6 key take aways from Viola Davis’ interview with Oprah

Viola Davis
Viola Davis
Emma McIntyre/WireImage
  • Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis recently sat down with Oprah for an exclusive Netflix interview.
  • She joins Adele, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who are high profile guests who Oprah has interviewed in the past year.
  • Viola opened up about her childhood traumas, the racial abuse she suffered, her accomplished career and finally falling in love with herself. 

Award-winning actress Viola Davis recently sat down with Oprah Winfrey for an exclusive interview for Netflix following the release of her highly-anticipated memoir, Finding Me.

She joins Adele, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who have also sat down with Oprah for a series of high profile interviews that she has done over the past year.

In the interview, the How To Get Away With Murder star, who grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island, opened up about her childhood traumas, the racial abuse she suffered, her accomplished career and finally falling in love with herself.

Here are six key takeaways from the emotional interview:

The pandemic pushed her to write her book

“I believe I was having a bad existential crisis,” Viola explained about why she decided to write a memoir.

She also added that she had been struggling to find a connection with the rest of the world and meaning in her life. Even though this was something she said she began feeling before lockdown, she believes “the pandemic exacerbated it”.

Viola also shared with Oprah how she had expected her fame to bring her joy and peace and when it didn’t, she started feeling “exhausted and the pressure of people seeing me as a commodity”. She then decided to seek what it would take to reach that level of happiness and that’s when she decided that she should “go back to the beginning of my story”.

She decided to be an actress at 14

At the age of 14, Viola had won a major art contest, which encouraged her to pursue acting.

“I needed a dream like I needed food and water,” she explained about being an actress. “That dream wasn’t just a goal, that dream was my way out, my sort of salvation.”

When she was younger, the actress believed that she was cursed.

“I was like, ‘Where’s my sunlight?’” she recalled, before eventually finding that sunlight from within and recognising her own aspirations to be an actor.

Childhood traumas

The actress’ childhood was a difficult one and she found herself having to endure intense bullying. She recalls how when she was eight years old, she would wait for the school bell to ring so she could run away from her bullies.

“In third grade I would wait at the back door during dismissal and as soon as that bell rang, I ran over people,” she reveals and explains that there was a group of boys who would chase her, calling her the N-word and throwing “anything they could find” to hit her.

“That really is the memory that defined me,” she said.

“What I always say is that I thought I was really slick, I was tough … but I always say that I never stopped running, my feet just stopped moving. That as I went through my life, as much as I tried to put on that mask of bravery, of confidence, of being that sort of boss woman that people talk about … but inside, absolutely was the damaged little girl that I left in Central Falls that really, really believed that she was ugly, that she was not enough. That’s what defines me more than anything else,” she added.

She felt shameful about her past for a long time

Viola also opened up about growing up poor and how this impacted on her hygiene. She recalled how her sister Deloris and her were “always being hungry” and how because they didn’t have soap at home sometimes, they went to school dirty and would have body odour.

She says at one instance, the school’s administration called her into the office because of their “smell” and the helplessness she had as a girl because she didn’t know what to do about it.

“I think that people just automatically assume you just clean yourself. Well, not if anyone doesn’t show you. A lot of times we didn’t have any soap,” she explained. She also added that a lot of the time they wouldn’t have any clean clothes to wear and would sometimes wear clothes that weren’t fully dry.

“I didn’t have the tools to figure it out on my own. Then I was ashamed that I didn’t have the tools … so all I could do was swim in the shame,” she added.

However, she found hope in adults who reached out to her, like a teacher who gave her her daughter’s hand-me-downs. “You find people in your life who love you,” she said.

“They give you permission to be able to love yourself. When you are in the face of compassion and empathy, it’s amazing how it kills shame,” she said. “Because you’re seen for something way for valuable than your circumstance.”

She prayed for a specific man and got him

The star also revealed that she met her now-husband, Julius Tennon, after praying for a man like him.

Viola told Oprah  that one of her friends instructed her to pray for the kind of man she wanted. She then obliged and said she listed off her desired qualities, which started with asking for "a big Black man".

"He said [the friend], 'Viola, even the vacuous stuff, just put it all in there. Looks, everything,' I said, 'Really? With God? I gotta tell him that?' He's like, 'Yes. You gotta put it all out there,'" she recalls.

"I went and I got on my knees,” she adds.

From then on, Viola recalls the list of requirements she gave to God.

"I said I want a big Black man from the South who's probably been married before. Has kids, because I don't want any pressure in that department," she begins.

"Someone whose maybe been an actor who understands the artistic community, someone who goes to church and loves God. I said, 'If you give me that, I'll start going to church, God. I really will. I'm committed to it.' And then I signed off, just like writing a letter," she continues.

The Academy Award winner's prayer then soon became a reality when she met Julius three and a half weeks later. The two got married in 2003 and adopted a daughter in 2011. Viola is also a step-parent to Julius’ two children from a previous relationship.

Finding self-love

The actress says she has finally found self-love in “owning her story”.

“This book is my gift to others,” she said, speaking about the validation that comes with feeling seen.

At the end of their conversation, Oprah asks what the actress is now “living for”.

“I’m living for my peace and my joy,” a teary Viola responded.

“I want to be happy,” she continued while Oprah, also holding back tears, said, “In finding yourself, you have helped all of us”.

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