Viola Davis

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Viola Davis 1965


At a Glance


From early childhood, the odds were against Viola Davis achieving her dreams of being an actress. Reared in a small town, Davis knew not only the sting of poverty but also of racism. I felt that being an actor was a silly dream for a shy, poor, Black girl from Central Falls, Rhode Island, she said in an interview with Everyone I saw on television, in film or at the theatre did not look like me! Fortunately, she found support in the Upward Bound program and against those odds, learned to believe in herself. Slowly but surely my world began to open up. My mind began to expand and suddenly I discovered there is nothing that the human spirit cannot conquer, she told With a 2001 Tony Award for her work in King Hedley II, Davis has already conquered Broadway. As she racks up television and film credits, including a starring role on the series City of Angels, conquering Hollywood is definitely within her reach.

Davis was born in South Carolina but raised in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where she and her family were the only African Americans. It was difficult growing up in a small town where we were the only Blacks, she said in an interview with, the website of Rhode Island College, her alma mater. However, the biggest problem for Davis as a child was poverty. I love my family dearly and I am dedicated to and protective of them, she continued in the interview, but I came from a dysfunctional family. Poverty is a disease of the mind, and a disease of the spirit. She found solace from this poverty with education. My parents were not educated, but they believed in education, Davis was quoted as saying on Therefore she attended Saturday classes and summer school and when not in a classroom, was tutored by her older sister.

Barely a teenager, Davis had already decided on an acting career. I wanted to express myself by being an actor. I felt the need to, she told Yet, she was afraid she would not be able to pursue this dream. I always wanted to be an actor but I also wanted an education, she told I remember thinking that eventually I would have to give up one for the other because they definitely could not co-exist. Who would have thought that [Upward Bound] would break down all those misconceptions. The programan educational camp designed to inspire students to reach for their dreamsalso introduced Davis

At a Glance

Born in 1965, in South Carolina, raised in Central Falls, RI. Education: Rhode Island College, bachelor of arts, theater, 1988; Julliard School of Performing Arts, New York, NY, certificate in acting, 1994.

Career: Actress. Broadway, King Hedley II, Seven Guitars; New York Shakespeare Festival, Everybodys Ruby Pericles, As You Like It; Off-Broadway, Gods Heart; Other, Joe Turners Come and Gone, Measure for Measure, The Rover; Television: cast member, City of Angels; guest appearances: NYPD Blue, NY Undercover, Grace and Glory Third Watch, The Guardian, Judging Amy; made-for-TV movies, Amy and Isabelle, The Pentagon Wars; feature films: Solaris, Traffic, The Shrink Is In, Out of Sight, The Substance of Fire, Marvins Room.

Awards: Tony Award, Best Performance by a Featured Actress, King Hedley II, 2001; Drama Desk, Theater World, and Outer Critics Circle Awards, Seven Guitars; Tony Award nomination, Best Performance by a Featured Actress, Seven Guitars.

Addresses: Agent Agency for the Performing Arts, 9200 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 900, Los Angeles, CA, 90069, (310) 273-0744.

to Ron Stetson, an Upward Bound acting teacher. He was my first acting coach/ Davis told He left an indelible mark on me. He had a gift for instilling in his students the cold, harsh reality of having a career in the performing arts, but also inspiring and encouraging their dreams. Stetsons support was instrumental in Daviss attending Rhode Island College where she earned a bachelor of arts in theater in 1988.

Another inspirational instance from Daviss childhood was when she was awarded a scholarship to go to Africa in 1981 to study the role of art in native cultures. I realized how art was so much a part of their lives, whether it was in rituals celebrating coming into womanhood, coming into manhood, surviving the first and second days of birth, expressing the sadness of being infertile. I saw how art crossed gender, age, and language, and I think that was the most enlightening experience. Art transcends reality, she told

Soon after earning her bachelors degree Davis relocated to New York City in order to be where the business is flourishing, she explained to There she attended the prestigious Julliard School of Performing Arts where she earned a certificate in 1994. At Julliard Davis honed not only her acting skills but also learned some hard lessons about the profession she had chosen. She told, I had to grow up and learn quickly that people dont always want the best for you. They are not going to sit and watch you succeed. She continued, Also, not everyone is going to like you but thats okay. I also learned that hard work pays off. Even if others dont acknowledge it, you can acknowledge it. Her seeming cynicism belies the fact that Davis loves acting. In fact, it is her love for the profession that allows her to endure the often callous reality of it. In her interview with she advised would-be actors, Love your work. This business is political. Its all about who has the best agent, or who has the best deal at Miramax. The only thing you have to rely on is your love for the work.

Daviss love for acting has helped land many roles in dozens of films and television sitcoms. On the big screen she has appeared in The Substance of Fire, Out of Sight, The Shrink Is In, Marvins Room, and Traffic. On television she has made appearances on numerous programs including, NYPD Blue, Judging Amy, New York Undercover, Third Watch, The Guardian, and Providence. She also was featured in the made-for-TV movie Amy and Isabelle. Her biggest television role to date was as a cast member on CBSs hospital drama City of Angels, which premiered to critical acclaim in 2000.

Though both her big and small screen credits are impressive, it is on the stage where Daviss talents have truly shone. In addition to performing in regional theater she has appeared in the Off-Broadway production of Gods Heart at the Lincoln Center in New York City and in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Everybodys Ruby where Daviss performance garnered more acclaim than the plays star Phylicia Rashad. On Broadway Davis was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the play Seven Guitars. Though she lost the nomination she did receive Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, and Theatre World Awards for her portrayal of Tonya in this riveting drama by August Wilson. When Wilson cast his next play, King Hedley II, Davis promptly won one of the major female roles. Her performance drew critical acclaim and culminated in her winning the 2000 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress. As she fought back tears during her acceptance speech for the award, she said with characteristic humility, Im not one of the best, Im just one of the blessed people in this business. As she branches further out into filmshell play an astronaut in the feature film Solaris scheduled for a 2002 releaseand television with a role in a new sitcom, it will be the public that will be blessed to experience Daviss extraordinary acting talent.



Jet, June 18, 2001, p. 65.


Candace LaBalle

views updated

Davis, Viola 1965-


Born August 11, 1965, in St. Matthews, SC; daughter of Dan (a horse groomer) and Mary Davis; married Julius Tennon (an actor), June 23, 2003; children: two. Education: Rhode Island College, B.A., 1988; Juilliard College, certificate, 1994.


Agent—Barry McPherson, Agency for the Performing Arts, 405 South Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Manager—Estelle Lasher, Principal Entertainment, 130 West 42nd St., New York, NY 10019.


Actress and producer.

Awards, Honors:

Theatre World Award, outstanding Broadway debut, 1996, Antoinette Perry Award nomination and Outer Critics Circle Award, both best featured actress in a play, Drama Desk Award nomination, and Drama League Award, all for Seven Guitars; Obie Award, Village Voice, and Drama Desk Award nomination, outstanding featured actress in a play, 1999, and Audelco Award, Audience Development Committee, all for Everybody's Ruby; Antoinette Perry Award and Drama Desk Award, both best featured actress in a play, 2001, for King Hedley II; Independent Spirit Award nomination, best supporting actress, Independent Features Project, 2003, for Antwone Fisher; Black Reel Award nomination, best supporting actress in a theatrical film, 2003, for Solaris; Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award nomination, and Audelco Award, all best actress, and Obie Award, outstanding performance, all 2004, Lucille Lortel Award nomination, outstanding lead actress, League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers, 2005, and Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, 2005, all for Intimate Apparel.


Television Appearances; Series:

Nurse Lynnette Peeler, City of Angels, CBS, 2000.

Donna Emmett, a recurring role, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (also known as Law & Order: SVU and Special Victims Unit), NBC, between 2003 and 2006.

Hannah Crane, Century City, CBS, 2004.

Agent Jan "Naj" Marlow, Traveler, ABC, 2007.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Platoon Sergeant Fanning, The Pentagon Wars, HBO, 1998.

Rosemary Allbright, Grace & Glorie, 1998.

Robin, The Shrink Is In, Oxygen, 2000.

Dottie, Amy & Isabelle (also known as Oprah Winfrey Presents: Amy and Isabelle), ABC, 2001.

Molly Crane, Jesse Stone: Stone Cold (also known as Robert B. Parker's "Stone Cold" and Stone Cold), CBS, 2005.

Molly Crane, Jesse Stone: Night Passage, CBS, 2006.

Molly Crane, Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise, CBS, 2006.

Diane Barrino, Life Is Not a Fairytale: The Fantasia Barrino Story (also known as The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairytale), Lifetime, 2006.

Molly Crane, Jesse Stone: Sea Change, CBS, 2007.

Television Appearances; Pilots:

Father Lefty (also known as Lefty), CBS, 2002.

Fort Pit, NBC, 2007.

Agent Jan "Naj" Marlow, Traveler, ABC, 2007.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Woman, "Moby Greg," NYPD Blue, ABC, 1996.

Mrs. Stapleton, "Smack Is Back," New York Undercover (also known as Uptown Undercover), Fox, 1996.

Celeste, "Blast from the Past," Judging Amy, CBS, 2000.

Dr. Eleanor Weiss, "You Can Count on Me," Providence, NBC, 2001.

Pam Estrin, "The Men from the Boys," The Guardian, CBS, 2001.

Margo Rodriguez, "Act Brave," Third Watch, NBC, 2001.

Officer Terry Randolph, "Badge," Law & Order: Criminal Intent (also known as Law & Order: CI), NBC, 2002.

Dr. Georgia Davis, "Remembrance," The Division (also known as Heart of the City), Lifetime, 2002.

Attorney Campbell, "The Execution of Catherine Willows," CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (also known as C.S.I., CSI: Las Vegas, CSI Weekends, and Les experts), CBS, 2002.

"Inside ‘Solaris’," HBO First Look, HBO, 2002.

Stevie Morgan, "Third Strike," Hack, CBS, 2003.

Aisha Crenshaw, "We the People," The Practice, ABC, 2003.

Victoria Rossi, "Shock," Threshold, CBS, 2005.

Audrey Williams, "White Balance," Without a Trace (also known as W.A.T.), CBS, 2006.

Also appeared in an episode of For the People, Lifetime.

Television Appearances; Other:

The 55th Annual Tony Awards (special), PBS and CBS, 2001.

Florence, Poof! (special), PBS, 2002.

The 100 Most Unexpected TV Moments (miniseries), TV Land, 2005.

Film Appearances:

Nurse, The Substance of Fire, Miramax, 1996.

Moselle, Out of Sight, Universal, 1998.

Social worker, Traffic (also known as Traffice—Die macht des kartells), Gramercy/USA Films, 2000.

Policewoman, Kate & Leopold, Miramax, 2001.

Sybil, Far from Heaven (also known as Loin du paradis), Focus Features, 2002.

Eva May, Antwone Fisher, Fox Searchlight, 2002.

Helen Gordon, Solaris, Twentieth Century-Fox, 2002.

Grandma, Get Rich or Die Tryin', Paramount, 2005.

(Uncredited) Marilyn Richards, Syriana, Warner Bros., 2005.

Black Theater Today (documentary), 2005.

Tonya Neely, The Architect, Magnolia Pictures, 2006.

Mother in hospital, World Trade Center, Paramount, 2006.

Detective Parker, Disturbia, Paramount/DreamWorks, 2007.

Jean, Nights in Rodanthe, Warner Bros., 2008.

Film Work:

Co-executive producer, Driving Fish (short film), Red Wall Productions, 2002.

Stage Appearances:

(Broadway debut) Vera, Seven Guitars, Walter Kerr Theatre, 1996.

Eleanor, God's Heart, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, New York City, 1997.

Ruby McCollum (title role), Everybody's Ruby, New York Shakespeare Festival, Anspacher Theatre, Public Theatre, New York City, 1999.

Lychorida, bawd, and second fisher, Pericles, New York Shakespeare Festival, Martinson Hall, Public Theatre, New York City, 1999.

King Headly II, Virginia Theatre, New York City, 2001.

Esther, Intimate Apparel, Roundabout Theatre Company, Laura Pels Theatre, New York City, 2004, and Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 2004.

Also appeared as Denise, As You Like It, New York Shakespeare Festival, Public Theatre, New York City; in Coming of the Hurricane, Crossroads Theatre; Hecuba, American Conservatory Theatre; House of Lear, New York Shakespeare Festival; Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Measure for Measure, and Red Noses, all Trinity Repertory Theatre, Providence, RI; The Rover, Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, MN; and The Vagina Monologues, Westside Theatre Downstairs, New York City.


Audio Books:

Reader, Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother, by Dennis Love and Stacy Brown, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2002.



Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 34, Gale, 2002.


American Theatre, September, 2004, p. 26.

Essence, December, 2004, p. 152.

Playbill, March 14, 2004.