Viola Davis (born August 11, 1965) is an American actress.
Known primarily as a stage actress, Davis won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play and a Drama Desk Award for her role in King Hedley II (2001). She won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role in the 2010 production of Fences. She won a second Drama Desk Award for Intimate Apparel (2004). She recently acted as Aibileen Clark in the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's book, The Help. Her powerful performance is gaining her much critical acclaim as a dramatic actress.
Some of her notable films include Traffic (2000), Antwone Fisher (2002), Solaris (2002) and The Help (2011). Her eight-minute-long performance in the film adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt (2008) garnered several honors, including a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Davis was born on her grandmother's farm in St. Matthews, South Carolina, the second youngest of six children. Her mother, Mae Alice, was a maid, factory worker, and homemaker, and her father, Dan Davis, was a horse trainer. Her family moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island when she was two months old. Davis has described herself as having "lived in abject poverty and dysfunction" during her childhood.
Davis credits in part her involvement in the arts at her Alma mater, Central Falls High School, for her love of stage acting. Davis majored in theatre at Rhode Island College, graduating in 1988; in 2002 she received an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the college. She was involved in the federal TRIO Upward Bound and TRIO Student Support Services programs. While Davis was a teenager, her talent was recognized by Bernard Masterson when, as director of Young People's School for the Performing Arts in Rhode Island, he awarded Davis a scholarship into that program.
She also attended the Juilliard School for four years, characterizing the experience as a "hot mess".
In 2001, she was awarded the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Tonya in King Hedley II, a "35-year-old mother fighting eloquently for the right to abort a pregnancy." She has also received two Drama Desk Awards, for her work in King Hedley II and, in 2004, for her work in an off-Broadway production of Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage.
Davis appears in numerous films, including three films directed by Steven Soderbergh - Out of Sight, Solaris and Traffic, as well as Syriana, which Soderbergh produced. Viola is also the uncredited voice of the parole board interrogator who questions Danny Ocean (George Clooney) in the first scene in Ocean's Eleven. She also gave brief performances in the films Kate & Leopold and Antwone Fisher. Her television work includes a recurring role in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; a starring role in the short-lived Traveler; and a special guest appearance in "Badge", a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode.
In 2008, Davis played Mrs. Miller in the film adaption to the Broadway play, Doubt with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. She was nominated for several awards for this performance, including a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
On June 30, 2009, Davis was inducted into The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
On June 13, 2010, Davis won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role as Rose Maxson in a revival of August Wilson's Fences. She is the second African-American woman to win the award, after Phylicia Rash?d.
Davis played the role of Dr. Minerva in It's Kind of a Funny Story, a coming-of-age film written and directed by Anna Boden with Ryan Fleck, adapted from the 2006 novel by Ned Vizzini.
In August 2011, Davis joined Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, and Bryce Dallas Howard in DreamWorks' production of The Help, in which she played the stalwart domestic, "Aibileen Clark." The film was directed by Tate Taylor, and produced by Brunson Green, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Mark Radcliffe. Her role has garnered her critical acclaim, and has started buzz for various awards nominations.