Oscar-nominee Viola Davis on return to TV: ‘I wanted to be the show’

Actress Viola Davis onstage at the "How to Get Away With Murder" panel during the Disney/ABC Television Group portion of the 2014 Summer Television Critics Assn. gathering.
(Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)

Oscar-nominee Viola Davis wanted to be the life of the party, not the setup — that’s why, she said, she accepted television’s invite.

The veteran actress has maintained a steady presence in the film world — earning Academy Award nominations for her work in 2008’s “Doubt” and 2011’s “The Help” — so it came as a head-scratcher to some when news broke that she would reenter the TV world to headline the Shonda Rhimes-backed legal thriller “How to Get Away With Murder.”

But it made perfect sense to Davis.

“I will be bold enough to say that I have gotten so many wonderful film roles,” Davis said Tuesday during a panel for the drama at the Television Critics Assn. press tour. “But I’ve felt like I’ve been invited to a really fabulous party to only hold up the wall. I wanted to be the show. I wanted to have a character that kind of took me out of my comfort zone. That character happened to be in a Shonda Rhimes show. ... I did what any sensible actress would do. I took it.”


Created by Peter Nowalk (“Scandal”, “Grey’s Anatomy”), who will executive produce with power duo Rhimes and Betsy Beers, “How to Get Away With Murder” centers on a group of ambitious law students and their masterful criminal defense professor, Annalise Keating (Davis), who comes with her own set of mysteries.

“I love the fact that she’s messy and mysterious,” she said. “You don’t know who she is. ... She’s messy, she’s a woman, she’s sexual, she’s vulnerable. I feel extremely fortunate that I am alive and still active, and [that] this role came to me at this point in my life.”

The role brings Davis back to television following stints on Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU,” among others. But it stands as her first headlining venture.

“How to Get Away With Murder” will premiere in the fall as part of the network’s Thursday night back-to-back-to-back Rhimes-fest, joined by “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.”

For more TV news, follow me on Twitter: @villarrealy