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Viola Davis - Biography

All you need to know about the EGOT-winning actress

Viola Davis in pink dress
Matthew Moore
Online News Writer & Diversity and Inclusion Lead
Updated: 16 June 2023
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Early life

Both a celebrated stage performer, she's had roles on and off Broadway, and screen actress movie roles include Traffic, Solaris and Doubt - Viola was born in South Carolina in August 1965, moving with her underprivileged family as a youngster to Rhode Island in New England.

There, as a teenager, her talent earned her a scholarship at a performing arts school and she went on to study theatre at college, before spending four years at New York's prestigious school for the performing arts Juilliard.


Her first big stage role was 1996 tragi-comedy Seven Guitars, which brought her rave reviews and a Tony nod. Other stage highlights include Everybody's Ruby and King Hedley II. It was her performance as Tonya, a 35-year-old mother fighting for her right to an abortion, in the latter which eventually secured her a best actress Tony in 2001.

Viola has a close working relationship with director Steven Soderbergh, appearing in his films Out Of Sight, Solaris both starring George Clooney and Traffic. She's also often recognised for her role in 2002 drama Antwone Fisher, Denzel Washington's directorial debut. Her breakthrough role came in 2008, when she landed the part of Mrs Miller in Doubt alongside Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. "So many African-American actresses were lined up to play that role because it's considered to be one of the greatest roles for an African-American woman in the last couple of years," she explained at the time.

Although brief she's only on screen for 11 minutes her portrayal of the mother of a young boy suspected of being molested, earned her both a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.

Continued success

Viola Davis holding an Oscar© Steve Granitz

Viola continued to impress audiences the world over, and she had another breakout role in The Help which saw her winning two SAG Awards and getting her second nomination at the Academy Awards, losing out to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady. She would go on to win her second Oscar in 2017 after she appeared in the film version of Fences, a Broadway play she has also acted in. She also secured a fourth nomination, becoming the most nominated Black actress in history, for her performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

It's not just film where Viola has found success, as she has also been lauded for her appearance on television. Her performance as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder has seen her win two SAG Awards and even get nominated for the Golden Globes.


Acting isn't Viola's only passion, and the star is also the dedicated acitvist. Activism runs through Viola's veins with her mum having been active in the Civil Rights Movement.

The star's main passion is ending hunger across the America, leading to her partnership with Hunger Is, which started back in 2014. Speaking about joining the charity, she explained: "The thing that made me join...was the word 'eradicate', 'get rid of' - not by thirty-percent not by twenty-percent not by fifty-percent, but to do away [with it]. Because everyone should be a child, and should grow up and have a chance at the American dream."

Personal life

Viola Davis with Julius Tennon© Steven Simione

Viola has been married to her partner, Julius Tennon, since 2003 and the couple sweetly adopted a daughter, Genesis, back in 2011. The young girl has already appeared to be following in her footsteps, with a small role in Get on Up. Viola is a doting stepmother to Julius' two children from his previous relationships.

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