Awardist Cover / Viola Davis

The Woman King's Viola Davis, the contenders who are up (and down) in the Oscars race, and more in EW's The Awardist

How Viola Davis found her indomitable warrior spirit for The Woman King, why a movie version of the Harvey Weinstein tell-all She Said was necessary, a chat with the breakout star of Triangle of Sadness, the latest Oscars odds, and more in the latest issue of EW's The Awardist digital magazine.

How Viola Davis made a new kind of action film

A Julliard grad, Viola Davis won her first Tony in 2001, and would go on to be nominated for her first Oscar for 2008's Doubt — a performance that lasts about 10 minutes on screen but remains with the viewer long after. She would go on to make history as the first Black performer to win a Lead Actress Emmy for How to Get Away with Murder in 2015, and then complete the triple crown of acting with her Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actress in 2017 for Fences.

That she has accomplished all of this as a dark-skinned woman of color is groundbreaking in and of itself, but not one to rest on her laurels, Davis continues to break new ground with The Woman King. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the tale of the Agojie warriors of West Africa starrs predominantly Black women and opened at No. 1 at the box office.

"Black women can be at the center of a narrative and we can lead a global box office and make movies that are meaningful to everybody," Davis told EW ahead of the film's premiere.

The Oscar-winner shares what it was like making an action film unlike anything Hollywood has seen. By Lester Fabian Brathwaite

Cover illustration by Michael Phillip Dunbabin

THE WOMAN KING
Viola Davis in 'The Woman King'
| Credit: Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures

Viola Davis on that Agojie swagger:

There is something to be said about breaking that barrier of what you feel like you can't do. That then gives you a swagger. You begin to feel yourself and you begin to really appreciate when your body is working for you as a woman. The strength of it. There are times when I'm now walking in the grocery store, I walk in the parking lot of Vons and I walk in the grocery store like, "Yeah, I'm here!" It gives you a huge swagger.

On preparing mentally, not just physically, for the role:

The characters have their own personal narratives. And the thing about it is we wanted it to be authentic. And whenever it is authentic, I'm sorry, it's gonna cost you something. You're channeling another human being and most of these human beings are in trauma. Look at the scars on all of us, on the characters, on our faces, on our backs. You can imagine where those came from. And [her character] Nanisca is a sexual assault survivor. To tap into the spirit of all these human beings, absolutely, you had to do a lot of hardcore work.

Davis on her indomitable warrior spirit:

I feel like so much of what you have to fight for as a dark-skinned woman just living in the world where people say you're not attractive, you're not valued, you're not any of those things. And then you get to a point where all those obstacles actually become your fuels and lead to this moment. We're badass. I am a warrior and I don't need to have a sword to be a warrior. I have the warrior spirit in me. I always say, you gotta dare to fail. Just dare. I think reaching for a 10 and hitting a five is better than reaching for a two and hitting a one.

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Heat Index | Contender or Pretender?

It's early days, but who's up and who's down in the 2023 Oscars race? We take a look at some of the big categories. By Joey Nolfi

Lupita Nyong'o in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans
'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' and 'The Fabelmans' rise as major contenders in the 2023 Oscars race.
| Credit: Marvel / Universal

Who's up:

  • PICTURE: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — Ryan Coogler's sequel to Marvel's Best Picture-nominated 2018 blockbuster needed to post huge numbers to solidify its standing in the Oscar race, and with $288 million in domestic sales since its initial weekend (atop of stellar reviews), it is — like its predecessor — officially too big for Oscar voters to ignore. Expect technical (and potential above-the-line recognition) from the Academy as the film continues pacing to become one of the top-earning projects of the year through December.
  • PICTURE: The Fabelmans — Joining Black Panther as a box office success story is Steven Spielberg's pseudo-autobiographical drama about his formative years as a filmmaker. The Fabelmans averaged just over $40,000 per theater on just four specialty screens during its opening frame. That's a healthy start indicating a potential slow-burning hit that should keep the film afloat as it expands and generates even more critical and industry support in the weeks ahead.
  • ACTOR: Colin FarrellThe Banshees of Inisherin — Farrell is quickly rising as a front-running contender to receive his first-ever Best Actor nomination, after scoring the Palm Springs International Film Festival's Desert Palm Achievement Award. The PSIFF regularly honors eventual Oscar nominees at its annual gala, including recent Academy Awards players like Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick… Boom!), Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Kristen Stewart (Spencer), and Penélope Cruz (Parallel Mothers).

Who's... well, we're not quite sure?

Margot Robbie plays Nellie LaRoy and Diego Calva plays Manny Torres in Babylon from Paramount Pictures.
Margot Robbie and Diego Calva in 'Babylon'
| Credit: Scott Garfield/Paramount
  • PICTURE: Babylon — Social media reactions for Damien Chazelle's highly anticipated Hollywood epic ran the gamut, from accusations of being "monstrous in its thudding insistence on shoving the viewer's face in the muck and claiming it's something novel or moving" to "extravagant, decadent and all together delightfully delicious" visuals tied together by "phenomenal filmmaking." EW writer Lauren Huff deemed the film as not "for everyone," though she still praised it for being an "absolute spectacle of filmmaking." Polarized reception can be good for a campaign out of the gate, especially if the project in question is as daring as Babylon appears to be. Provoking impassioned praise from enthusiastic supporters can work wonders on the circuit, out of the view of critical journalists. It's important to distinguish Hollywood voters from those who cover Hollywood; filmmakers and critics don't have the same instincts (Green Book winning Best Picture, anyone?), so it's far too soon to peg an industry-centric tale as unfit for… well… awards from the industry.
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Director Maria Schrader on the 'layers of reality' in She Said

(from left) Director Maria Schrader, Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan on the set of She Said.
Director Maria Schrader and actors Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan on the set of 'She Said'
| Credit: JoJo Whilden/Universal

She Said isn't a documentary, but director Maria Schrader wanted to keep it as true as possible. This harrowing drama chronicles the real-life story of journalists Jodi Kantor (played by Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), the two New York Times staffers who spearheaded the investigation into Harvey Weinstein. The result is an unflinching journalism movie that echoes classics like All the President's Men or Spotlight, while also turning the lens on decades of Hollywood abuse.

For Schrader, the German actress known for directing Love Life and the Netflix series Unorthodox, her goal was to craft a film that captured the magnitude and lingering impact of Kantor and Twohey's reporting. "I was just blown away by the relevance and the multiple themes and how the script was written," the 57-year-old director explains. "There was not a moment I did not want to do it."

Here, Schrader opens up about bringing the Times story — and Twohey and Kantor's extraordinary determination — to awards season. By Devan Coggan

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Take me back to when you first got involved in this film. What was it about this story that made you want to bring it to the screen?

MARIA SCHRADER: I mean, this is not just a true story, right? This is a story that moved all of us in the wake of its publishing. Really, it felt almost like a revolutionary moment. I remember being involved in so many conversations in the workplace with colleagues, with friends, with family. I remember when I read the New York Times article, I was wondering what kind of impact it would have — and then being a bit overwhelmed by what happened in the wake of it. And now, here was the script, which was telling the story about how that story came about. I had no idea who Jodi Kantor was, who Megan Twohey was, and what initially brought them to start this investigation and what kind of difficulties they met throughout the process.

Reading the script was kind of an overwhelming experience because there are so many themes and topics detailed for the first time. We have a purely female team of two journalists, two A-class journalists in search of the truth. It's kind of in the tradition of a classic journalistic genre movie. And what an honor to introduce that female team. When do we have two female main characters? It's still so rare. And [we get to] see them being so good at what they do. They're working women, but also working mothers. They're investigating a matter which is so incredibly intimate. How impossible is it to distance yourself from it and leave it back in the newsroom?

She Said
Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan as Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in 'She Said'
| Credit: Universal Pictures

One of the interesting things about this film is how it shows Megan and Jodi as working mothers. We see them juggling childcare or dealing with postpartum depression, and that's not a perspective we often see on screen. What interested you about depicting that in this film?

It's wonderful to learn that these A-class journalists working at The New York Times, who are obviously brilliant and great at what they do, are people like you and me. They're people who take the subway every day and struggle with the balance between work and time for the children, and they're married to men who also have important jobs. So I think, what are movie heroes? Are they heroes who are just greater in every sense? Or is it wonderful to identify in a very human way with people, who make us [realize] that as an individual, you really can have an impact and change things?

You mentioned earlier that there's a long history of journalism movies, and they often focus on men. I've found that when we do see female journalists portrayed on screen, it's not always in a flattering light. Were you thinking about that history of journalism movies as you were telling this story?

Of course, and I do think that this movie serves the genre in many aspects. Of course, we tried to create a suspenseful and an interesting thriller. At the same time, I also adore that the movie sometimes leaves these genre boundaries and concentrates on other people's stories. It partly even treats other characters as protagonists, where we see these very few and incredibly brave women who decided to share their stories and allowed Jodi and Megan to use their names for publishing this article. We look at moments in their lives decades ago, when they first started their jobs and when they were so happy to maybe have a future in this field of work, only for their hopes to be so brutally disrupted. This is something I've personally not seen before within that genre: to really give that kind of space for their narratives, for their accounts. That was very important to us to treat these characters as real people. Every character is a real person out there [who deserves] care and integrity and respect.

It's interesting that you cast several of the real people involved in this story. Ashley Judd plays herself, and there are a few survivors who appear on screen. As a director, why was it important to you to not just include their voices but literally show them on screen as part of this story?

I think it's just wonderful. It's wonderful that, for instance, Ashley Judd decided to play Ashley Judd and to take ownership of her own narrative. It was her stage. I told her, "I'll tell you how I want to film it, but of course it's up to you to decide how you will portray yourself." It almost feels like when you're in the theater, and you pull down the fourth wall. You have actors playing real people, and then all of a sudden you have the real Ashley Judd telling her own story since she was so incredibly important for bringing this article out.

So, I think these layers of reality just empower the movie. Also, there's the fact that the New York Times opened the doors for the first time for a movie to shoot in their newsroom. That's another layer of reality, that we shot in the same space where this story came about and where Megan and Jodi and the editors truly work. This, of course, is not only incredibly cinematic because this Renzo Piano architecture is so beautiful, but it also adds a believability and an identification of the institution with their own story and the way we planned to bring it on screen. It was probably the only silver lining of COVID.

(from left) Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.
Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan as Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor in 'She Said'
| Credit: Universal

What's the reaction been like for the film? This is a movie that's largely about the film industry, and you've screened it at festivals like the New York Film Festival.

It was quite overwhelming. It was beautiful. I think we tried to make a movie where even though it touches dark subject matter and has emotion and tears involved, it ultimately inspires people and gives us an example of how a few people can really change the world around them. [I hope] it encourages people to speak and to connect and to communicate.

When you think about the entire filmmaking process, what has been the biggest challenge?

I think the biggest challenge for all of us was the responsibility that we felt to get it right and to do justice to so many brave individuals who we portrayed. [We wanted to show] the truth and the reality of it, to portray this workplace and the work they do in a proper way. Because I just have to say, these journalists — and what they did — just assured me how important this work is.

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Oscars Flashback

Director James Cameron raises his Oscar after winning in the Best Director Category during the 70th Academy Awards at Shrine Auditorium 23 March.
Credit: Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images
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Getting personal with Triangle of Sadness star Dolly de Leon

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS, Dolly De Leon, 2022. © Neon / Courtesy Everett Collection
Dolly de Leon in 'Triangle of Sadness.'
| Credit: Neon/Everett

EW's Executive Editor Clarissa Cruz writes about her connection to de Leon's character — and why the Triangle of Sadness star's performance is so meaningful.

There's a scene in Ruben Ostlund's scathing satire Triangle of Sadness where a group of nameless service staff on a luxury cruise efficiently clean an opulent dining room covered in vomit. (The moneyed passengers who previously occupied the space were sickened when a violent storm hits just as they sit down to a private, exquisitely pretentious dinner.) As the all-female crew mop and sanitize and quickly restore order to chaos a few hours later, Ostlund captures how they just get to it, completing the thankless task as their higher-class counterparts loudly bemoan the situation, their sound and fury signifying, ultimately, nothing.

The film shifts into its tropically dystopian third act soon after, when a shipwreck leaves a handful of the passengers on a seemingly deserted island. The cleaning crew's focused resilience crystallizes in the form of Abigail, played by Filipino actress Dolly de Leon. She swiftly rises from toilet cleaner to captain when it becomes clear that she's the only one of the survivors who has actual practical skills: she can build a fire, catch fish, cook — all things that become paramount on an island where Rolexes and money and Instagram are as meaningless as the washed-up detritus littering the shore.

Abigail is very familiar to me — as the daughter of Filipino immigrants, I have relatives and family friends who work in the service industry, as nannies, kitchen cooks, housekeepers, and yes, cruise ship workers. Their stories are rarely portrayed on screen, and if they are, the characters are in the background, tending to children, cooking behind the scenes, knocking on hotel-room doors and yelling "Housekeeping!", while their white employers drive the plot. Quiet and unassuming, my loved ones kept (and keep) their heads down, absorbing microaggressions under a layer of agreeableness, their smiles protecting their livelihoods.

Triangle of Sadness (Harris Dickinson)
Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson in 'Triangle of Sadness'
| Credit: Neon

Which is why it was so meaningful for me to see de Leon's Abigail emerge, forcefully and unapologetically, as the leader of the deserted island group that includes a model/influencer couple (Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson), a Russian billionaire (Zlatko Buric), a tech boss (Henrik Dorsin), and cruise chief of staff (Vicki Berlin). Without the class structures of their pre-shipwreck lives, it's clear that there are new rules. And that Abigail — who didn't even register to them (or viewers) on the cruise — now held all the cards on the island.

"This is a huge statement on what a certain amount of power can do to a person regardless of their status in life," de Leon, 53, says to me in an interview at EW's offices in early November, shortly before she boarded a flight back to her hometown of Manila. "If [Abigail] suddenly has this skill that no one else [has], suddenly they're holding the trident, they are queen, and no one else can take it away from her, despite the fact that she's a woman, that she's Asian, that she's middle-aged."

In one of the film's funniest scenes, Abigail has single-handedly caught and cooked a pile of seafood, and rations out portions to her fellow survivors, but keeps most of it for herself. She then tosses out additional bites of food only when her hungry peers acknowledge her as their captain. Abigail's rejection of the hierarchy continues when she summons pretty boy model Carl (Dickinson) to sleep with her in her lifeboat, while the rest of the group, including his outraged model girlfriend Yaya (Dean), sleep on the beach.

"Abigail chose Carl, not because he's physically the most beautiful, but it really was more of a comeuppance to show these people: 'Look at how powerful I can be. I can take the best of your world and use him in whatever way,'" says de Leon, who is garnering Oscar buzz for her movie-stealing performance. "But it's also quite sad if you think about it, because she chose to play their game instead of changing the way things are happening on the island. You can't blame her because that's all she knew."

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS, from left: Charlbi Dean, Dolly De Leon, Vicki Berlin, 2022. © Neon / Courtesy Everett Collection
Charlbi Dean, Dolly De Leon, and Vicki Berlin in 'Triangle of Sadness.'
| Credit: Neon/Everett

It's a movie, so Abigail does some outrageous things. But just as much outrageousness occurs before the ship goes down. The wealthy and the beautiful that the first two-thirds of the film centers on are no less ruthless and transactional than Abigail. The difference is their actions play out in dynamics that audiences, unfortunately, are used to seeing when it comes to treatment of underrepresented groups, on screen and off.

Still, it was crucial to de Leon that Abigail had a backstory, with heartbreak and history fueling her behavior. "She worked at a very rich family's house at a very early age," the actress explains. "She fell in love with the son of her boss but he wasn't in love with her. She got pregnant, they kicked her out of the house, [and she] had to fend for herself because she was ostracized by her family. With all that pressure, she had a miscarriage and decided to leave everything behind while hating men, hating rich people, going abroad, changing her life."

Her character work aside, de Leon felt the intense pressure of representing her country. Film roles that are written as Filipino are still few and far between, though this year also saw the theatrical release of the Jo Koy-fronted comedy Easter Sunday. For de Leon, the bigger picture was never too far out of sight.

"I was terrified because I didn't want to misrepresent us Filipinos," she says. "I didn't want to represent our workers abroad. I didn't want them to think that I was making fun of them or I was making light of their jobs. So I think that's the strength that you see in Abigail; I really had to work hard to show that she is a woman of power and she's using it with elegance and grace. I wanted Filipinos and other ethnicities who are in the service industry to have a sense of pride and to see someone who is true and real and not someone who is a caricature. I really tried to make her as human as possible so that people can relate to her and not see her as a butt of jokes."

I certainly didn't see her as a joke. As a Filipino woman who's made a decades-long career of writing about Hollywood — and working in the largely white, privileged space that is entertainment journalism — I'm no stranger to the feeling that I'd be as invisible as Abigail to certain people if I didn't happen to be interviewing them or working with them. It's gotten better in recent years, of course. But that's why portrayals like de Leon's, and projects like Triangle of Sadness are so important. Because they presents background characters as foreground.

And that's groundbreaking.

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Dave Karger's Oscar predictions for Best Picture

As the fall season continues, several top contenders are becoming more widely seen by industry people and regular audiences alike. Now that we're just a few weeks away from the first crop of critics awards and nominations, here's my current ranked list of the top 12 contenders in Best Picture: This year's mandated 10-nominee lineup means that films of all different budgets and genres should make it into the race. The strong early response to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever moves it up a couple notches in my rankings.

Black Panther Wakanda Forever
'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'
| Credit: Marvel Studios
  1. The Fabelmans
  2. The Banshees of Inisherin
  3. Everything Everywhere All at Once
  4. TÁR
  5. Women Talking
  6. Babylon
  7. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
  8. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
  9. Top Gun: Maverick
  10. Empire of Light
  11. Avatar: The Way of Water
  12. Elvis

Check out more from EW's The Awardistfeaturing exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best in TV.

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