More Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom stills have been added to our gallery! I am getting so excited for this film!
Viola Davis never set out to perfectly embody Ma Rainey as she was, nor did she particularly concern herself over meeting anyone’s expectations of how she would play the part. “I wanted to create a character on my own terms,” she tells ET. “I did not want to filter it through the white gaze or through any idea that people would have about someone who is larger, Black, a singer, a woman.”
“Usually those characters are just big and funny. Big, Black and funny,” Davis puts it plainly. “I wanted more than that. I wanted autonomy.”
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the actress’ second adaptation of an August Wilson stage show, following her Oscar-winning turn in 2016’s Fences. (Denzel Washington, who co-starred in and directed the latter, serves as an executive producer on Ma Rainey.) Davis stars as the legendary singer, known as the Mother of the Blues, during a recording session of the titular song in 1920s Chicago.
The role demanded a transformation, beginning internally and spreading outward. Few photos of the real Ma are in circulation, but to capture her appearance, Davis was fitted with padding, her makeup greased on and teeth gilded. “They say she always looked like she was dripping in sweat, all the time,” Davis adds, so that, too, became part of the look. The blood and tears are Davis’ but, “The sweat is from my makeup artist.”
For those in collaboration with her, no one expected anything less than this level of dedication on Davis’ part. “As soon as she says yes, she’s on the journey,” director George C. Wolfe says of her signing on, “and she’s bringing every single thing she has.” It was his job, then, to create an atmosphere that allowed Davis and her castmates to take risks and feel they had permission to fail. “Pressure to be perfect can stop real, authentic, brilliant work from happening.”
For Ma’s bandmates — a troupe of musicians played by Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, Glynn Turman and the late Chadwick Boseman — that was evident from the moment they stepped on set. “The thing that is so apparent,” Turman says, “is Viola doesn’t run away from anything.”
“She runs to it,” Domingo chimes in.
“She is daring. She takes chances. She runs right into the flame like a first responder,” Turman explains. “It was not a Hollywood dance around the subject and make sure we come out cute on the other side kind of thing. This was just raw power all the way. And to watch her layer those on? Oh boy, what a performer. What a performer.”
At the end of the day, everything Davis put into Ma was about more than creating a character. It was about achieving the sort of experience that inspired her to get into this business in the first place. “You have very few of those experiences that you think you’re going to have,” she reflects with a laugh. “But every once in a while, something comes along and it’s exactly what you dreamed it would be. It’s like the most wonderful stew with the best ingredients, so then the process and the outcome are going to be nothing less than magnificent.”
Viola spoke with ET Canada about working with her co-star Chadwick Boseman!
Academy Award-winner Viola Davis reflects on working with the late Chadwick Boseman on his final film, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, which is already receiving Oscar buzz.
CBS News featured Viola on 60 Minutes. Here is a highlight from that interview.
Viola Davis opens up to Jon Wertheim about her new role as Ma Rainey, her relationship with August Wilson’s material, a bold scene on “How to Get Away with Murder” and her life growing up.
The Triple Crown of horse racing is hard to come by. Same goes for the Triple Crown of Acting – that’s an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony in an acting category. Of the 24 performers who have pulled off the feat, Viola Davis is currently the youngest and the first African American. On stage, or when the cameras roll, Davis will rip your heart out, but with a surgeon’s touch. She doesn’t overwhelm so much as she inhabits a role. Perhaps because of this classical approach to the craft, she didn’t vault to A-list status, but rather worked her way up, letter by letter. Her next performance is Davis in full ascent: she headlines a Netflix movie, out later this month, adapted from August Wilson’s canon of plays. At age 55, Davis put on weight and padding, put in gold teeth, and plays the irrepressible title character, in the film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
Ma Rainey was the real-life “Mother of the Blues,” whose cabaret-style tent shows in the 1920s South led her to a lucrative recording career.
Ma sang from her gut and proudly declared her bisexuality in her lyrics. Viola Davis swivels into the character, a diva with heft, a role she didn’t see herself playing at first.
Viola Davis: No I did not. Here’s the thing about acting. It’s a weird Peter Pan syndrome that happens. So, I still saw myself as that 19-year-old girl going, “I can’t play Ma Rainey. I’m too young. You gotta get a more formidable actress who’s been out there for 40, 50 years,” until I realize “Viola, you’re actually a little bit older than what Ma Rainey is.”
Davis has been out there, acting for three decades. First on stage, then in a string of films as the best friend, the junkie, the widow, the maid, but Ma is different.
Take this scene: before recording tracks on a sweaty summer day, Ma demands that the White guys profiting from her music first bring her a Coke.
Jon Wertheim: Did you get all that Coke down in one take?
Viola Davis: Yes I did.
Viola Davis: Yeah, I drank the whole Coke. Yes.
Jon Wertheim: What’s really going on in that scene?
Viola Davis: What’s really going on is it’s not about the Coke. It’s about what I deserve. It’s about what I’ve worked for, and what I’ve earned.
If Ma Rainey was unapologetic about her worth, Viola Davis took a while to get there herself, nudged along by the late playwright August Wilson – the man who wrote her breakout stage role, Vera in the 1996 Broadway production of “Seven Guitars.”
Fifteen years later, her layered portrayal of devoted wife Rose Maxson in another Wilson classic, “Fences,” earned Davis first, a Tony Award and then, an Oscar in the film adaptation.
Jon Wertheim: What is it about August Wilson that clearly resonates so deeply with you?
Viola Davis: First of all, he creates real human beings. And he makes the most common Black man, Black woman, kings and queens. But I think that there is a common understanding that when you have playwrights and writers like Arthur Miller, and Eugene O’Neill, and Edward Albee, and Shakespeare, that they’re writing a universal language, because they’re white. I think that you could see yourself in an August Wilson play. I do.
Jon Wertheim: You don’t get to meet Shakespeare. You don’t get to meet Tennessee Williams. You met August Wilson. What was the most memorable thing he ever said to you?
Viola Davis: That I was beautiful. It was during “Seven Guitars.” She has a monologue that absolutely is like an aria. And he said he would always watch it, and he would always say, “Viola, you are just so beautiful.” And– I don’t know. I never felt feminine. I never felt like I could fit into that sort of confines of what it meant, or the stereotypical ways of what being a woman was about until I did “Seven Guitars.”
For the last six years, Davis pushed the boundaries of femininity on the small screen, as criminal defense lawyer Annalise Keating in “How to Get Away with Murder,” once famously removing her wig and makeup on camera.
Jon Wertheim: Did you know in advance of the role that that scene was coming?
Viola Davis: Yes, because I told them that they had to write it for me.
Viola is featured in the December issue of the AARP magazine. She talks about how as a child she went with her mother to protests and the example her mother was to her. She also discusses her belief in God and prayer, the blessing of her family and more.
“I am au naturel,” proclaims actress Viola Davis as she pops up on my computer screen for our Zoom chat. She is indeed sporting a plain white robe, a brown turban and no makeup, no adornments.
“I feel it is my duty as a human citizen to not put out perfectionist images,” she says. “I’m putting out a realistic image. And if that doesn’t please people, so be it.”
It’s a sharp departure for a woman who once considered herself to be invisible, and did all she could to be seen as someone other than herself. Davis, the second youngest of six children, was raised in tiny Central Falls, Rhode Island, where her dad, Dan, worked as a horse groomer and her mother, Mae Alice, was a maid and occasional factory worker. The family lived in a partially condemned apartment building; their homelife, says Davis, was stained by alcoholism and violence at the hands of her father. Often attending school hungry, she was ostracized not only because she was a dark-skinned Black girl in what was then a predominantly white community, but because her appearance and hygiene betrayed her dire poverty.
To be seen, she says, she excelled in school and college, and eventually attended the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, where her journey as an actress began—and in recent years has taken off. Appearing in films like The Help, Doubt and Fences, and on the TV hit How to Get Away with Murder, she has already collected an Oscar, an Emmy and two Tonys — becoming the first African American woman to win what is considered the triple crown of acting.
She stars in the Netflix film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, premiering Nov. 25, and next year she will appear in at least two other big-screen projects. Alongside her husband, Julius Tennon — married 17 years, they have a 10-year-old daughter, Genesis — Davis recently landed an expanded film and television production deal with Amazon.
And in a year many would describe as one of the most difficult in modern times — a global pandemic, national economic decline, racial tension and political divisiveness fueled by a presidential election — Davis, who has more than 10 million followers on her social media accounts, has emerged as a powerful voice not only on the modern-day American Black experience but also on the suffering and poverty that transect racial lines.
Of course she could have gotten made up for her interview today. But for Davis, 55, offering herself plainly is a hard-won achievement, as is the self-confidence she has built, bit by bit, that allows her to expose herself so freely. You can hear that confidence in her voice — not simply deep and melodic but full of intention — both when she is deadly serious and when she is busting out in joyous laughter. It is the voice of someone at the top of her game, and someone who once, at the very beginning, was at the bottom. If only for that reason, perhaps we should listen.
Q. Do you remember the moment you realized you were somebody?
Anne Lamott, the fabulous writer, says that someone or something would give her a leaf pad, and that leaf pad was enough to carry her to the next leaf pad, and then carry her to the next leaf pad. That’s how she moved through her life, through her pain, through everything, until she got to a landing. And that’s what it was for me.
Q. In what ways?
It was just a gradual sense of going out there and doing things, and then realizing at 14 that I was pretty good at acting. My drama teacher looked me in the face and said, “Viola, if you can really get this, develop a technique, you can actually make a life out of this. You’re actually that good.” It’s those little seeds that give you an inkling of who you could become. God moments.
And it’s the people who loved me, people who poured into me. Let me tell you something, when someone loves you, and sees more in you than you see in yourself, you cannot put a price on that. That was every single one of my teachers in high school, in the Upward Bound program, in Summer in the City. Those were my leaf pads.
Viola is featured in the new Los Angeles Times and talks about her role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and what she learned from this character.
Viola Davis has collected an Academy Award, an Emmy, two Tonys and dozens more acting kudos, and now another powerhouse role has propelled her to the top of the 2021 best actress Oscar race: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, the unapologetically brash real-life Southern blues singer at the center of a tempestuous 1927 Chicago recording session in the August Wilson adaptation “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
It’s a juicy role that has landed Davis in the Oscar conversation along with her costar, the late Chadwick Boseman, who dazzles in his final performance as a hotheaded young horn player with eyes for Ma’s girlfriend and radical new ideas for Ma’s music. (Netflix unveils the film in a limited theatrical run Nov. 25 and begins streaming it Dec. 18.) But even the formidable Davis admits she wasn’t initially sure she could pull off the swaggering blues legend.
“There’s a typecasting that happens in the business, and after a while you start to typecast yourself and think of 50 million other people who could have played the role,” says Davis, 55, whose six-season, Emmy-winning star turn on the ABC hit drama “How To Get Away With Murder” concluded earlier this year. “But that’s not what acting is. It’s a transformative art form. It’s about taking whatever you have and using it to transform into a character that is completely different than you.”
She typecasted herself, Davis says — until she stopped comparing herself to other actresses and embraced the challenge. Denzel Washington, who starred opposite and directed Davis in 2016’s “Fences,” never doubted that she could fill Rainey’s shoes. “Viola can do anything,” says Washington, a producer on “Ma Rainey.” “There was no question that she could do it. She’s a once-in-a-generation talent.”
Variety made their predictions for this years Oscar nominees in all of the main categories … Viola was a high contender for a nomination for her role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
2021 OSCARS PREDICTIONS: BEST ACTRESS
Netflix looks very good to possible run the gauntlet in the best actress race, currently holding four out of the five slots (long way to go). Andra Day is that contender waiting in the wings and there could be a double dose of Meryl Streep in play here with “The Prom” from Ryan Murphy and “Let Them All Talk” from Steven Soderbergh. The former has not been confirmed yet for a lead run so we remain flexible on where she could land.
AND THE PREDICTED NOMINEES ARE:
“PIeces of a Woman” (Netflix)
“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix)
“The Life Ahead” (Netflix)
“The Prom” (Netflix)
Some of the outtakes from the cover shoot that Viola did with InStyle magazine have been added to the gallery! I love this shoot!
Viola Davis Online > Outtakes > 2020 > 002
Viola Davis on Ma Rainey and Playing the Mother of Blues
InStyle’s December cover star is the talented Viola Davis, whose list of accolades include an Academy Award, Emmy Award and two Tony Awards. In this video, she introduces her new film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and shares the inspiration for playing the legendary blues musician and discusses the importance of telling her story.
In her December Cover Story, Viola Davis discusses what attracted her to the role of Ma Rainey, how she’s handling quarantine and the power of authenticity.
As we are getting closer to the December release of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom we are starting to get images from the film. I have added some to our gallery.