HOLLYWOOD – Nominated in 2012 for her formidable role as Aibilene in Tate Taylor’s “The Help” and in 2008, as the unrelenting Mrs. Miller in John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt,” Viola Davis costars as Amma, an all-knowing librarian in “Beautiful Creatures” from Oscar® nominee Richard LaGravenese (“The Fisher King,”"P.S. I Love You”), who directs the supernatural love story from his adaptation of the first novel in the best-selling series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.
Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), 17, has had the same recurring dream for months. A mysterious young girl is waiting for him on a Civil War battlefield. Ethan desperately wants to be with her, but there is an unknown danger—and each time a lightning bolt cracks like a gunshot, killing Ethan before he ever reaches the girl.
The danger of this strange dream world, however, is preferable to Ethan’s waking existence in Gatlin, South Carolina, a small, conservative Southern town that hasn’t caught up to the 21st century, where nothing ever changes and nothing ever happens. Trapped at home with a father who has completely withdrawn since the sudden death of Ethan’s mother, Ethan yearns for a life he can only read about in books.
But Ethan’s mundane world is shaken up with the arrival of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the beautiful and enigmatic niece of Macon Ravenwood (Oscar winner Jeremy Irons), the reclusive owner of gothic Ravenwood Manor. Ethan finds himself immediately drawn to Lena, even though destruction seems to inexplicably follow her and it becomes apparent that she is a Caster, with powers beyond her control. The town, led by conservative Mrs. Lincoln (Oscar winner Emma Thompson), wants her banished.
Amma (Davis) is afraid history may repeat itself—a history of family secrets and a curse that looms for Lena as she approaches her 16th birthday. It is that time when a Caster is chosen by the forces of either the Light or the Dark. But Lena’s fate may already be sealed by the curse that draws both her and Ethan into a tangled web of spells and peril from which there may be no escape.
“Beautiful Creatures” opens Valentine’s Day from Warner Bros. Pictures and has been rated PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material. A sleek and fashionable Viola Davis sat with press in Los Angeles to discuss this new film–
You are visually stunning in this movie. Did you have much to say about the look of your character?
Viola Davis: Yeah, we did discuss it. Richard had an idea for the hair which in hindsight probably would have been an interesting choice but I thought it was so over the top that it would be taking people out of the movie. He wanted this kind of African braids design that went in different directions and I didn’t want to be this kind of voodoo woman. I loved the choice of this character because I felt like all the characters in this film dealt with the past. When I looked at Amma in the film versus Amma in the book it’s much different. I understand that but I wanted to know about the film version of Amma: where did she come from, who are these voices speaking through her, who are these ancestors speaking through her? To me, it made sense with the scars of her look because it made me think of Europe. I’ve been to Africa, I know of scarification: the tribal scarves made perfect sense so I was willing to go with it and not see it as just this general choice that people would make because I’m a black woman.
Your look has been as much the focal point as has been your talent for the past couple of years. Is this something that you’re constantly aware of, the whole presentation of you? By observation, you’re really allowing yourself to embellish now.
Davis: I am consciously aware of it but I’m not doing it because I know that people would be consciously aware of it, if that makes any sense. I knew that it would be sort of a big deal when I took my wig off. It’s different than just changing your hair style when you take your wig off…
But I always say the reason I took it off is because I was using my wigs not as an enhancement, but as a crutch. I felt that I did it because I was so aware of changing my image in real life that to counteract what people saw on the screen, I wanted people to say, look at me, aren’t I beautiful? I think that after a certain age that is very unhealthy. I know that actors have to be conscious of image but I just felt like that was very unhealthy and it wasn’t really doing anything for me. It’s not like I was going to be rolling around in bed with Tom Cruise or Ben Affleck, or that people saw me in this great wig at the SAG awards and thought, ‘oh she’s so beautiful,’ we’re going to give you a very Euro-centric role. That wasn’t going to happen. So I said to myself, just make the most revolutionary choice and be who I am.
It’s a gorgeous look.
Davis: Thank you.
As an actor of acclaim with an impressive portfolio, what surprised you by some of the performances from the younger actors in this film?
Davis: I’ll tell you the number one thing that all of the young people do, especially young people in this cast, they are so confident and self-assured, more so than what I was at that age. I don’t know how any others were when they were young, but for me, I had no sense of myself. And the fact that this movie is going to do something, whether it’s going to be likened to Twilight or Harry Potter, who knows, but knowing that they were going to put their work out there to be scrutinized and the big deal that is. They are very confident and probably aware of the comparisons but not caring about it so much. I think that’s the most beautiful part of this current generation; they don’t apologize for being who they are. I felt like I spent most of my childhood doing that and I think this was a lesson for me to learn because I still have a tendency to do so.
Where do you think that comes from? The younger generation that’s confident …
Davis: I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s a social media, maybe that’s it. They get to communicate with each other more so; if someone is going through something they put it out there on Facebook and you’ll have 50 million hits whereas before social media, when you’re going through something you just kind of sucked it up. Because you sucked it up you felt like you were by yourself and that’s probably the good part of the social media. I don’t know. Maybe they’ve learned through all of our mistakes. I tell you, one thing that I love about this generation is they’re not as aware of race and differences, I love it. I think they’re fabulous.
It would appear that racism dissipates with each generation…
Davis: Yeah it does, I really do think so.
Some years ago you were asked if you would tell your mother’s story, one of courage, strength and determination. Given your flexibility to work adeptly and gracefully between any medium (film, stage, TV), is that something that you would still consider performing on stage?
Davis: I’m funny about doing my life on screen or on the stage. I just feel like it’s a little self-indulgent and maybe I’m not there yet. I feel you’re there once you’ve worked everything out in your life and you can reflect and you’re not so close to it. You’re not having an internal conversation saying, ‘oh look at my pain, look at my joy, and look at me.’ I think that is counterproductive and it is antithetical toward what I do as an actor which is not so much about vanity and ego rather it’s about the release of that vanity. I don’t want my mother to see that. I feel like I have to get her permission and she’d be funny about it.
Is there a favorite or a memorable fun scene in this film?
Davis: I’m trying to think about the fun in this movie because this is the first time I’ve really worked after being a mother (Davis adopted daughter Genesis) so my stress level was at 150. I was trying to find the fun in all of it but I would have to say that there are a couple of things that were fun that were cut from the movie. I had to learn Yoruba, a Nigerian language because Amma had to channel her ancestors. I felt that if she were channeling someone in the past who was a slave where would they come from? Many people spoke Yoruba. When you look back at slavery, I thought it was more interesting than Gullah (a Creole language) so it was fun learning Yoruba. Of course, the fun ended because I had to do this film in the swamps of Louisiana and I was afraid that an alligator was going to eat my behind. There were bugs and let me tell you something, God was with me when I had to row that boat in the swamp.
Describe your experience working with the director, Richard LaGravanese.
Davis: Fabulous. There are so many great actors in this film and I think he chose the best for the job and that spoke volumes about him as a collaborator. That’s the term we use in the artistic community – collaborator. He helped from the very beginning in that he bought me a really great French meal and sat me down with a few drinks and we were able to discuss the character. You almost never get to do that. He’s a beautiful man.
Did you read the book first or did you choose not to?
Davis: He told me and everyone, absolutely, do not read the book. He was adamant about it. Of course, I read most of the book and then, I said to Richard, ‘I cannot be a housekeeper again.’ I told him I don’t want to see a sponge, I don’t want to have an apron on, I don’t want to wash a dish. I think it’s so convenient that every time you see the black character in a movie that they’re in servitude. I mean, I get it, but there’s more.
By Sandra Varner