Viola Davis on 'How to Get Away with Murder' Role: "A Real Woman on TV in the Middle of This Pop Fiction"

"I want the work to reflect my level of gifts and talent. I don't want it to reflect my color or my sex or my age. That's what I want."

"It was one of those things where I had no precedent for this role. I had never seen any one 49-year-old, dark-skinned woman, who is not a size two be a sexualized role in TV, film, anywhere, ever," explained How to Get Away with Murder actress Viola Davis during The Hollywood Reporter's Drama Actress Roundtable. "And then all of a sudden, this role came to me."

The two-time Tony award winner confesses to experiencing terror and discomfort after first accepting the role for the ABC drama. "To say it was fear would be an understatement. It was bigger than fear. When I actually saw myself for the first time in the pilot episode, I was mortified. I saw the fake eyelashes. I saw the wig. I was like, 'are you kidding me? Who is going to believe this?' "

Davis describes her trepidation being followed by an 'ah-ha!' moment. "This is your moment to not type cast yourself," she told herself, "to actually play a woman who is sexualized, and actually do your work as an actor — your investigative work as an actor — to find out who this woman is. And woman up! And put a real woman on TV who is smack-dab in the middle of this pop fiction."

The dual Oscar nominee explains the Murder role as her, "way to say welcome to womanhood," and most importantly, "a chance for [her] to use [her] craft." She goes beyond her work on Murder to touch upon the legacy of her past projects and those she is currently developing (Davis is developing a film on Harriet Tubman, a piece she is both producing and set to star in). "I want the work to reflect my level of gifts and talent. I don't want it to reflect my color or my sex or my age. That's what I want."

She joined in the discussion of sex scenes, as her Murder character is highly sexualized. "I am just a human being at the end of the day, and I am doing something very private in public. And the nerves and the insecurities and all of that I feel, are a part of Annalise. I cannot will her to be made of Teflon, before she dives on top of a very hot looking guy."

Davis joined fellow actresses Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Honourable Woman), Ruth Wilson (The Affair), Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Jessica Lange (American Horror Story: Freak Show), and Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), for the Roundtable, where they discussed the dynamic and powerful dramatic roles currently being offered for women on television.

The full Drama Actress Roundtable aired on Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday, Aug. 2, at 11 a.m. EST on Sundance TV. Tune in this Sunday for the next episode.

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