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Viola Davis Biography


Home > Actresses > D > Davis, Viola > Biography


Birth Name: Viola Davis
Born: 08/11/1965
Birth Place: St. Matthews, South Carolina, USA


Born Aug. 11, 1965 in St. Matthews, SC, she moved with her parents and three siblings to the predominately white neighborhood of Cedar Falls, RI for the majority of her childhood. The period was a difficult one for Davis and her family; father Dan's work as a horse groomer at local race tracks could not keep them from struggling with abject poverty, and in later interviews, Davis recalled experiencing racial prejudice from members of the community. Her participation in such programs as Upward Bound and Student Support Services did much to direct her energies on academic achievements. Frequent trips to movie theaters also helped to soothe her soul, as well as foster an interest in acting, which became her main focus by her late teens.

Davis immersed herself in theater at the prestigious Julliard School, which afforded her extensive training and a ticket out of Cedar Falls. She later graduated from Rhode Island College with a degree in theater in 1988, and launched her career as a professional actor on stage and in films and on television. Her first onscreen role came with a bit part in the 1996 feature "The Substance of Fire." By 2001, she had worked her way up to a semi-recurring role on the short-lived medical drama "City of Angels" (CBS, 2000) for Steven Bochco. Cast frequently as an authority figure - Davis counted numerous police officers, lawyers and medical professionals among her TV and film characters - her feature work grew slowly in stature, most notably a series of fruitful collaborations with director Steven Soderbergh that began with "Out of Sight" (1998) and eventually included "Traffic" (2000) and "Solaris" (2003).

Her theater career followed a similar path, with rave reviews for her turn in August Wilson's "Seven Guitars" on Broadway in 1996 preceding a Tony win for Wilson's "King Hedley II" in 2001. Her performance as an unwed mother struggling to earn her right to an abortion also earned her a Drama Desk Award, and she would net a second one in 2004 as a shy, turn-of-the-century seamstress who gambles with love in the off-Broadway play "Intimate Apparel." The increased exposure from Davis' multiple awards seemed to help her standing in films and television; "Antwone Fisher" (2002) gave her screen time opposite Denzel Washington and an Independent Spirit Award nomination, and she was a regular cast member of the science fiction-themed law drama "Century City" (CBS, 2004) There were also recurring appearances in Tom Selleck's "Jesse Stone" mysteries for CBS with "Stone Cold," (2005) and as attorney Donna Emmett on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ), as well as supporting turns in big screen features like "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" (2005), "World Trade Center" (2006) and "Disturbia" (2007).

In 2008, Davis was cast as Mrs. Miller in the film adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Doubt." The mother of a young Catholic school student who was believed to have been molested by a popular priest, Miller casts doubt on the suspicions of Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) by suggesting that the relationship was not entirely one-sided. Her performance wowed critics across the country and earned Davis' numerous nominations and awards, including the Breakthrough Award (Female) from the National Board of Review and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. But her greatest honor came when she was nominated for her first Academy Award.

Davis switched gears with supporting roles in two big-budget action films - first, as a mayor whose city is under siege by a vengeful father (Gerard Butler) in "Law Abiding Citizen" (2009), followed by a small turn as a covert government agency director in the Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz romantic adventure "Knight & Day" (2010). She lent further support as Julia Roberts' best friend in the film adaptation of author Elizabeth Gilbert's cultural phenomenon "Eat Pray Love" (2010), as well as a dedicated psychiatrist in the cautionary tale about the dangers of online predators, "Trust" (2010), directed by David Schwimmer. On Broadway that same year, Davis won Tony and Drama Desk Awards for her performance in the revival of August Wilson's "Fences" prior to wowing audiences with her portrayal of Aibileen Clark, the longtime maid of a white household in "The Help" (2011). A comedy-drama based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett about race and class relations in the South of the 1960s, the film became one of the year's biggest sleeper hits and eventually generated an Oscar nod for Davis for Best Actress.

After a small part in the post-9/11 tale "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (2011), Davis starred with Maggie Gyllenhaal in the little-seen education-focused drama "Won't Back Down" (2012). The following year, she played a powerful spell-caster and resourceful librarian in the fantastical romance "Beautiful Creatures" and had a supporting role in the tense revenge drama "Prisoners," starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.




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