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Viola Davis to Star in ABC Drama 'How to Get Away With Murder'

The two-time Oscar nominee will play a law professor and criminal defense attorney in the drama from executive producers Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers.

Viola Davis Portrait - P 2014
Courtesy of PMKBNC
Viola Davis

Viola Davis is headed for Shondaland.

The two-time Academy Award nominee (The Help, Doubt) will star in ABC's Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers drama pilot How to Get Away With Murder, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

The sexy, suspense-driven legal thriller centers on ambitious law students and their brilliant and mysterious criminal defense professor who become entangled in a murder plot that could rock their entire university and change the course of their lives.

STORY: TV Pilots 2014: The Complete Guide

Davis will play Annalise DeWitt, the law professor and renowned criminal defense attorney described as brilliant, passionate, creative, charismatic and ruthless in the courtroom and the classroom. The character is an excellent manipulator of people, particularly her law students -- five of whom she selects to work with her at the firm. Married to a psychology professor and having an affair that no one can know about, she calls her Criminal Law 100 class "How to Get Away With Murder."

Grey's Anatomy's Peter Nowalk will pen the script and executive produce the ABC Studios drama alongside Shondaland's Rhimes and Beers (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal). Michael Offer will direct the pilot, which will film in Philadelphia. Davis joins a cast that also includes Matt McGorry, Aja Naomi King, Alfie Enoch, Karla Souza, Jack Falahee and new addition Charlie Weber (repped by Resolution, Vanguard Management and Gregory Slewett). 

For Davis, the role marks her return to television following roles on Showtime's United States of Tara, NBC's Law & Order: SVU and City of Angels, among others. Should How to Get Away move forward, it would mark Davis' first full-time foray into series television. On the feature side, her credits include Ender's Game, Beautiful Creatures, Eat Pray Love and State of Play. Davis, who most recently wrapped indie Lila & Eve, is repped by CAA, Lasher Group and Lichter Grossman.

For Shondaland, this marks the production company's second drama with an African-American lead after ABC's breakout hit Scandal. The series, currently in its third season, has made star Kerry Washington an awards season regular with Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, among others.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit