February 12, 2009 / 11:17 AM / 11 years ago

Just A Minute With: "Doubt" Oscar nominee Viola Davis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Ever since Viola Davis earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress for her 12-minute scene in John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt,” people have dubbed her the discovery of the year.

Actress Viola Davis arrives at the nominees luncheon for the 81st annual Academy Awards in Beverly Hills, California in this February 2, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Phil McCarten/Files

But she has a long history of stealing the show.

A graduate of Rhode Island College and Julliard, she won a Tony in 2001 for August Wilson’s “King Headley II.” She’s a favorite of director Steven Soderbergh, having appeared in 1998’s “Out of Sight,” 2000’s “Traffic,” and 2002’s “Solaris.”

Davis also earned rave reviews in Denzel Washington’s 2002 directing debut “Antwone Fisher” as the title character’s drug-addicted mother, even though she didn’t have any dialogue and only appeared in a single scene.

She spoke to Reuters about her role in “Doubt” and playing a reformed prostitute in Tyler Perry’s “Madea Goes to Jail.”

Q: How did you first decide to become an actress?

A: “When I was six years-old I saw Cicely Tyson play Jane Pittman in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” and I thought she looked like my mom. She has full lips and dark skin, an afro, and she aged from 15 to 105, 106. I was mesmerized and I just wanted to do that.”

Q: What was the biggest challenge of portraying a mother who turns a blind eye to possible sexual abuse in “Doubt”?

A: “Her sacrifice in the end was extraordinary to me, because it’s not a choice that you expect a mother to make in the every day. It’s a ‘Sophie’s choice.’ It’s one that’s made when you have very little resources and you’re up against a wall. And in my every day, I’m not up against a wall.”

Q: So you were drawing from your imagination?

A: “Well, I was drawing from my life, too, from my mom. We were the only black family in Central Falls, Rhode Island in 1965. She had to fight doctors who wanted to experiment on us when we were sick, and she had to fight parents who saw us as thugs and bad influences on their children, though we were just rambunctious, creative kids. She had to fight teachers who just didn’t see our intelligence at times. So I drew on that?”

Q: What inspired you to jump into the world of Tyler Perry with “Madea Goes to Jail”?

A: “Well, my father passed away two years ago, and at his funeral was a woman, a friend of my mom’s, who prophesies over people. She held my hand and she said, ‘Tyler Perry is going to offer you a movie, and do not turn it down.’ And then last year, what happens but Tyler Perry offers me a movie! I was inspired by Tyler Perry’s story and how he is working outside of Hollywood — not relying on critics, not waiting for anyone to hand him anything. And that’s certainly a lesson that all of us can learn.”

Q: Is that a lesson with personal significance?

A: “Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s my life story, growing up in poverty and I’m always inspired by people who have to make something out of nothing. I think that that’s a mark of really strong character. I’m drawn to people like that always in my life as friends, as a spouse, people that I work with.

Q: Having already won a Tony, is the Oscar a bigger deal?

A: “You know, the Tony was a huge deal because I grew up watching the Tony Awards when I was a kid. But the Academy Awards, in terms of how people view you and your career, is a much bigger deal.”

Q: Does it come with a certain amount of pressure?

A: “Not really. Pressure to me is not having a job, and not having enough money for food, and having marital problems.

“Pressure is not choosing which roles are going to be the best roles to choose, and fielding offers, and finding out what kind of dress you’re going to wear and whether you’re going win the Academy Award or not. That’s not pressure! I see it as incredibly blessed to even have these choices.”

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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