Viola Davis has been speaking openly and honestly about aspects of her private life for the first time in two interviews. Read on for what we learnt…
If you missed Viola Davis’ fascinating interview with British TV presenter Maverine Cole for Fane online and you’ve not yet watched the iconic interview with the Hollywood actress and television legend Oprah Winfrey Oprah + Viola: A Netflix Special Event then you’re in for a treat.
Both hosts spoke to the Oscar-winning star and most celebrated Black actress in Oscar’s history. Marv’s was done online while Oprah invited Viola to her home in Hawaii for an intimate and honest conversation to discuss her new memoir Finding Me. The book impacted Oprah after she read the first paragraph and she instantly knew it had to be one of her Book Club recommendations.
Neither were interviews about what it’s like being Viola now, a household movie-star; but a chance to hear about her life before the camera, the battles that have shaped her and the inner strength she uncovered that guided her to living as her authentic self. Showing us her vulnerability, passion and personality, the interviews are avid viewing.
Here are 10 things we discovered about Viola from watching her interviews with Marv and Oprah.
Lockdown inspired Viola’s book
While many of us adjusted to a new way of life at home during lockdown, Viola used the opportunity of being in isolation to reflect on her own experiences of feeling isolated over the years. These memories and experiences inspired her to write her memoir Finding Me, which starts at the humble beginnings of her childhood, one that is unexpected for a woman who has grown to reach such global heights.
Her struggle was real
All too often we hear the term ‘the struggle is real,’ used to describe mundane incidents, but for Viola, struggle was her reality. Racism, addiction and abuse were all part of her daily life growing up. She witnessed her violent father abuse her mother and during the interview with Oprah, recounted a time when the situation got so severe, she pleaded with her father to stop, as she feared he would kill her mother.
Being bullied was her norm
Outside of home, life wasn’t any easier. Viola was bullied at school, received constant racist abuse and would run home every day to escape being physically abused by other children, who would regularly throw things at her. Yet it was also at school that she found some salvation through a teacher that looked out for her and even gave her second-hand clothes when she found out that Viola often didn’t have enough clothes to attend school.
She escaped a life of poverty
Viola’s childhood was vastly different to the life she’s created for herself as an adult. She grew up trapped in a poverty cycle. Her family home was infested with rats, and they couldn’t afford gas or electricity. Viola and her siblings were always hungry and often couldn’t get to school because the issues at home were so bad.
She followed her teenage dreams
Viola was 14 when she understood that acting was her way out of the struggles of her childhood. She wanted to pursue drama to give her purpose and direction and clung on to these dreams as though her life depended on them, admitting: “I needed a dream like I needed food and water.”
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She had to come to terms with personal shame
Shame became something that haunted Viola as she grew up and transitioned into an adult trying to find her place in the world. At school, she struggled with personal hygiene and was once called into the school office because of her smell. Hygiene wasn’t something she was aware of as at home she didn’t have soap. She realised early on that her situation was different to others, and this filled her with shame, not knowing what to do about it.
Fame wasn’t what she thought it would be
Though Viola had her sights set on being a successful actress, the fame side of the journey wasn’t what she expected. She admitted to Oprah that she thought she’d experience more joy and satisfaction just like how in the fairy tale, Cinderella’s life becomes complete when her Prince comes along, but she realised this wasn’t the case. She felt she was simply a ‘commodity’ for other people so she had to dig deep inside to find out what her purpose and motivation in life truly was.
Therapy helped Viola focus on her future
Going to therapy is often stigmatised, especially when a celebrity is receiving help but Viola spoke candidly about how therapy has been a powerful tool for her, especially when she was at a crossroads in her life, unsure of what to do next: “you can stay there and be swallowed or you can move on. I choose to move on.”
She transformed her life
Viola described her transformation from being a child weighed down with trauma to being a successful actress like a phoenix rising from the ashes. The hardships she had been through gave her the strength to never give up: “it’s part of your journey, finding yourself is going back to these caves of trauma – seeing all the things that caused you pain.”
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Vision boards, journaling and meditation are all recognised as things we can all do to help make our dreams come true, but for Viola, she manifested the life partner of her dreams by using prayer. Viola began praying to God for her ideal man with traits including his physical appearance and spirituality, someone who shared her interest in going to church, and within weeks Julian Tennon stepped into her life and they’ve now been married for 20 years.
Now aged 56 Viola’s career is still peaking, her memoir and interviews with Oprah and Marv have opened up her incredible story to the world. It’s one that keeps unfolding with much interest and we can’t wait to keep turning the pages to see what Viola does next.
Oprah Winfrey Oprah + Viola: A Netflix Special Event is available to watch on Netflix now. Viola’s memoir Finding Me is out now too.
This article was written by Momtaz Begum-Hossain