Viola Davis is a scene stealer


Can you imagine what it’s like to steal a scene from Meryl Streep? One of the only people on earth who can answer that question affirmatively is Oscar-contender, Viola Davis.

Davis, however, “absolutely disagree[s]” that she stole the scene, noting that Streep (or “Meryl” as she calls her) is a consummate actor’s actor, who works with her co-star to create the best possible scene. Fair enough. I’m certainly not going to suggest that Meryl Streep is not a class act. But there’s no denying that Viola Davis’ few minutes on screen in Doubt packed the greatest emotional punch of the movie.

And despite how much she enjoyed working with Streep, Davis acknowledges that she didn’t sleep the night before they filmed.

I did not sleep one wink … I got up. I looked at the script. I paced, lay back down, got up, paced some more. You can’t suck with Meryl Streep. If you do, she’ll eat you alive. Not intentionally — she’s a beautiful person — but she’s going to come at the top of her game. No, you don’t sleep.

It shouldn’t come as any great surprise to anyone familiar with Viola Davis’ work that she owned the scene. She’s a Julliard-trained, Tony-Award-winning actress, and Doubt was adapted for the screen from the stage by the playwright. It was definitely a stage-actor’s movie. Of course, most people are probably not that familiar with her body of work. She was nominated for her first Tony Award in 1996 (Best Featured Actress in a Play — Seven Guitars), and she’s had numerous mostly below-the-radar movie and television roles since then. But it was this role that earned her the National Board of Review Award for “Best Breakthrough Performance.”

Although I’ve seen Davis in several movies, prior to Doubt I knew her best from Law & Order: SVU, where she’s had a recurring role — usually sparring with Casey Novak — as defense attorney Donna Emmett. But her performance in Doubt makes me want to go back and better appreciate her earlier performances. In those 10 minutes or so onscreen, Davis delivered a monologue that was both heart-wrenching and horrifying, as she expressed her deep love and concern for her son and the questionable or even desperate choices she was willing to make to protect him in the limited ways she could. It was a devastating scene, and the Academy, among others, has taken notice: Davis is considered by many to be the front-runner in the Oscar race for Best Supporting Actress.

Adriane Lenox, the original Mrs. Miller on Broadway, won the Tony Award for her performance in Doubt, and it would certainly be nice to see Davis follow with a win at the Academy Awards. Davis admits to enjoying the attention:

They’re making a fuss. It feels fabulous. Mostly, it makes me feel like I did my job. I was so nervous going in, but now it’s like I won the lottery. I feel blessed. I couldn’t have imagined anything like this growing up.

But she keeps it in perspective:

Everybody wants to go to the Oscars. We’ll see. Buzz is happening, but you can’t touch buzz. You can’t pay your bills with buzz.

Do you think Viola Davis should/will win the Oscar for Doubt? What other roles of hers have you seen?

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