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Getting to Know: Viola Davis

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Famous faces keep the box-office tills ringing, but the art of screen storytelling is highly dependent on those supporting players who root the action in reality. Character actors don't always get their due, but we seek to set the record straight by inviting you to get to know one of the best in the business, Viola Davis.

It's taken Viola Davis three decades to become an overnight success. Before lockdown, she completed work on her 80th screen assignment. But the vast majority of these credits are for minor roles in films and television shows. Everything changed, however, with an eight-minute scene in 2008 and Davis has since become the only black performer to lay claim to the Triple Crown of an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy. In the case of the latter, she also became the first African-American to receive the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. According to Davis, 'My gift is exposing. Exposing mess - the humanity, the vulnerability of what it means to be human. I think that that is what acting is about.' Yet, having achieved so much after being raised in abject poverty, perhaps her greatest talent lies in recognising that 'the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.'

Jaja, Jagi and the Red Plastic Bat

Viola Davis was born on 11 August 1965 in her grandmother's sharecropper shack in St Matthews, South Carolina. The property was part of the old Singleton slave plantation and, when she was two months old, two of Viola's four siblings remained behind when the family relocated to Central Falls, Rhode Island. As her father, Dan, was a horse groom/trainer, he hoped to find work at the nearby racetracks, while his wife, Mae Alice, raised the children while working as a maid or a factory hand.

When Viola was two, she spent the night in a police cell after Mae Alice was arrested during a Civil Rights protest outside Brown University. Life was certainly tough, with Viola and her sisters often being forced to steal or scavenge for food to supplement their school meals. Moreover, Dan sometimes beat his wife when drunk and, when they squatted at the partly boarded-up 128 Washington Street, the girls had to wrap rags around their necks to keep the rats from biting them in the night.

A still from The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974)
A still from The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974)

They still nibbled the faces off Viola's dolls, however, and the difficult domestic conditions made it hard for her to concentrate at school. She was also subjected to racist bullying. But a new world opened up when the six year-old Viola saw Cicely Tyson playing the lead in Ernest J. Gaines's teleplay, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974). As a result, she and sister Deloris invented the characters of Jaja and Jagi, a pair of white Beverly Hills matrons with lapdogs, fancy clothes and a hoity way of talking. Encouraged by Mae Alice, Viola and her sister Diane entered a Skit Day contest at Jenks Park as The Whoooo-Whee Kid from That's My Mama and Fred from Sanford and Son. They won a softball kit for their efforts and used the red plastic baseball bat to kill rats.

Davis still has the Pawtucket Times cutting mentioning her performance and the thrill of being applauded made a deep impression. She joined the drama programme at Central Falls High School and benefited from coaching from Ron Stetson under the federal Upward Bound scheme. On enrolling at the Young People's School for the Performing Arts in West Warwick, she was boosted by director Bernard Masterson before majoring in theatre at Rhode Island College. In 1988, she chose a monologue from Alice Walker's The Color Purple for her scholarship audition at the prestigious Juilliard School and spent the next four years being taught classical stage technique and feeling somewhat out of place. Indeed, she has since suggested that she has drawn more on the lessons about life and human nature that she learnt during her tough upbringing than she has on her formal training.

Taking What Comes

A two-week study trip to The Gambia also helped Davis develop as both an artist and as a human being, as she learned that technique meant little unless it was backed by genuine feeling. However, her career was almost over before it began, as she developed a nasty case of stage fright that would often leave her unable to utter a word. But she earned her Screen Actors Guild card by playing a nurse handing Timothy Hutton a vial of blood in Daniel J. Sullivan's The Substance of Fire (1996). More significantly, she earned a Tony Award nomination for her performance that same year in August Wilson's Broadway play, Seven Guitars.

The accolade led to small parts on television, including an episode of NYPD Blue (1996), and it was on another Stephen Bocho show, City of Angels (2000), that Davis met future husband Julius Tennon. Among her early film roles was the part of Sharon Hughes in Daniel Nemet-Nejat's little-seen, but wonderfully titled, Miss Apprehension and Squirt. She also played Don Cheadle's wife in Out of Sight (both 1998), the first of several collaborations with director Steven Soderbergh. In addition to playing a social worker in Traffic (2000) and Dr Helen Gordon in Solaris (2002), Davis also took an uncredited and unseen cameo as the parole board member interrogating George Clooney in the opening scene of Ocean's Eleven (2001). Four years later, she would take another uncredited walk-on in a Clooney picture, when she played a CIA charwoman in Stephen Gaghan's Syriana (2005).

A still from The Shrink Is In (2001)
A still from The Shrink Is In (2001)

The year 2001 turned out to be a banner year, as Davis won a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for her portrayal of Tonya, a woman fighting for the right to have an abortion in August Wilson's play, King Hedley II. Three years later, she would add a second Drama Desk prize for Lynn Nottage's off-Broadway production, Intimate Apparel. Yet such theatrical acclaim did little to raise Davis's screen profile and she continued to have to settle for supporting roles like Robin in Richard Benjamin's comedy, The Shrink Is In, which teamed the then married Courteney Cox and David Arquette, and a policewoman in James Mangold's romcom, Kate & Leopold, which starred Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman as the star-crossed lovers.

In 2002, Davis was cast as Sybil, the maid of Cathy (Julianne Moore) and Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid), in Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes's exquisite exposé of disquiet and disgust in the Eisenhowerian suburbs. She also got to work with Denzel Washington for the first time, as he made his directorial debut with Antwone Fisher, in which Davis played Eva Mae, who had been forced to place her son in an orphanage when she was jailed as a teenage mother. But none of these roles enabled her to make a breakthrough and she kept taking bit part in TV shows in order to stay active. Having guested in Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001), she makes more regular appearances as Donna Emmett in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2003-08). Either side of a one-off slot in the FBI missing persons drama, Without Trace (2004), Davis even got to headline such short-lived series as Century City (2004) and Traveler (2007).

On the big screen, she found herself playing 50 Cent's grandma in Jim Sheridan's hip-hop crime drama, Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2005). But she was way down the cast list as a mother at the hospital in Oliver Stone's World Trade Center (2006). She made more of an impression as Officer Molly Crane alongside Tom Selleck's title character in Robert Harmon's trio of police procedurals set in Paradise, Massachusetts: Jesse Stone: Stone Cold (2005), Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise and Jesse Stone: Night Passage (both 2006). Consequently, she remained in uniform as Detective Parker handling the case of tagged teen Kale Brecht (Shia LaBeouf) in DJ Caruso's Disturbia (2007), which bears more than a passing similarity to Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954).

Following a guest turn in a 2008 episode of the twisted family saga, Brothers & Sisters, Davis played Jean, the inn-keeping childhood friend of Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane) in George C. Wolfe's adaptation of Nicholas Sparks's novel, Night in Rodanthe. She also ventured into science fiction to play pathologist Dr Charlene Barton in Mikael Solomon's The Andromeda Strain (both 2008), a small-screen remake of Robert Wise's 1971 adaptation of Michael Crichton's bestseller, which had followed the novel in making the character a man (played by David Wayne). But everything in Viola Davis's world was about to change.

No Shadow of a Doubt

For 12 years, Davis had been subsisting on sketchy secondary characters. But she was finally able to give a fully rounded performance on the big screen in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt (2008) and she managed to do so in a single scene lasting around eight minutes. Directing from his own Pulitzer Prize, and Tony Award-winning play set in The Bronx in 1964, Shanley reaches no decisive conclusions about whether Sister James (Amy Adams) is right to alert principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) to the relationship between parish priest Fr Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the school's only black student, Donald (James Foster). But he potently places the film's themes into the context of African-American reality by having Mrs Miller (Davis) plead with Sister Aloysius not to pursue a prosecution because she suspects that her son is gay and knows that his brute of a father will kill him if he ever finds out.

A still from Doubt (2008) With Meryl Streep And Viola Davis
A still from Doubt (2008) With Meryl Streep And Viola Davis

Having been nominated for a Golden Globe, Davis found herself up against Adams for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and they undoubtedly took votes off each other in allowing Penélope Cruz to win for Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). Compensation came two years later, when Davis won her second Tony for August Wilson's Fences, a drama that would bring further rewards in due course.

In the meantime, Davis returned to the film fray as Ellen St Matthews, an addicted prostitute-turned-preacher in Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail. She also cropped up as morgue doctor Judith Franklin in Kevin Macdonald's political thriller, State of Play, and as Philadelphia mayor April Henry in F. Gary Gray's vigilante saga, Law Abiding Citizen (all 2009). Davis was even busier still in 2010, which began with her playing another authority figure, CIA Director Isabel George, opposite Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in James Mangold's Knight and Day.

Next came a best friend role, as Delia Shiraz (Davis) helps best friend Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) negotiate the journey of self-discovery that she would record in a bestselling book in Ryan Murphy's Eat Love Pray. Then came another medical assignment, as Davis was cast as Dr Minverva, the head of the psychiatric unit treating troubled teenagers Craig (Keir Gilchrist), Noelle (Emma Roberts) and Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's adaptation of Ned Vizzini's tome, It's Kind of a Funny Story. And she provides another sympathetic ear to 14 year-old Annie Cameron (Liana Liberato), as hospital counsellor Gail Freedman in David Schwimmer's online grooming thriller, Trust.

But there was still more to come, as Davis narrated friend Octavia Spencer's short treatise on bullying, The Unforgiving Minute; voiced a character in the English-language dub of Fernando Trueba, Tono Errando and Javier Mariscal's vibrant animated musical, Chico & Rita; took a six-episode guest slot as Lynda P. Frazier in Toni Collette's sitcom, United States of Tara; and paid homage to Broadway director Kenny Leon in the Horne Brothers documentary, The Start of Dreams (all 2010). Moreover, she allowed herself to be covered in ladybirds as a sinister nurse in Alex Prager's all-star short, Touch of Evil (2011).

This year also saw Davis hold the key to the mystery in Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, as Abby Black, who lives in the narrowest house in New York and talks to nine year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) about elephants and their memories during his pursuit of the clues left by his father (Tom Hanks) before his tragic death on 9/11. But she was much more prominent as Aibileen Clark, a housemaid in 1960s Mississippi in Tate Taylor's adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel, The Help (both 2011). Despite it giving her the chance to channel the spirits of her mother and grandmother, Davis has since questioned the socio-political validity of a picture that views race relations at the time of the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of aspiring white writer Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan (Emma Stone) rather than Aibileen and her best friend, Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer).

A still from The Help (2011) With Viola Davis And Octavia Spencer
A still from The Help (2011) With Viola Davis And Octavia Spencer

Although nominated for a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Actress, Davis lost out at all three ceremonies to new friend Meryl Streep for her impersonation of Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Law's The Iron Lady (2011). She did, however, win the Screen Actors Guild Award and, the following year, Streep presented Davis with the much-prized Women in Film's Crystal Award.

Five years later, the same actress officiated as Davis received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. When, later in 2017, she was ranked on a second occasion among Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People, Streep wrote that Davis had 'carved a place for herself on the Mount Rushmore of the 21st century'. She also stated that Davis's 'gifts as an artist are unassailable, undeniable, deep and rich and true' before concluding that 'her importance in the culture - her ability to identify it, her willingness to speak about it and take on responsibility for it - is what marks her for greatness'.

On From the Crossroads

In an interview with the New York Times, Davis revealed that she has spent her entire working life having to prove her ability. 'I've had to do that in sometimes substandard material, sometimes good material, but very very seldom times great material.' Any hopes that the situation might change after her second Oscar nomination were quickly dashed, however. 'I went right back to playing the same roles I did before The Help, 'she confided', only getting paid a little bit more money. It's like you have to sift through sewage in order to get what you feel like you deserve. I was not a box-office draw. So I just went back to having my five or six days on a film.'

In admitting to taking parts she disliked in order to further her career, Davis was particularly frustrated by the lack of curiosity that white film-makers exhibit about black lives. 'I've played many best friends, crack-addicted mothers, next-door neighbors, or professionals with no personal lives,' she complained. 'There's a limitation to how we are seen,' As she later put it, 'we only exist within certain genres'.

A still from Beautiful Creatures (2013) With Viola Davis And Alden Ehrenreich
A still from Beautiful Creatures (2013) With Viola Davis And Alden Ehrenreich

As if to prove the point, she was cast as teacher Nona Alberts, who forges an alliance with single mom Jamie Fitzpatrick to transform a struggling Pittsburgh school in Daniel Barnz's Won't Back Down. And she played another educator, Lilian Friedman, in Ned Benson's triptych, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2013-14). In adapting Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Young Adult novel, Beautiful Creatures, however, writer-director Richard LaGravanese made Amma Treadeau a librarian rather than a maid and Davis relished the opportunity to play a woman with supernatural powers who exerts a positive influence on fate-crossed South Carolina friends, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) and Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert).

Filming in New Orleans enabled Davis to slot Gavin Hood's adaptation of Orson Scott Card's sci-fi novel, Ender's Game, into her schedule. Co-starring with Harrison Ford, Davis plays Major Gwen Anderson, a psychologist helping to train Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) for an earthly counter-attack on the alien race known as The Formics. Protecting children was also the theme of Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve's English-language debut, Prisoners (all 2013), in which Nancy (Davis) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) have to join neighbours Grace (Maria Bello) and Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) in putting their faith in Pennsylvania cop, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), after their daughters go missing while taking a Thanksgiving stroll.

Perhaps because she was also now a mother, Davis guested as the voice of Helen Hanshaw, the mommy of the princess heroine's best friend, Ruby, in Disney's Sofia the First (2012-18). The 'Buttercups' episode can be rented from Cinema Paradiso on Sofia the First: The Enchanted Feast (2014) and there's also a chance to see Davis acting alongside her three year-old daughter, Genesis, in Tate Taylor's Get on Up (2014), a biopic of soul singer James Brown that considers his relationship with Susie (Davis), the mother who was driven out of the house at gunpoint by his abusive father, Joe (Lennie James).

Despite keeping busy, Davis still felt discontented. 'I always say that one thing missing in cinema is that regular black woman,' she told The Guardian. She also conceded to longing to play 'a black female Klute, or Kramer, or Unmarried Woman, or Annie Hall. But who's gonna write it, who's gonna produce it, who's gonna see it, again and again and again?' The answer to the first two parts of her question turned out to be Peter Nowalk and Shonda Rhimes, who joined forces to create the character of a criminal defence attorney and law professor Annalise Keating in the hard-hitting series, How to Get Away With Murder (2014-20).

For once, Davis saw her suggestions taken onboard, from casting Cicely Tyson as Annalise's mother to allowing her to her remove her wig once she got home at the end of a long day. 'She's messy, almost sociopathic,' Davis enthused in one interview, 'sexual, mysterious, highly intelligent, a big personality. She's all of those adjectives that are not associated with me.' And not only did the series find an audience, but it also excited the critics to the extent that, in 2015, Davis became the first black winner of the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Having quoted abolitionist Harriet Tubman at the start of her acceptance speech, Davis threw down the gauntlet to the whole of show business when she said: 'The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.'

A still from Lila and Eve (2015)
A still from Lila and Eve (2015)

She was nominated again the following year and also picked up a Golden Globe citation and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. But better was yet to come. In 2011, Davis formed JuVee Productions with her husband and turned executive producer in teaming with Jennifer Lopez on Charles Stone III's crime drama, Lila & Eve (2015), and she took a similar dual role in James Lapine's courtroom drama, Custody (2016). The company has since sponsored the documentary series, Two Sides and The Last Defense (both 2018), as well as the children's comedy, American Koko (2017), on which Davis serves as the narrator chronicling the adventures of Akosua Millard (Diara Kilpatrick), who investigates tricky social situations as an agent for EAR (Everybody's A little bit Racist).

Given these bold initiatives, Davis took something of a sideways step in playing FBI Special Agent Carol Barrett in Michael Mann's Blackhat (2015), who springs hacker Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) from prison in order to snare the cyber-mastermind who has destroyed a nuclear reactor in Hong Kong. But she also got to follow in the footsteps of such African-American icons as CCH Pounder, Pam Grier, Angela Bassett, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Cynthia Addai-Robinson and Yvette Nicole Brown in playing DC Comics character Amanda Waller in David Ayer's Suicide Squad (2016).

However, it was in revisiting the award-winning stage role of Rose Maxson in Denzel Washington's film version of Fences (2016) that Davis finally gained the respect of her peers. As the wife of Troy (Washington), onetime baseball prospect who is reduced to collecting garbage in 1950s Pittsburgh, Davis is the embodiment of domestic decency, as she badgers her husband into putting up a fence around their home. But her sense of certainty is challenged when she discovers that her husband's mistress has died in childbirth.

Having already won the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress, Davis added the Oscar to her growing collection. In the process, she became the first African-American to be nominated three times, a feat that Octavia Spencer matched when she added nods for Theodore Melfi's Hidden Figures (2017) and Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water (2018) to her win for The Help.

A still from Widows (2018)
A still from Widows (2018)

Davis increased her own haul with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress for playing Annalise Keating alongside Kerry Washington's crisis manager Olivia Pope in the 'Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself' episode of Scandal (2012-18). She was also recognised in the Best Actress category by BAFTA for Steve McQueen's Widows (2018), a Gillian Flynn-scripted update of Lynda La Plante's ITV series of the same name (1983-85), which relocates the action from London to Chicago in showing how teachers' union delegate Veronica Rawlings pays off the debts left by her late husband, Harry (Liam Neeson), by carrying out the $5 million heist he was planning when he was killed in a police standoff.

Since playing secretary Miss Rayleen in Troop Zero (2019), a 1970s kid-friendly comedy directed by Amber Finlayson and Katie Ellwood (aka Bert & Bertie), Davis has taken the title role of a legendary blues singer in George C. Wolfe's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. She will also shortly be seen as Michelle Obama in First Ladies (both 2020), a TV series about presidential wives. But one thing is clear. Whatever Davis chooses to do, it will be done with integrity, passion and an unswerving commitment to ensuring that nobody ever forgets that Black Lives Matter.

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  • Widows (2018)

    Play trailer
    2h 5min
    Play trailer
    2h 5min

    Davis has made much of the fact that this feature transfer of Lynda La Plante's brassy 70s crime series opens with Harry and Veronica Rawlings making passionate love because it's so rare in Hollywood movies that an actor of Liam Neeson's calibre is shown in bed with an African-American woman. He doesn't linger long, however, and Veronica becomes so distracted by debts and threats from her duties with the Chicago Teachers Union that she forms a gang to steal the loot that will give her back her life. The ensemble playing is exceptional, but Davis dominates, as she is prompted to enter a macho world by grief rather than greed.

  • Fences (2016)

    Play trailer
    2h 13min
    Play trailer
    2h 13min

    Having secured Tony Awards for the 2010 Broadway revival of one of the 10 plays in August Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, Davis and Denzel Washington reunited for the latter's third directorial outing. Hints of William Shakespeare's King Lear, Delbert Mann's adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's Marty (1955) and Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep (1977) can be felt, as Troy Maxson tries to do right by his wife, Rose, sons Cory (Jovan Adepo) and Lyons (Russell Hornsby), and his war-wounded brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson). But a guilty secret shatters the idyll and galvanises Davis into making the Oscar-winning shifts from adoration to devastation and independence.

  • Suicide Squad (2016)

    Play trailer
    1h 58min
    Play trailer
    1h 58min

    The critics might have revelled in dissecting David Ayer's DC Comic opera, but it did well enough at the box office for Davis to pencil dates for the sequel shoot into her diary. Indeed, Margot Robbie has already had a ball reprising the role of Harley Quinn in Cathy Yan's spin-off feature, Birds of Prey. As government intelligence officer Amanda Waller, Davis knowingly parodies her back catalogue of authority figures, as she assembles Task Force X from such ne'er-do-wells and misfits as Deadshot (Will Smith), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). Slipknot (Adam Beach), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), June Moon (Cara Delevingne) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara).

  • Blackhat (2015)

    Play trailer
    2h 7min
    Play trailer
    2h 7min

    Michael Mann has often based films around the notion that it takes a thief to catch a thief. In this tangled thriller, Davis plays no-nonsense FBI operative Carol Barrett, who allies with Chinese counterpart Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) to recruit jailed hacker Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) for a desperate bid to trap the cyber-terrorist responsible for an explosion at a nuclear power plant. There are echoes of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) in the way that Hathaway is depicted as being more dangerous than his quarry. But this also has much in common with Baran bo Odar's disconcerting German hacktivist thriller, Who Am I (2014).

  • Get on Up (2014)

    Play trailer
    2h 19min
    Play trailer
    2h 19min

    More than a few liberties were taken with the facts in the depiction of James Brown's mother, Susie, in Tate Taylor's biopic. According to screenwriting siblings Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, she abandoned her young son in rural South Carolina, only to turn up in his dressing-room at Harlem's fabled Apollo Theatre after he had become a star. In fact, she moved with abusive husband Joe to Augusta, Georgia and came backstage at the behest of Brown's second wife, Dee-Dee Jenkins (Jill Scott). But why let the truth stand in the way of a good story, especially when Davis's scenes with Lennie James and Chadwick Boseman crackle with emotional tension. 

  • Ender's Game (2013)

    Play trailer
    1h 49min
    Play trailer
    1h 49min

    In Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel, Major Anderson was a male character who frequently found himself at odds with Colonel Hyram Graff at the Battle School seeking cadets capable of eradicating the threat posed to Earth by the insectoid aliens dubbed the Formics. However, writer-director Gavin Hood tailored the role for Davis, who not only stands up to Harrison Ford but also recognises that there's more to Asa Butterfield's 10 year-old hero than bellicosity and ruthlessness. Fans of the Harry Potter franchise might notice one or two similarities between the scenarios, in which Davis not only designs the war games that test the recruits but also monitors their well-being.

  • Prisoners (2013)

    Play trailer
    2h 27min
    Play trailer
    2h 27min

    Edgar Allan Poe's story, 'The Tell-Tale Heart' provided the inspiration for this Aaron Guzikowski-scripted thriller, which is directed with steely intensity by Denis Villeneuve and evocatively photographed by Roger Deakins. Davis is very much a secondary character, even though she and husband Terrence Howard share Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello's grief in having a daughter disappear after a Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, the focus falls on Jackman's frustration with detective Jake Gyllenhaal and his decision to take the law into his own hands in interrogating an educationally disadvantaged suspect, Paul Dano. Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio were linked with the vigilante role before executive producer Mark Wahlberg signed up Jackman.

  • The Help (2011)

    2h 20min
    2h 20min

    Fresh out of university, Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) returns to Jackson, Mississippi and is so appalled by the way that socialite friend Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O'Reilly) treats Aibileen Clark (Davis) that she decides to publish a book of interviews with African-American maids working for white families. Rooted in the turbulent period of the early 1960s when both Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers and President John F. Kennedy were assassinated, this is a trenchant study of socio-political attitudes in the Deep South. But it also has moments of excruciating humour and simple poignancy that ensured Davis won the Screen Actors Guild Awards for both Best Actress and Best Ensemble Cast.

    Director:
    Tate Taylor
    Cast:
    Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer
    Genre:
    Drama
    Formats:
  • Eat, Pray, Love (2010)

    Play trailer
    2h 20min
    Play trailer
    2h 20min

    Having spent 150 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir was destined to reach the big screen. Ryan Murphy turned it into a feel-good travelogue that follows Gilbert (Julia Roberts) through Italy, India and Indonesia and divided the critics between those who hated it and those who really hated it. But it's audiences that count and this has become a classic variation on what was once called 'a woman's picture'. Had Gilbert listened to best friend Delia Shiraz (Davis), however, she would have stayed home and dealt with the fallout of divorcing Steven (Billy Crudup) and finding a sympathetic ear in David (James Franco).

  • Doubt (2008)

    Play trailer
    1h 43min
    Play trailer
    1h 43min

    With her eight-minute turn in this unsettling study of trust in a New York Catholic school in the mid-1960s, Viola Davis joined Sylvia Miles and Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight in receiving an Oscar nomination for a performance that lasted for just a single scene. Having shared the scene, Meryl Streep was hugely impressed and described Davis as 'gigantically gifted'. The film also joined an exclusive club in receiving four acting nods without being nominated for Best Picture.