Viola Davis on Growing Up in Extreme Poverty

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When you look at Viola Davis you may see Annalise Keating from How to Get Away with Murder, or Rose from Fences, but when Viola looks into the mirror she still sees the same girl who climbed into dumpsters to look for food as a child. Many years have passed since that time, but the experiences she had have certainly shaped her. Davis hasn’t forgotten her humble beginnings even though she has moved on.


Viola Davis was born at her grandmothers, in a one room house in St. Matthews, South Carolina. Shortly after her family moved to Rhode Island where they lived in a building that was partially abandoned. Dan Davis, her father, worked as a stablehand and her mother,  worked as a factory worker and maid. Viola and her siblings went to school and the lunch they were served was often the only meal they ate. At night, Viola and her siblings would wrap bedsheets around their necks to protect themselves from rat bites. She owns one picture from her childhood because the family could not afford the cost of a camera or the cost of developing film.

It would have been easy to let that situation define her, but Viola rose above. Viola’s mom was also a civil rights activist and she later credited her mom for teaching her that poverty is not enough to hold you back. When she was in high school Viola developed a passion for acting. Davis earned a scholarship to Rhode Island College where she studied theater. After that she went on to Julliard to continue developing her skills as an actress. In 1996, Viola made her on screen appearance in The Substance of Fire, where she played the role of a nurse. She also made her first Broadway appearance when she played the role of Vera in Seven Guitars.

Viola stepped into the role of Nurse Lynnette Peeler in City of Angels in 2000, and for the first-time viewers were able to see her on the small-screen. Over the twelve years she continued to play roles in television shows such as: Law and Order: Criminal Intent, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Century City, Traveler, and How to Get Away with Murder. Davis also continued her work as an actress in major motion pictures and has had roles in movies such as: Traffic, Kate&Leopold, Antwone Fisher, Disturbia, Nights in Rodanthe, Eat

Pray Love, The Help, Enders Game and most recently Fences.
She has nominated for five Golden Globes and one once. In January, she won a Golden Globe for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Major Motion Picture for her role in Fences. She has also been nominated for three Academy Awards, and won one Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a

Supporting Role for Fences.
Eventually she relocated to Los Angeles where she lives with her husband, actor Julius Tennon and their adopted daughter, Genesis.


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