"I always say it was the first word I learned to spell when I was 5 years old," jokes Viola Davis. The word? Vaseline. We're at the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills, celebrating the launch of the brand's new Cocoa Radiant Smoothing Body Butter ($6). Viola has been a brand ambassador since 2016 and has been using the product since childhood. "It's perfect for me because it's been in my life since I was a kid. It's tried and true."
Viola is an Oscar-award winning actress, being the only black woman to be nominated three times. She's won the triple crown of acting; she's also a successful producer. She graduated from Juilliard and has been named one of Time's Most Influential People. But like most success stories, she's a product of overcoming odds and having a hunger for her craft. Viola has been vocal about how she grew up in poverty and has been outspoken about the trauma survivors live with after enduring sexual assault. She's a crusader for human rights — she'll be awarded at the ACLU Bill of Rights dinner this December — and although she is exemplary at all of these things, oftentimes delivering inspirational speeches on all the aforementioned issues, she never sounds rehearsed or calculated. With many celebrities, you can see the wheels spinning. They're thinking about what they've been trained to say. They're cautious. They're overanalyzing the question.
She could totally be rehearsed — of course she could be. She's a decorated thespian and Hollywood mainstay. But it doesn't feel forced, contrived, or like she's talking at you when answering a question — she's talking directly to you. Many members of the media who have spoken with Viola have joked that it was like a spiritual experience to have a conversation with her. She's no BS, she doesn't skip a beat, and you take to heart everything she has to say.
For instance, when asked if we've come a long way when it comes to beauty ideals, she doesn't stew on the answer. "At least when I was a kid, I saw very few models, you know, when I saw models, I mean people who look like me, even in commercials. Very few African-American women, very few women of color, very few women with different body types. I think we're evolved in that sense," she said. "Where we have some ways to go is that everybody wants to look like someone else. You go to a plastic surgeon's office, 'Give me Angelina Jolie's nose,' you know? 'I want Kim Kardashian's cheeks.' And people have to know that you have to start with the palette, which is you. At some point, you have to be OK with you. It's kind of this inner journey that one has to make. And I think that's a huge part of accepting one's beauty."
This is only my second question. I hit the reporter jackpot.
Jumping off the beauty ideals conversation, we discuss how she got to the point where she felt completely confident and beautiful within herself.
"Well I started to, even though it sounds like kumbaya, I started to listen to that voice that nobody listens to, and that's my own inner voice. My own inner voice always tells me exactly where I need to go and who I am," she said. "At a certain point, I just listened to it, when everything else was failing. And now I've gotten to a place where I don't want to fit in as much as I want to belong. Belonging is something completely different. It's about being your authentic self. Now I really have a clear image of who I am. It's through the process of elimination, I guess. I use that go-to phrase which is 'the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.'"
She's unreal, right? I'm not trying to be dramatic, but it's rare that you get this type of candor at a press day. These are responses more women need to be sharing with each other — and the world.
As a highly publicized woman in the entertainment industry, Viola receives her fair share of praise, but gets the unwelcome gift of intense scrutiny as well. How does she overcome negativity when it seems to be coming from all directions?
"I allow myself to admit when something does hurt me. I allow myself to be angry. I think anger and hurt are very legitimate emotions. So I allow myself to say, I've been hurt and that I'm angry, and then I move on," said Viola. "You know, I realize at the end, when I'm with my daughter and I'm with my husband, that there is this place, a sacred place in all of our lives that has nothing to do with outside criticism. My daughter is not aware that someone doesn't like Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder; she just loves me. At the end of the day, if I'm feeling sick of that fact that someone doesn't like How to Get AWay With Murder, it isn't going to make me better. I've come to that conclusion. And the fact that I'm not the cutest woman in the world . . . really, listen. I hooked the greatest man in the world, which is my husband. So I'm starting to make logical connections with what is real and what is not. And you make those connections once you hit 52."
See? Told you that it would be the most inspirational thing you've read all day. Watch the full interview to hear what more Viola had to say about sexual assault since the bombshell reports surfaced, plus the biggest risk she's ever taken. Trust me, her answers are just as insightful. New episodes of Pretty Unfiltered go live each Wednesday on YouTube and Facebook Watch.