Viola Davis on the “Power” That Comes With Success as an Actor

“A lot of people [who]want to be actors say, “OK, I’m not going to be typecast. I’m not going to let Hollywood put me in a box.” It’s like, “OK, you have to get a job first.” – Viola Davis

Oscar-and-Emmy-winning actress Viola Davis appears in her first movie since Denzel Washington‘s Fences with Widows from director Steve McQueen. In the film, Davis plays a woman who is forced to turn to a life of crime after her criminal husband’s death. Davis’ husband is played by Liam Neeson.

In an interview with NPR, Davis speaks about the opportunity that McQueen offered her and the “power” that comes with success in show business.

Because Neeson has recently become known for action roles in addition to his dramatic work, Davis points out that she isn’t typically an actress that would star opposite Neeson in one of those movies. She says:

If I approach any role like how Hollywood would want to look at it, like: “OK, I know what the demographic of the audience is going to want. They’re going to want this babe next to Liam Neeson, and she’s got to be light and funny.” I’m not the actress for that. I really am not — I’m not the go-to actress for that. But Steve McQueen definitely wanted to approach it realistically, which — I hate saying that because that’s how you’re supposed to approach a work anyway, realistically. It’s just that we’ve been saturated by fast food so much with filmmaking that we actually believe that that is the truth. But that’s how we approached it. I approached her like a real woman.

Davis looks at getting cast in a project like Widows as a result of a director like McQueen using his clout to cast her in his film — and that she’s not the type of actor who would give an inaccurate rosy picture of what the industry is truly like. She explains:

Most people don’t understand what it is that we do. They just don’t. You know, a lot of people [who]want to be actors say, “OK, I’m not going to be typecast. I’m not going to let Hollywood put me in a box.” It’s like, “OK, you have to get a job first.” And getting that job is the equivalent of winning the Powerball.

Directors have power. Hollywood has power. People who have the greenlight vote have power. It is a business that, until you’re on my level — and even at my level — your power and your choices are limited. That’s just the truth. If anyone says anything else, they’re lying to you. It’s like, we tell people bullshit because we want to build ourselves up, and we get off on you kind of standing up when I come to the stage. So I’ll say what you want to hear, so you could keep adoring me. But really, as much as I do I appreciate the adoration, I’m not going to sell you a bill of goods. It is a business about money. It’s like Denzel says: It [show business]should be called business show.

About Author

In college, overachiever Christopher McKittrick double-majored in Film and English because he loves to read, write, and watch movies. Since then Chris – who was born and raised on Long Island, New York and currently lives in Queens – has become a published author of fiction and non-fiction, a contributor to entertainment websites, and has spoken about literature, film, and comic books at various conferences across the country when he’s not getting into trouble in New York City (apparently it’s illegal to sleep on street corners...) For more information about Chris, visit his website here!

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