By Lisa Rosen
January 23, 2009
Viola Davis, a newly crowned supporting actress nominee for her role as Mrs. Miller in "Doubt," was watching the scene in tears at home in Los Angeles with her husband. "You feel like it's an acknowledgment that we are actually a part of this country," she says. "It gives you renewed belief in what America was -- and is -- supposed to be."
It's not hard to imagine that Mrs. Miller would have been on the mall, watching in joy and disbelief that this moment has finally arrived.
"Doubt's" plot concerns a young boy who may or may not have been molested by a charismatic priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The year is 1964. Donald Miller (Joseph Foster) is the only black child at an otherwise all-white Catholic school, and is being tormented by the other students. The priest claims merely to be showing extra compassion because of the circumstances the boy faces.
FOR THE RECORD:
'Doubt': A Calendar section article Friday about supporting actress Oscar nominee Viola Davis said her film, "Doubt," is set in 1962. It is set in 1964. —
The principal, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), is sure that Father Flynn is lying. She calls in Donald's mother. Mrs. Miller must choose whether to support the nun's outrage or to keep silent and pursue a decent education for her child with a protector, who, though possibly a predator, has become the only supportive male in the boy's life.
As Mrs. Miller, Davis plays a woman who has been so beaten down by life that her every look and gesture convey her defeat. Davis likens her character's options to those in the films "Sophie's Choice" and "Beloved," tragedies that revolved around sacrificing children.
Just as Mrs. Miller is an outsider to her insulated Bronxsociety, Davis herself long felt she was on the outside looking in.
She grew up in a predominantly white Rhode Island community and recalls the pain of trying to fit in. "You want to put it into words without offending anyone, but really it was that screaming voice inside of you of wanting to be just acknowledged as a human being and not wanting to feel -- less than," she says. "Tuesday was a very important day. You can literally say to a young black boy, and say with full honesty, 'You can be president one day.' Before, it just wasn't the case."
Davis attended Juilliard, but was surprised by the dearth of acting jobs after graduation. "You're kind of in an incubator in acting school," she says. "I didn't think I was any different from the Caucasian actresses. I thought if they could play Nora in 'A Doll's House,' I could, that people will consider me the same way they consider them."
The reality was, initially, devastating to the young actress, but she came to accept the inequity and embrace the roles she could get. And now she has an Oscar nomination.
"I'm the brown-skinned girl who grew up in poverty and dreamed as a way of escaping my environment, and was satisfied with doing plays for $250 a week," she says. "So this is more than I could ever imagine."
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