“Beautiful Creature” Davis, who played a maid in “The Help,” took on the role of Amma in “Beautiful Creatures” because the character was empowered.
“This is 2013 and I think that it’s time enough for Black women being maids,” Davis says. “I felt like if this woman was woven into the whole grand scheme of this story and this world, this town and this family and she was a friend of the mothers who was in the academic world then I didn’t want to be a maid. I really didn’t. I wanted to be something else. I wanted to have a different role other than the role of servitude in this.”
Davis went on to say that she hopes audiences accepts the change since director Richard LaGravenese was not a slave to the book. It is a known fact that in the past, fans have been outraged when the films are not exactly like the books.
In addition to being an empowered caregiver, your character is an anchor in this supernatural tale?
VIOLA DAVIS: Right. I thought that she was quietly fascinating. She was a friend of the family and it made sense her relationship with the family. She wasn’t just a random Black best friend. It made sense because the mother had passed and I looked after her son because I know the husband was going be depressed. And you peel a layer and see the scarification on Amma’s back and you peel away again and you see the fact that she’s a seer. I love the depth of that character.
Did you talk to anyone who thinks that he/she is a seer or psychic?
VD: I went down to the French Quarters in New Orleans and I went up to them and said, ‘I need to talk to a seer.’ They said, ‘You need to talk to Xander. He’s right around there but he only comes after eight o’clock at night’ and I said, ‘I’m not coming back at eight o’clock at night.’ [Laughter] I’m going to have to read about it. I’m gonna have to go on YouTube. [Laughter]. I did all this research and reading on seers and all the seers that were out there. However, I was more of a channeler and did channel some spirits in this but a lot of times it’s one spirit that comes to you. Then of course, Richard wanted me to speak Gullah, and I saw the Gullah and I said, ‘This just isn’t going to work.’ I just think the people would not have been able to grasp it. I didn’t want to speak English so I choose Yoruba because most of the slaves of the slave trade during the time period that we dealt with in the civil war came from Nigeria. They spoke Yoruba and they called the spiritual symbol Orisha. For me, that was an interesting tribe to explore and its scarification. So I learned some Yoruba, connected with some linguists at a school in New Orleans and I learned some Yoruba and spoke it to my daughter. I would go around the house speaking to her and she’d say – ‘Mommy stop that.’
Did what you read ever make you feel uneasy?
VD: No, I find it fascinating and beautiful because I’ve been to Africa. I don’t see it as mysterious but as ritualistic. I see it as Joseph Campbell would see it, as a way of connecting to self as a way of connecting and defining yourself in the world, within a community and within a tribe. That’s how I see it.
Where do your beliefs lie?
VD: I’m a Christian but I’m a believer in ritual. I’m a believer that people have certain aspects of a ritual and they, because they believe it, they endow it with power. I was in Africa when I was 25 years old and it was an intensive two weeks. I studied four tribes (Mandinka, Susu, Wala, Jola), the dance music and folk law. So I was in the compounds with the people and I learned their rituals.
Can you talk about your “Ender’s Game” film that will be coming out?
VD: Yes, I play Major Anderson and these kids in it are being trained for war. They’re out there to kill this alien force that is threatening life on Earth. Since they’re being trained to kill and are [of that mindset], my job as a psychologist is to deal with them once them come home. So I work with Harrison Ford’s character who is doing the training to just kind of inject him with some type of humanity and lucidness to understand how far he should go. I really like it because I think it’s really necessary especially with everything that we’re learning now from these men coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq and how they don’t come back the same. How do they do it? How do they become integrated back into society. I love the fact that I was working with Ben Kingsley and Harrison Ford and those young people. I loved ‘Tsotsi’. I loved that movie. I love the fact that it’s science fiction.
Is it hard sometimes making decisions about roles?
VD: Sometimes it’s hard to decide. It really is, I have to be honest with you. Sometimes I’ll look at something and go, ‘I can’t do that’—and then someone does it and it becomes a hit. I question my judgment but I have to believe that God has put me on a very, very specific path. I have to believe that. At least, the path that I’m on is one of an actor and an artist. It’s not one of a celebrity. I’m not turning things away because I want to be a star. Just give me roles that Julia Roberts would play or Halle Berry would play or whatever. I’m still an actor. I feel like I have to really be confident in that and I think that if you continue to do that, you’ll always land. I find that you’re always at battle with that, I’m in the beautiful position of being able to choose at this present moment so it’s like you have two choices, what do you choose? What is the best choice? Sometimes I’ve not chosen wisely but I always feel like it brings me around to the path that I’m supposed to be on.
Since you’re not twenty-something, what’s your take on aging in Hollywood?
JD: There are just so many people too desperate to stay young. I mean listen, if you’re 34 or 35 and you’re still trying to be 27, that’s one thing. But when you get over 40 and 45 years old, you’re not 25 years old anymore. However young you may look, if they put you up against a 25 year old, and you’re 45, there is a difference. At some point, no matter how much Botox you do, no matter how much plastic surgery, you’re 45, 50, 60 and at some point you’re gonna have to make peace with that. It’s too much. This business is so stressful why would you want to take that on too—being 55 and competing with a 30 year old. I can’t even imagine that, with the stretch marks and hot flashes. I’m perfectly comfortable playing my age.
What’s your challenge as an actress?
VD: I think that it’s built into the fabric of the character. It dictates what you are supposed to do as an actor. I went through nine, ten years of training, not to be cute, to find the humanity in every single one of my characters because whatever you see on the screen, if you don’t see a human being, that actor is not doing their work. You can see a lot of acrobats. That’s my life mission as [an actress] as well as raising a great daughter and having a great marriage.