All the roles I’ve ever gotten, they’ve been wonderful, but so many have been down-trotting. [Whoopi Goldberg begins to lowly snicker in agreement because she’s had similar roles]. They’ve been women who are pretty much asexual. They haven’t been realized. They have careers but no names. So all of a sudden I was given the opportunity to play someone sexy, mysterious, someone complicated. It was a chance to use my craft, a chance to transform, a chance to surprise myself and the public. And I took it.
I know so many actors in their careers—in the 70s, 80s—fantastic actresses of color who have never been given the opportunity. I’m just so thankful it came to me at this point in my life. [Rosie Perez chimes in that Viola is intelligent, fierce, and sexy in the show].
Listen, I see myself as those things, but I have very rarely seen people who are a physical manifestation of me on the screen. When I was younger it was people like Cicely Tyson and Diahann Carroll who made me believe that I could do it. Then somewhere along the line they disappeared…
I’m glad that Shonda Rhimes saw me. She SAW me. She took me in when I interviewed with Oprah and I said, ‘No one’s ever going to cast me in a sexy role’ and Shonda looked at that interview and said, ‘Well, why not?’ I’m glad she said, ‘Why not?’ I think that’s what makes her a visionary, that’s why she’s special, that’s what makes her iconic.
[Whoopi Goldberg goes back the part of ‘she saw me’ and uses it as a segue to bring up the NY Times article that called Shonda Rhimes ‘an angry black woman’ and referred to Viola Davis as being ‘less classically beautiful than typical tv stars.’]
Beauty is subjective. I’ve heard that statement my entire life that being a dark skinned, black woman. [Whoopi Goldberg mmm hmms in agreement.] You hear it from the time you come out of the womb. Classically not beautiful is a fancy term of saying ugly, and denouncing you, erasing you. Now it worked when I was younger. It no longer works for me now.
It’s like Ruby Dee said, she wanted that hard to get beauty that comes from within—strength courage, and dignity. So many black women came out after that article and used the hashtag to show their face and step into who they are because they’re teaching a culture how to treat them and how to see them.
Really at the end of the day, you define you."