How to Portray a Real Person, According to Viola Davis

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Photo Source: Miramax Films

“An actor has a hell of a responsibility,” says Viola Davis. “I always think, What does it mean to create a character or a narrative that people can be proud of, other women can be proud of? I am always confused by that, only because there are parts of ourselves that are so freakin’ putrid.”

The Academy Award winner doesn’t mince words when it comes to the complexities of portraying another human being, speaking candidly on the Los Angeles Times Actress Roundtable, which also included Nicole Kidman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Melissa McCarthy. Discussing the even more complicated nature of portraying a real-life person, Davis gets honest about actor sentimentality.

“We have a nostalgic approach to how we view ourselves, and a huge part of what you do as an actor: You have to be an observer and you have to be a thief,” she says. “You have to get inside that person, understand what makes them tic. [If] you’re playing a real-life person, how much do you do that? If you’re trying to please the person and there are certain things about themselves that they want to keep hidden but you see it of value as an actress, do you use it? We have the only collaborative artform. You can’t be an actor in your room.”

As to that last part, well, you can be an actor in your room, you just probably won’t win an Oscar that way.  

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