Mind for MUR­DER

Vi­ola Davis talks tele­vi­sion’s messi­est and most loath­some crim­i­nal lawyer

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - TV Guide - - TV GUIDE -

PRO­FES­SOR An­nalise Keat­ing is a for­mi­da­ble force. The lead char­ac­ter of US hit drama

How To Get Away With Mur­der is charis­matic, fiercely in­tel­li­gent, ma­nip­u­la­tive, sexy, con­tra­dic­tory and un­apolo­getic. It’s a com­pelling and ter­ri­fy­ing mix.

So when Vi­ola Davis, the ac­claimed actress who plays Keat­ing with such clar­ity, strides into an in­ter­view, it’s hard to not feel in­tim­i­dated.

Be­tween scenes on the set of the show, Davis oozes ev­ery bit of the charisma of her al­ter ego. She’s hyp­notic, elo­quent and bru­tally hon­est about the un­like­abil­ity of her char­ac­ter. Keat­ing catches her acolytes – the five stu­dents hand­picked from her Crim­i­nal Law 100 class dubbed ‘how to get away with mur­der’ – off guard with her bru­tal as­sess­ments and in­sights.

In per­son, Davis catches you equally off bal­ance. One minute it’s in­tense eye con­tact as she speaks, en­tranc­ing with her an­swers. The next she un­leashes a very unKeat­ing-like guf­faw. It’s a mag­nif­i­cent laugh – deep, gen­uine, a touch dirty, and de­light­fully self-dep­re­cat­ing.

Of the role that has re­cently seen her add a Screen Ac­tors Guild (SAG) Award for most out­stand­ing ac­tor in a drama se­ries to her dual Os­car nom­i­na­tions for The Help and Doubt, Davis rev­els in Keat­ing’s loath­some per­sona. She was determined, upon read­ing the script, to show what was be­hind Keat­ing’s cool mask.

“Her qual­ity of turn­ing her vul­ner­a­bil­ity off so fast is the thing that stuck out the most,” Davis says.

“I can’t do that. Per­son­ally, I am to­gether but I do have my mo­ments of weak­ness. If you cut me I do bleed. I can get hurt. I am hu­man. I am not made of Te­flon – that’s a huge con­tra­dic­tion with my char­ac­ter.” Up­com­ing episodes of HTGAWM re­veal Davis’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to take off Keat­ing’s mask.

Af­ter a day of her stan­dard coiffed, bit­ing, un­com­pro­mis­ing lawyer­ing and teach­ing, Keat­ing ditches the sleek clothes, and calmly re­moves her wig and ev­ery trace of make-up. It’s a brave scene, and retelling it ex­poses both Davis’ in­ten­sity and that boom­ing laugh.

“I wanted her to look like a real woman,” says Davis. “In the midst of all this fic­tion – and I un­der­stand it’s fic­tion – I wanted there to be some­thing about her that’s still familiar – a woman who is sexy and who is messy and who doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily know how to walk in heels, be­cause women buy heels all the time that they don’t know how to walk in and they hurt their feet.

“I wanted her to feel like the women that usu­ally are marginalised on TV. Be­cause all the women that I know who are sex­u­alised and mys­te­ri­ous and messy and all of those juicy things, they could be any­where from a size zero to a size 22 and they do in­deed take their makeup off at night and their wigs if they’re wear­ing one.

“At one point be­fore we did the scene they said, ‘OK, wait, wait, wait … how much make-up do we want to take off ?’ I had the wipe in my hand and I thought ‘OK, all of it. Let’s take it all off ’. They said, ‘Are you sure”’ and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it’.”

Davis takes a breath, cracks a smile and de­liv­ers the next line with a rum­ble of laugh­ter. “Af­ter I took that make-up off I said, ‘Well maybe I shouldn’t have gone that far’.”

Se­ri­ous again, she con­fesses it’s lib­er­at­ing not to “fil­ter the truth”.

“I don’t know how to fit a square peg into a round hole. I don’t know how to be that woman who is a size zero be­cause then I would have to not eat and I just can’t do that.

“You need a chal­lenge – and the chal­lenge for me is An­nalise Keat­ing.”



In­tim­i­dat­ing: Vi­ola Davis is un­com­pro­mis­ing as law pro­fes­sor An­nalise Keat­ing.

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