Family & Companions
Viola Davis' powerful and emotional performances in such plays as "Intimate Apparel" and "King Hedley II" made her a formidable presence on the American theater scene in the late 1990s and 2000s. Her profile in film and on television was somewhat lower at the time, though she worked steadily in supporting parts for directors ranging from Steven Soderbergh with "Out of Sight" (1998) and "Solaris" (2002) and Oliver Stone with "World Trade Center (2006), as well as in countless television series. Her turn as the morally ambiguous mother of a sexually abused student in "Doubt" (2008) gained near-universal acclaim from critics, as did her turn as a strong-willed Civil Rights-era maid in the smash hit "The Help" (2011). Her mainstream breakthrough came as Dr. Annalise Keating in the Shonda Rhimes-produced hit series "How To Get Away With Murder" (ABC 2014- ), for which she became the first African-American actress to win the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy. She then went on to major box office success as one of the stars of the DC Comics anti-hero spectacular "Suicide Squad" (2016), and won the Academy award for Best actress for her starring role in Denzel Washington's August Wilson adaptation "Fences" (2016). With each new role Davis demonstrated an impressive range that assured her considerable talent would be given the opportunity to shine for years to come.
Born Aug. 11, 1965 in St. Matthews, SC, Davis moved with her parents and three siblings to the predominately white neighborhood of Cedar Falls, RI for the majority of her childhood. The period was a difficult one for Davis and her family; father Dan's work as a horse groomer at local race tracks could not keep them from struggling with abject poverty, and in later interviews, Davis recalled experiencing racial prejudice from members of the community. Her participation in such programs as Upward Bound and Student Support Services did much to direct her energies on academic achievements. Frequent trips to movie theaters also helped to soothe her soul, as well as foster an interest in acting, which became her main focus by her late teens.
Davis immersed herself in theater at the prestigious Juilliard School, which afforded her extensive training. She later graduated from Rhode Island College with a degree in theater in 1988, and launched her career as a professional actor on stage and in films and on television. Her first screen role came with a bit part in the 1996 feature "The Substance of Fire." By 2001, she had worked her way up to a semi-recurring role on the short-lived medical drama "City of Angels" (CBS, 2000) for Steven Bochco. Cast frequently as an authority figure - Davis counted numerous police officers, lawyers and medical professionals among her TV and film characters - her feature work grew slowly in stature, most notably a series of fruitful collaborations with director Steven Soderbergh that began with "Out of Sight" (1998) and eventually included "Traffic" (2000) and "Solaris" (2003).
Her theater career followed a similar path, with rave reviews for her turn in August Wilson's "Seven Guitars" on Broadway in 1996 preceding a Tony win for Wilson's "King Hedley II" in 2001. Her performance as an unwed mother struggling to earn her right to an abortion also earned her a Drama Desk Award, and she would net a second one in 2004 as a shy, turn-of-the-century seamstress who gambles with love in the off-Broadway play "Intimate Apparel." The increased exposure from Davis' multiple awards seemed to help her standing in films and television; "Antwone Fisher" (2002) gave her screen time opposite Denzel Washington and an Independent Spirit Award nomination, and she was a regular cast member of the science fiction-themed law drama "Century City" (CBS, 2004) There were also recurring appearances in Tom Selleck's "Jesse Stone" mysteries for CBS with "Stone Cold," (2005) and as attorney Donna Emmett on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ), as well as supporting turns in big screen features like "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" (2005), "World Trade Center" (2006) and "Disturbia" (2007).
In 2008, Davis was cast as Mrs. Miller in the film adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Doubt." The mother of a young Catholic school student who was believed to have been molested by a popular priest, Miller casts doubt on the suspicions of Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) by suggesting that the relationship was not entirely one-sided. Her performance wowed critics across the country and earned Davis' numerous nominations and awards, including the Breakthrough Award (Female) from the National Board of Review and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. But her greatest honor came when she was nominated for her first Academy Award.
Davis switched gears with supporting roles in two big-budget action films - first, as a mayor whose city is under siege by a vengeful father (Gerard Butler) in "Law Abiding Citizen" (2009), followed by a small turn as a covert government agency director in the Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz romantic adventure "Knight & Day" (2010). She lent further support as Julia Roberts' best friend in the film adaptation of author Elizabeth Gilbert's cultural phenomenon "Eat Pray Love" (2010), as well as a dedicated psychiatrist in the cautionary tale about the dangers of online predators, "Trust" (2010), directed by David Schwimmer. On Broadway that same year, Davis won Tony and Drama Desk Awards for her performance in the revival of August Wilson's "Fences" prior to wowing audiences with her portrayal of Aibileen Clark, the longtime maid of a white household in "The Help" (2011). A comedy-drama based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett about race and class relations in the South of the 1960s, the film became one of the year's biggest sleeper hits and eventually generated an Oscar nod for Davis for Best Actress.
After a small part in the post-9/11 tale "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (2011), Davis starred with Maggie Gyllenhaal in the little-seen education-focused drama "Won't Back Down" (2012). The following year, she played a powerful spell-caster and resourceful librarian in the fantastical romance "Beautiful Creatures" (2013) and had a supporting role in the tense revenge drama "Prisoners" (2013) starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. After appearing in the art house romantic dramas "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her" (2013) and "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him" (2013), Davis co-starred in the high-profile science fiction adventure "Ender's Game" (2013) and critically acclaimed James Brown biopic "Get On Up" (2014). In 2014, she returned to television as wily college professor Dr. Annalise Keating in the Shonda Rhimes-produced mystery drama "How To Get Away With Murder" (ABC 2014- ). Her role in the enormously successful show won her an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, making her the first African-American to win that award. The following year, Davis co-starred in the cyber-espionage thriller "Blackhat" (2015) and the action drama "Lila & Eve" (2015). Davis next starred in and surved as a producer of indie courtroom drama "Custody" (2016) and co-starred in the blockbuster "Suicide Squad" (2016) as Amanda Waller, the government agent in charge of a rogue group of supervillains charged with protecting the United States. Her lead performance opposite Denzel Washington in the screen adaptation of August Wilson's "Fences" (2017) won Davis the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made TV debut on an episode of "NYPD Blue" (ABC)
Played a nurse in film debut "The Substance of Fire"
Made Broadway debut in August Wilson's "Seven Guitars"; earned a Tony nomination
Cast as Cary Elwes' secretary in HBO film "The Pentagon Wars"
Featured in Steven Soderbergh's "Out of Sight"
Played Nurse Lynnette Peeler on short-lived CBS drama "City of Angels"
Re-teamed with director Soderbergh to play a social worker in "Traffic"
Appeared in ABC telecast of Oprah Winfrey's "Amy & Isabelle," an adaptation of Elizabeth Strout's acclaimed debut novel
Portrayed Tonya in Broadway production of August Wilson's "King Hedley II"
Co-starred in third collaboration with Steven Soderbergh, "Solaris"
Featured in Todd Haynes-directed "Far from Heaven," starring Julianne Moore
Cast in Denzel Washington's directorial debut "Antwone Fisher"
Landed recurring role on NBC drama "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
Cast in short-lived CBS series "Century City" as lawyer Hannah Crane
Starred in off-Broadway production of "Intimate Apparel"
Played the grandma in "Get Rich or Die Tryin,'" directed by Jim Sheridan and starring 50 Cent
Played Fantasia's mother in Lifetime biopic "Life Is Not a Fairytale: The Fantasia Barrino Story"
Cast in short-lived ABC series "Traveler" as Agent Jan Marlow
Cast as Mrs. Miller in John Patrick Shanley's film adaptation of his play "Doubt"
Appeared as a minister in Tyler Perry's "Medea Goes to Jail"
Cast as a pathologist in thriller "State of Play"
Joined Denzel Washington for the Broadway revival of August Wilson's "Fences"
Played supporting role opposite Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in action/comedy "Knight and Day"
Co-starred with Julia Roberts in "Eat Pray Love," based on Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir
Cast opposite Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock in 9/11 drama "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," Stephen Daldry's feature adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel
Earned critical raves for playing strong-willed 1960s maid Aibileen Clark in film adaptation of bestseller "The Help"
Played a determined teacher alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal in inner city school drama "Won't Back Down"
Cast as seer Amma in feature adaptation of young adult fantasy novel "Beautiful Creatures"
Co-starred in fantasy thriller "Ender's Game"
Featured in the drama "Prisoners"
Co-starred in art house dramas "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: her" and "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him"
Co-starred in James Brown biopic "Get On Up"
Starred in ABC drama "How To Get Away With Murder"
Starred in action drama "Blackhat" opposite Chris Hemsworth
Starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in action thriller "Lila and Eve"
Nabbed a supporting role in the feature-length drama "Custody"
Appeared alongside Margot Robbie and Will Smith in the comic book adaptation "Suicide Squad"
Played the iconic abolitionist Harriet Tubman in a biographical film about Tubman's life
Starred in the Denzel Washington-directed film adaptation of the August Wilson play "Fences"
Nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her role in "How To Get Away With Murder"
Narrated the series "American Koko"
Won the 2017 Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for "Fences"
Her "How to Get Away with Murder" character featured in a crossover episode of "Scandal"
Cast as Veronica Rawlins in Steve McQueen's "Widows"