8:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'How to Get Away With Murder' Postmortem: Viola Davis on Lila's Killer, New Whodunit and Season 2
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season finale of ABC's How to Get Away With Murder.]
ABC's breakout drama How to Get Away With Murder ended its roller coaster freshman season with a revealing finale that (almost) completely closed the book on one murder mystery while simultaneously setting up a brand new whodunit for its likely and semi-official second season.
During the two-hour installment, Annalise's (Viola Davis) muscle man Frank (Charlie Weber) was revealed to have been the one who killed Lila (Megan West) — resolving the seasonlong search for her killer. However, flashbacks revealed that Frank strangled Lila after Sam (Tom Verica) — Annalise's late husband and the previous suspected in her death — called in a favor and asked him to do the dirty deed as a form of repayment. But repayment for what? That's just one of a new slate questions that are left on the table for the Pete Nowalk-created series from executive producer Shonda Rhimes.
Meanwhile, the Keating Five — who still don't know Frank killed Lila — continue to look at Rebecca (Katie Findlay) as their prime suspect. After tying her up and questioning her, flashbacks reveal that Wes' (Alfred Enoch) love interest discovered her friend's body already in the water tank and hid there in an effort to hide from witnesses who could have connected her to the crime. But just when Annalise and the her mischievous students think things couldn't get worse, Rebecca — after texting "eggs 911 lawyer's house" to a mystery person — seemingly breaks free and escapes. Only that's what Annalise tells everyone. In reality, Annalise lied after finding Rebecca's dead body under the stairs. What's more: both Frank — who is aware of Rebecca's death — and Annalise think the other actually killed her. (And Annalise has no idea that Frank killed Lila or that it was at the request of her late husband.) Rebecca's death opens up a brand new search for yet another killer and delicate dance between Frank and Annalise.
Not to be outdone, the jam-packed finale also revealed that Connor's (Jack Falahee) boyfriend Olivier (Conrad Ricamora) is HIV positive; and that ADA Emily Sinclair (Sarah Burns) is questioning both Annalise and Asher (Matt McGorry) in Sam's murder case.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with star Davis to talk about the events of the finale, her theories about Frank and Sam as well as why it was important to depict Annalise's traumatic backstory and more.
Frank is revealed to be Lila's killer. How soon did you know that and were you surprised?
All of us were surprised and blown away. We each had our theoriesand it became a running joke. I would look at Liza Weil (Bonnie) and say, "I know you did it and you're going down!" Then I would have my doubts and I would look at Karla Souza (Laurel) and say, "No, you're a little bit too goodie two shoes." By the time we saw who had done it we were shocked. During the shoot everybody just gasped. Charlie Weber was so excited. He thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Frank has a lot of mystery about him. The writers are going to explore that much more in the future: how he came to work with Annalise and what his background was. Charlie and I have tried to theorize as much as we could with what Frank and Annalise's past is and what their relationship is. But it's network television and just like the season finale, sometimes it's not until you are in the room that you get to fill in the blanks.
Is Annalise aware that Frank not only killed Lila but did so for Sam (Tom Verica)?
I am operating under the idea that Annalise doesn't know. I thought it was a much bolder choice but I don't know. That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of things Frank did for Annalise that may have been just as despicable but for that particular incident I am operating that Annalise doesn't know.
How much do you know about season two at this point? [ABC hasn't officially renewed Murder, but teased a fall return in its on-air promo after the episode.]
At this point, absolutely nothing. I have given suggestions just like the rape scene and the Cicely Tyson scenes.) That's all me and character background that I filled in. But in terms of plot, I don't know a lot. I hope they explore characters more and relationships more. I will certainly interject some ideas. You have to have the entry and the "Oh my God" moments.
Do you think Frank did this favor for Sam as a bid to protect Annalise? Do you think Frank could have romantic feelings for her?
I love that idea, I never thought of that! That is very exciting. When you explore the kind of unusual relationship — like with Bonnie and Annalise — those create the best OMG moments, especially when you think that a relationship may be going in another direction. It's a whole other mystery that's exposed that adds another layer to the character. It's also something I have never seen on network TV. Those types of relationships can only take place in Shondaland but I would love for that to be the case. I don't know what they are going to explore with the history of Rebecca and Lila in terms of Sam and these relationships with Lila. But Frank and Annalise? I'll go for it!
Where do you think Frank's loyalties are?
I hope that he does have a loyalty to Annalise. I think they all do and only because I hold the purse strings. I think his loyalty is to Annalise. If he didn't have any loyalty I think that would make him more of a twirling mustache type of villain. I see him as being very loyal because whenever you see an episode where Annalise gets in a bind, he's there saying, "Is there anything you want me to do? What do you want me to do? How do you want me to handle this?" He and Bonnie are always there, no matter how badly Annalise treats him — and she treat him kind of screwy. I feel like he has Annalise's loyalty and hopefully she has his.
Do you have a theory why Frank would owe Sam?
First of all, when you see everything play out with Frank and Sam, you see my reaction to it. It's something I don't know. It's not like you see a scene with me having a reaction to Frank strangling Lila. My fantasy is that basically Sam stole my relationship. It's like breaking into somebody's bank account. I think he understands what Frank is to Annalise and that Frank has probably done some improper and unethical things in the past to help keep her in that position. So when he was in a bind, he used that relationship. My fantasy would be that Frank did it to somehow protect Annalise and maybe some money was exchanged. I think it is as simple as that. Now, I can be mistaken; I don't know where the writers are going to go. We shot two different endings for the last episode.
Rebecca has been killed, likely setting off a new whodunit mystery. With Annalise first to notice Rebecca was "gone," do you think that makes her the prime suspect in her death?
Yes, it absolutely does. I don't think she was complicit in it but I don't think Annalise was complicit in Sam's [death], either and she was in the house!
When Annalise and Frank have that moment over Rebecca's body, is it a case of them trying to convince the other that they did it?
If you go into any prison today everybody will say, "I didn't do it" even if you found the DNA there. So as an actor, I made a choice that it was a total surprise to me. But at the end of the day, I don't trust Frank. It's a path I created for Annalise because of her past, which involves sexual abuse, but I don't think she has much trust in anyone. I thinks she wants to desperately but doesn't.
After Annalise tells Wes to "say it and you'll believe it," is she trying to protect Wes or keep him from cracking?
Both. I think she is trying to keep him from cracking and she is trying to get him into survival mode, which I think is where she is. She is trying to clean up her mess. She is trying to get him to man up and control Rebecca, who is totally out of control.
There's still the mystery of Rebecca's text, "Eggs 911 lawyer's house." Is it a challenge to act this stuff out without knowing where it's headed?
Rebecca has so many secrets, especially her relationship with Lila. That's been the biggest challenge: that you don't know what is going to happen. There is only a certain level of control that you have over the script and the narratives. There are last-minute scenes, last-minute inserts, and not quite knowing where they are going to go with the murder mystery. But as an actor, you have to make a choice, and you can make the wrong choice and you have to make it work. Imagine making a choice in the second episode that you had nothing to do with the murder but they the 15th episode you find out you did. That has been the biggest challenge but I try to control Annalise, her backstory and her foundation to keep her interesting to people and somehow grounded in truth. I do have some control in that truth — like she has a mother and sexual abuse her in past. She was married to Sam who was her psychiatrist. There are certain things like that I have control over but it's been very difficult.
What was it like to shoot the episode with Cicely Tyson? How did you land on her to play Annalise's mother?
That was my idea. I wanted an episode that was very character revealing, very powerful in the midst of everyone going "Who killed Sam" and "Who killed Lila." I always feel like that is the greatest surprise. I told [showrunner] Pete Nowalk and [director/exec producer] Bill D'Elia my ideas of where I think Annalise is coming from with a history of sexual abuse. I know what the aftermath of sexual abuse is I work with the Rape Treatment Center in L.A. and I thought it fit her character. I feel like you know about that if a family member came to visit and preferably a mother who talks a lot. If she talks a lot she can say my whole history without it coming from my mouth and without sounding too dramatic. They said, "OK, great. Who do you want to play your mother." I said Miss Tyson, my No. 1 choice.
How has Murder helped change the kinds of roles you are being offered now? What was it about DC's Suicide Squad and Amanda Waller that appealed to you?
As a comic book and Wonder Woman fan, I love the whole DC Comics universe. I traded comic books as a kid so all of that appeals to me. When you dream about being an actor as a kid, that's what you dream about. That's like play acting: being the superhero, getting the gun; it plays into that fantasy. How to Get Away with Murder changed my exposure. I don't know if it changed the quality of roles as much as it changed the exposure. I mean certainly Amanda Waller is a fabulous character.
What did you think about the Murder finale? Were you surprised by Lila's killer? Who do you think killed Rebecca? Share your theories in the comments below.