Viola Davis: Biography at a Glance

  • Won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Fences
  • Received Academy Award nominations for her roles in The Help and Doubt
  • The first African American woman to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama series for her role as 'Annalise DeWitt' on the ABC series How to Get Away With Murder
  • Two-time Tony Award winner for King Hedley II and Fences
  • Named one of TIME magazine's "Most Influential People" in 2012 and 2017
  • From the lectern, she discusses her career and how overcoming adversities and preconceived restrictions have contributed to becoming a stronger woman

 

Biography

Viola Davis is the first black actress to win Tony (“Fences” & “King Hedley II”), Oscar (“Fences”) and Emmy (“How to Get Away with Murder”) awards. Davis is currently starring in the ABC series “How to Get Away with Murder,” from ABC Studios and Shondaland. The series, which drew 14.24 million viewers during its 2014 premiere, is a sexy, suspense-driven legal thriller that centers on ambitious law students and their brilliant and mysterious criminal defense professor. In 2015, Davis received the Screen Actors Guild Award for “Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series,” in addition to becoming the first African American actress to receive the Primetime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.” In 2016, she received her second Screen Actors Guild Award and her second Emmy nomination for portraying Annalise Keating.

Davis was most recently seen staring in Fox’s “Widows.”  Directed by Steve McQueen and written by Gillian Flynn, the film follows a group of widows after their criminal husbands are killed during a heist. This year, she will star in Amazon Studio’s family comedy, “Troop Zero,” directed by Bert & Bertie.

As her credits attest, Davis is in constant demand for a wide variety of roles. In 2017, she was seen in “Fences” for Paramount Pictures. The film was directed and produced by Denzel Washington and was adapted from August Wilson’s play. Davis garnered Critics’ Choice, BAFTA, Golden Globe, SAG and an Academy awards in the category of “Best Supporting Actress” for her portrayal of ‘Rose Maxson.’ Davis also starred with Washington in the 2010 revival of the play on Broadway. Her performance earned her a Tony Award, as well as the Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award. “Fences” was also honored with the Tony Award for “Best Play Revival” and was the most profitable theater production of the year.

In 2016, Davis was seen in the highly anticipated “Suicide Squad” with Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto. The film broke the all-time opening record for August with $135 million. In 2015, Davis starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in “Lila & Eve,” the story of two mothers whose children are killed in drive-by shootings. Davis also took the reins as a producer on this film, along with her husband, Julius Tennon, for their company, JuVee Productions.

In 2012, Davis and her husband founded JuVee, with its focus being to give a voice to the voiceless through strong, impactful and culturally relevant narratives. The Los Angeles-based and artist driven company produces film, television and digital content across all of entertainment.  As their first project, they optioned the rights to Ann Weisgarber’s 2008 book The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, which will produced by Amazon. Also with Amazon, JuVee will be producing “Wild Seed” based on the Wild Seed novel by science fiction legend Octavia E. Butler. JuVee Productions’ other projects include “Girls Like Us” an adaptation of Rachael Lloyd’s memoir which chronicles her falling prey to the world of commercial sex exploitation and escaping to dedicate her life to fight that very industry and “Emanuel” alongside Stephen Curry and his production company Unanimous Media. Directed by Brian Ivie, “Emanuel” is a documentary about the 2015 mass murder at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.   Additionally, JuVee will be producing a drama starring Davis and Lupita Nyong’o entitled “Woman King.” Based on true events, the film tells the story of a general of an all-female West African military and her daughter. JuVee’s TV projects include a docuseries entitled “The Last Defense” that explores and exposes flaws in the American justice system and “Black Don’t Crack” an ABC comedy executive produced by Larry Wilmore.

In 2012, Davis received an Oscar nomination for “Best Actress” for her portrayal of the heart-broken but stoic ‘Aibileen Clark’ in “The Help.”  Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer also starred.  The film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, directed by Tate Taylor, was set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the turbulent 1960s, and was also nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Picture.” Davis won the Screen Actors Guild and Critics’ Choice “Best Actress” Awards for her portrayal of ‘Aibileen,’ and was also nominated for a Golden Globe and British Academy Film Award.  The film won a Screen Actors Guild Award for “Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture” and a Critics’ Choice Award for “Best Acting Ensemble.”   

In 2008, Davis starred in the critically revered film “Doubt” based on John Patrick Shanley’s Tony Award winning play, where she portrayed ‘Mrs. Miller,’ the mother of a young boy who piques the fascination of a Catholic priest.  Davis shared the screen alongside Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Davis was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and an Academy Award for “Best Supporting Actress.” The National Board of Review recognized Davis with the Breakthrough Award and she was also honored by the Santa Barbara Film Festival as a Virtuoso.

In 2013, film audiences saw Davis in four vastly different projects.  In the film adaptation of the popular science fiction novel “Ender’s Game,” Davis portrayed military psychologist ‘Major Gwen Anderson,’ opposite Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin and Harrison Ford.  In Warner Bros.’ “Prisoners,” a dark thriller about two families shattered by the kidnapping of their daughters on Thanksgiving Day, she starred alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard and Paul Dano. In “Beautiful Creatures,” Davis joined Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons in telling the tale of two teens confronting a multi-generational curse. Warner Brothers and Alcon produced the film. 

That same year, Davis had a six-episode arc in the Showtime’s hit series “United States of Tara,” written by Academy-Award winner Diablo Cody.  Davis portrayed ‘Lynda P. Frazier,’ a wildly eccentric artist and friend to ‘Tara’ (Toni Collette). 

Davis won the Independent Spirit Award for “Best Supporting Female” in 2003 for her performance in “Antwone Fisher.” Additional film credits include, “Get On Up,” “Blackhat,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” “Knight and Day,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “Madea Goes to Jail,” “Law Abiding Citizen,” “Disturbia,” “Eat, Pray, Love,” “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” “The Architect,” “Never Back Down” and “Far From Heaven.” She worked with director Steven Soderbergh on “Solaris,” “Traffic” and “Out of Sight,” and in “Syriana,” which Soderbergh produced for director Stephen Gaghan.

In 2004, Davis starred in the stage in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Lynn Nottage’s play, “Intimate Apparel,” directed by Daniel Sullivan.  She garnered the highest honors for an off-Broadway play, including “Best Actress” awards from the Drama Desk, the Drama League, the Obie and the Audelco Award. Davis was nominated for the Lucille Lortel Award as well.  She reprised her role at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles where she was recognized with the Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics and the Garland Awards.

In 2001, Davis was awarded a Tony for “Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play” for her portrayal of ‘Tonya’ in “King Hedley II.” She commanded the attention of critics and audiences alike for her portrayal of “Tonya,” a 35-year old woman who is forced to fight for the right to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Davis also received a Drama Desk Award in recognition of her work.

A graduate of The Julliard School, Davis received an Honorary Doctorate during its 109th Commencement Ceremony and she also holds an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degree from her alma mater, Rhode Island College. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

“Authentic. Honest. Raw. Hands down the most impactful speaker I have ever seen. Viola represents the best of humanity despite coming out of extremely tough circumstances. I was so moved by her story and her delivery kept the entire room captivated. Her message of owning our stories is one that resonates with anyone. Viola gave all of us the gift of some great insights and times to use in our every day lives.”

Watermark Conference for Women Silicon Valley

“Viola was superb yesterday in her luncheon keynote address! Thanks for all of your help with her arrangements. I hope that she had a good time while she was here, because she made a speech worthy of an Academy Award.”

Bryant University

“Everything went fantastic. I hope that Ms. Davis and her family felt welcomed and enjoyed their time in Portland and participating in our event. The impact of her keynote was humbling and inspiring. She left our audience filled with hope and a charge to help change the world. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Concordia University

“Viola really blew us and the entire audience away with her lecture. She really struck a chord with a highly activism-minded student audience, and she was wonderful in a small reception following the event. Everything she said was made even more personal simply by her personal history and experience in this area of Rhode Island. Thank you so much for the work and support you put in through this process, we are so happy that Viola was able to join us at Brown!”

Brown University

“Viola was amazing! I was moved to tears several times during her speech and I think much of the audience was as well. She was very gracious at the reception and we all loved getting to interact with her. I've been walking around campus today and so many students have been chatting to their friends about how incredible she was. One girl in my communications class this morning even brought up parts of Viola's speech in a class discussion on diversity in the media - Viola's words clearly impacted the school and is making everyone think. I'm so glad she was able to come to campus! Thank you so much for helping us make that possible.”

Wake Forest University

“Viola hit it out of the park! She’s blew the roof off and everyone is thrilled.”

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