Sitting in front of a historic Triple Crown of Acting winner might be intimidating at first, but Viola Davis is captivating and warm. At the same time, her words emanate power. Every anecdote and piece of advice she bestows upon her audience is unparalleled wisdom. If she came out with one of those one-a-day, inspirational quote calendars it would be gold.
At the launch for Vaseline’s Cocoa Radiant Body Butter at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, we had a one-on-one chat with Davis about everything from self care to her most self-realized moment. Hint: It was her portrayal of Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder that helped her finally find peace with herself. Davis keeps it real when discussing that kind of personal growth. “You don’t arrive at yourself overnight,” she says. (Would it be weird to get a Viola Davis quote tattooed on your body?)
We came out of the conversation inspired, revived, and ready to take on the world. After reading her words you might, scratch that, you WILL, too.
On self-care during this political climate:
“I take care of myself the same in this political climate that I always have. I take care of my body. When I say I take care of my body, I don’t mean to always look beautiful so I can compete with all the other young beautiful women. I just wanna be my beautiful. I wanna show my skin, be my size, with my nose, and my lips. And I’ll sit in the tub, detox with Epsom salt, do the steam shower. I do all that stuff first and wake up two hours before I have to go to work.”
On her mantras:
“I have two mantras for 2017. I’m doing the best I can, and leave it all on the floor. The first one is about forgiving myself, and forgiving the fact that I’m not perfect. I think that’s a huge part of self-care, especially for women. The second thing is about not putting a gag order on myself and my spirit. To validate my jewelry, my voice, my opinion, my anger, my failures. To just validate it, to unleash my talent, to just unleash it. And to not feel like I have to reign myself in, ‘cause that’s another thing with women. It started with corsets, and now it’s gotten to Spanx and all that. I don’t wanna reign myself in, because I realized that like Denzel [Washington] says, there’s no U-Haul in the back of a hearse. You cannot take any of this with you. So, it behooves you, that whoever you are, whatever you have to give, you leave all of it on the floor. You drop the mic, per se.”
On never apologizing for who she is:
“Whenever I have an opinion, even in front of my husband, who loves me more than anything, I’m speaking my mind now. I just do it. Within reason, I don’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings. I have great sensitivity to people. But yeah, I’m not apologizing for who I am.”
On the moment in her life when she realized she was okay with herself:
“Probably when I started doing How To Get Away With Murder. I like to say I was much younger, but no, it’s been gradual. It’s been a process, like anything is. And the reason why it was How To Get Away With Murder, I was cast in a role that didn’t literally, in my brain, fit me. I was coming down from doing Aibileen Clark in The Help. I was cast in a role where I thought I was, or most people would consider me to be miscast. So what I had to do was ask a really important question before I stepped on that sound stage. And that’s, ‘Why Viola, do you feel miscast?’ Well, ’cause I’m not thin, I’m not like that beauty ideal. ‘But why? Why do you think that?’ Well, ‘cause most women who play roles like this are this type. And then you keep asking why, and you keep asking why, until the a-ha moment comes, which is ‘Why not?’ Which is what Lena Dunham, I’m sure, got to the point of saying. ‘Why not? What if you are right? What if exactly who you are is the right palette for Annalise Keating?’ And then that permeated in my life. I think sometimes that’s why what we do is so sacred, and so all-spiritual, is that when you get a character, you gotta live in that character. You gotta feel what they’re feeling, you gotta go through what they’re going through. It almost heals yourself in the process, and that’s what Annalise Keating has done for me. It’s healed me from a lot of those beauty restrictions.
On the need for women to support each other:
“You know what, if there’s any mommy-shaming and body-shaming out there to be had, most of it is women doing it to other women. We don’t even need men. I’m serious, sometimes we are our own worst enemy. We get online, and we’re critiquing how somebody looks. And listen, we could be struggling with our weight, and doing all that even in our personal lives, and then we look on that screen and we see someone who’s a size 0 and go ‘Oh, they’re perfect!’ And see someone who’s a size two, and go ‘Oh, they’ve gained weight.’ We just go in at each other, not understanding that we’re in the same boat. And that we need each other. We need each other in a world where we’re under attack.
“I actually was in a first-class lounge, ‘cause I was flying somewhere for a speaking gig, so I sat in the lounge with a couple of friends of mine and my daughter. And I saw these women, looking at me, and whispering in their ear and laughing. And I thought to myself that it did hurt my feelings a little bit, but I didn’t sleep on it. My second thought was, ‘Why you doing that? What are you gaining from it?’ If you’re not doing it to yourself, then why would you do it to other women? But if you are doing it to yourself, maybe that’s why you’re doing it with other women. It’s a healing process that needs to happen.”
On dealing with anxiety and the pressures of everyday life:
“First of all I would say that there’s a lot of anxiety issues that are rooted in chemistry and psychology that really require medication. And I don’t think mental illness should be stigmatized. The other part of anxiety stems from holding everything in. We wear a mask, like the famous poem, ‘We wear the mask that grins and lies.’ But you gotta let it go and let it out. When you numb the pain, and you numb the dark, you’re numbing the light. Listen, a lot of how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about the world are really crappy. Sometimes it can bring you to your knees. But that’s the only choice we have.
On letting it all go:
A lot of that anxiety is about holding it in, and starting the day off with a constant inner dialogue: ‘I didn’t to this, I didn’t do that, I didn’t finish this at home, I could get this done.’ And then we go through the day and we try to do fifty million things at once, and we post it on Facebook. Oh, I brought my daughter to school, I finished a thesis, I cooked a meal for my husband, and I cleaned the house all at the same time. I didn’t think I could do it. Then we go to bed, and we do the same thing over again. My challenge is to not do that. What if you challenge yourself to say, ‘I’m not gonna do any of that.’ You still gonna love yourself? You gonna be okay? I guarantee you’re not gonna feel that anxiety. If you just release it back, that you don’t have to be perfect, that ‘my perfect is just being who I am,’ guarantee you, that is the key. For me, anyway. That’s my thing, holding everything in, cause I wanna out-strong people. ‘I’m strong, you can’t crack me.’ I had to let all that go.”
On aging gracefully:
“I always give my age, which, probably not a good thing, but I like that I’ve lived to be 52 years old. I’m not trying to be 28 anymore. I see the women who are 60 who are trying to be 25, and you put them next them to a 25-year-old, and you know which one is 60. I don’t see it as a bad thing. I like the lines. I like the wisdom that comes through all that.
“I had a friend, a beautiful young woman who died at 36 of stage 4 breast cancer. And she left four children behind. I’m sure that she would loved that I’m sitting here saying that I’m 52. I think that at some point we have to get it. We have to get that, at some point, you’re gonna die. And that’s life. Hopefully through all of that you find some semblance of joy, and love, and passion, and you count it all as being alive.”