Ask Viola Davis to reveal the strangest part about becoming TV’s latest “it” gal, and she’ll say that’s easy: getting photographed going to Target.
The two-time Oscar nominee never had to worry about marauding paparazzi until she stepped into the heels of Annalise Keating, an intimidating criminal-law professor who mentors a group of hyper-ambitious students in ABC’s breakout hit How to Get Away with Murder. Now, Davis’ shopping habits seem to be a source of fascination for certain prying eyes.
“I literally rolled out of bed and rolled into a Target with [my daughter] Genesis, and the paparazzi caught me,” harrumphs Davis. “I wore a wool hat and my Jimmy Kimmel sweat jacket. I was just not looking great. But it’s not a big idea. Those are princess problems. In the grand scheme of life, that’s very minuscule to complain about.”
Before she came to ABC, Davis was “doing eight days here, five days here” of work in film, despite having generated her second Oscar nomination for playing Aibileen Clark in The Help. Like most Hollywood actresses her age (and with her skin color), Davis realized that it didn’t matter if critics or award shows liked her work if there were studio executives who didn’t think she could ever open a film. “There’s the reality of being an actor, especially after two Academy Award nominations, and there’s the fantasy,” Davis explains. “People oversimplify it by saying, start a production company, get your own stuff going on … as if it’s that easy. I’ve had a production company for years. We have great projects coming up, but it’s been a battle, okay? At the same time, you have to stay relevant because you have to be bankable to the foreign market. So when How to Get Away with Murder came along, I had my a-ha moment. I knew it would have a great time slot, and I would be a lead in a TV show. I’d get to play a role that’s sexualized, messy, all those of things I never get to play. And at the same time, I can be relevant.”
In anticipation of Murder‘s first season finale, EW caught up with Davis in Kauai, where she was vacationing with her husband Julius and their daughter Genesis. The actress not only talked how far she’s come in her career but also addressed what it’s like playing such a highly sexualized role like Annalise. She even addresses those steamy scenes with Billy Brown (Nate Lahey), who “loves to take his shirt off”: “It was nerve-wracking, but I went for it,” she said of doing the hibity onscreen—a career first. “Anyone should be nervous doing very personal and private scenes. If you are not nervous, then something is wrong with you.”