, Davis attended the Juilliard School for four years,[19] and was a member of the school's Drama Division "Group 22"(1989–1993).[29]


Davis received her Screen Actors Guild card in 1996 for doing one day of work, playing a nurse who passes a vial of blood to Timothy Hutton in the film The Substance of Fire. She was paid $528.[30]

Davis at the 81st Academy Awards in 2009

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."[31] 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.[32] 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,[33] she was nominated for several awards for her performance, including a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.[34]

On June 30, 2009, Davis was inducted into The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[35] On June 13, 2010, Davis won her second Tony Award for her role as Rose Maxson in a revival of August Wilson's Fences.[36] She is the second African-American woman to win the award, after Phylicia Rashad.

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.[37]

In August 2011, Davis played the role of Aibileen Clark, a housemaid in 1960's Mississippi, in the screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help, directed by Tate Taylor.[38] Davis described her performance in the film as channeling her mother and grandmother saying, "I feel like I brought my mom to life; I've channeled her spirit. I channeled the spirit of my grandmother, and I've kind of paid homage to how they've contributed to my life and the lives of so many people".[38] For her performance, Davis garnered great critical acclaim, and eventually received two Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as her second Academy Award nomination,[39] 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.[40] Also in 2012, Glamour magazine named Davis Glamour's Film Actress of the year.[41] 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.[42] 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.[43] On January 5, 2017, Davis received the 2,597th star on the Walk of Fame.[44]

Davis reunited with The Help director Tate Taylor in Get on Up, a biopic of James Brown, playing Brown's mother.[45] Her three-year-old daughter, Genesis also appeared in the movie.[46]

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.[47] Her character, Annalise Keating, is a tough criminal defense attorney and professor who becomes entangled in murder plot with her students.[48][49] Davis describes Keating as messy, mysterious, sexy, and vulnerable and noted the character was the first time a black woman, like herself, had ever been portrayed that way onscreen.[50] It began as a series in September 2014.[51] On September 20, 2015, she became the first black woman of any nationality to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.[52][53][54][55] She received a second Primetime Emmy Award nomination for the role in 2016.[56] In 2015 and 2016 Davis won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series for her role.[57] She has also received nominations from the Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress – Television Series Drama and Critics' Choice Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series.[58]

In 2015, Davis appeared in Blackhat, a Michael Mann-directed thriller film starring Chris Hemsworth.[59] She also appeared in Lila & Eve with Jennifer Lopez. Davis also served as a producer.

Davis at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con to promote Suicide Squad

In 2016, Davis starred in the courtroom drama Custody, on which she also served as an executive producer,[60] and played Amanda Waller in the film Suicide Squad, an adaptation of a DC Comics series of the same name,[61] and reprised her role as Rose Maxson for the film adaptation of Fences, for which she received her third Academy Award nomination and first win for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress,[62] and the Screen Actors Guild Award.

Awards and nominations

By winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Fences, Davis became the first black actor to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting: winning a competitive Emmy, Tony and Oscar in acting categories.[63] She is also the first African-American actress and the first woman of color to win five Screen Actors Guild Award.[64]

Personal life

Davis married actor Julius Tennon, in June 2003.[65] They have a daughter, Genesis, whom they adopted as a newborn in October 2011. Davis is stepmother to Tennon's son and daughter from previous relationships.[66]

Davis has remained a booster of her hometown of Central Falls, Rhode Island. In 2016, she attended the groundbreaking of a community health center there.[67] She has also raised and donated money for the city's library and the Central Falls High School.[67][68]

Davis is a Christian and regularly attends services at Oasis Church in Los Angeles.[69][70]



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
Kate & Leopold Policewoman
2002 Far from Heaven Sybil
Antwone Fisher Eva May Fisher
Solaris Dr. Gordon
2005 Get Rich or Die Tryin' Grandma
Syriana CIA Chairwoman Uncredited
2006 Architect, TheThe Architect Tonya Neely
World Trade Center Mother in Hospital
2007 Disturbia Detective Parker
2008 Nights in Rodanthe Jean
Doubt Mrs. Miller
2009 Madea Goes to Jail Ellen St. Matthews
State of Play Dr. Judith Franklin
Law Abiding Citizen Mayor April Henry
2010 Knight and Day Director Isabel George
Eat Pray Love Delia Shiraz
It's Kind of a Funny Story Dr. Minerva
Trust Gail Friedman
2011 The Help Aibileen Clark
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Abby Black
2012 Won't Back Down Nona Alberts
2013 Beautiful Creatures Amarie "Amma" Treadeau
Ender's Game Major Anderson
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Professor Lillian Friedman
Prisoners Nancy Birch
2014 Get On Up Susie Brown
2015 Blackhat FBI Agent Carol Barrett
Lila & Eve Lila Walcott
2016 Custody Judge Martha Sherman Also executive producer
Suicide Squad Amanda Waller
Fences Rose Maxson
2018 Widows Filming


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
2003–08 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Donna Emmett 7 episodes
2009 United States of Tara Lynda P. Frazier 6 episodes
2013 Sofia the First Helen Hanshaw (voice) Episode: "The Buttercups"
2014–present How to Get Away with Murder Professor Annalise Keating Lead role; 45 episodes.

Theatre credits

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
1999 Everybody's Ruby Ruby McCollum
The Vagina Monologues Performer (Replacement)
2001 King Hedley II Tonya Broadway
2004 Intimate Apparel Esther Off-Broadway
2010 Fences Rose Broadway


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  67. ^ a b Arditi, Lynn (8 October 2016). "Viola Davis returns to hometown for Central Falls health center groundbreaking". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 12 January 2017. Davis has been one of the city's most high-profile boosters, raising and donating money for the city's Adams Memorial Library, the Central Falls High School chess team and drama club, and the Segue Institute for Learning, a charter school. 
  68. ^ Miller, G. Wayne (14 May 2016). "Deloris Davis Grant tells RIC grads: 'be a rock star' + videos". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 12 January 2017. Deloris Davis Grant (sister of actress Viola Davis) teaches English and drama at Central Falls High School 
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External links