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Murder's mom comes to town

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ABC

It’s all about family matters in the Feb. 19 episode of ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder as veteran actress Cicely Tyson guest-stars as Annalise Keating’s (Viola Davis) mother. Tyson and HTGAWM creator Pete Nowalk give us an exclusive preview.

When How to Get Away With Murder star Viola Davis pitched showrunner Pete Nowalk the idea of introducing her character’s mother, she came prepared with her dream casting: Cicely Tyson. “That sounds brilliant,” Nowalk says he responded. “I can’t imagine anyone else.” Fortunately, the Oscar-nominated actress accepted the offer. “I was rather surprised, but delighted,” says Tyson, 81, who also had a role in The Help but didn’t share screen time with Davis, whom she calls an “extraordinary human being.” That’s not exactly how her Murder character, Ophelia, feels about daughter Annalise, though. “She knew this child would be somebody special, but the end result of that achievement is not what Ophelia expected,” Tyson says. “She did not expect her to go off and marry a white man. As a matter of fact, she warned her about him, and she didn’t expect her to go off and ignore her family. Needless to say, it was and is a very painful experience for her.”

Ophelia will also contend with suspicions that Annalise may have had a hand in Sam’s (Tom Verica) death, though Ophelia’s response may be an unexpected one. “She asks her and tells her that it wouldn’t make any difference to her,” Tyson says. Ultimately, Ophelia’s appearance (slated for just one episode at the moment) will provide a wealth of information about Annalise’s past. “You get a sense of where some of Annalise’s rough edges come [from],” Nowalk says. “Ophelia brings out a very raw, childlike side to Annalise.” (Fitting for an episode titled “Mama’s Here Now.”) The showrunner promises, “We’ll discover where [her] wounds came from and what Annalise’s original scar is.”