Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Oscar winner Viola Davis tells USF crowd: 'Own your own story'

TAMPA — "Who is this Viola Davis woman?"

Thousands of fans at the University of South Florida Sun Dome thought they knew the answer Tuesday night when the Academy Award winner posed the question on stage.

Oscar-winning actor. Two-time Tony winner. Emmy honoree.

Yet those aren't Davis' greatest accomplishments.

Davis, 51, testified about a hard life before success, marred by abject poverty, racial and domestic abuse and various insecurities. Demons that Davis compared to a scene in The Exorcist, when the words "help me" erupted on a possessed girl's skin.

"That's how I see the journey of living one's authentic life," Davis said. "We're possessed by others' dreams. …

"But in there is a voice, a space in your body that lets you know exactly who you are.

"My name is Viola. And I am a hero, but I don't have a cape. I don't have superpowers."

Instead, Davis evoked the teachings of Joseph Campbell, a concept of the hero's quest from ordinary beginnings to extraordinary ends.

"I got the call to adventure," Davis said. "Just a call to live a life beyond myself."

Much of Davis' presentation dealt with life long before fame, before Fences and ABC's How to Get Away with Murder placed her at the forefront of American actors. A life lived in "abject poverty" in South Carolina with a drunken, abusive father, submissive mother and bigoted classmates.

"I wasn't poor, I was 'po,' " she said. "That's a rung lower than poor."

Davis recalled being kept awake at night by the sound of pigeons eating rats infesting her home, and boys chasing her after school, hurling rocks and epithets.

"I knew how to run, chuck a (middle) finger and cuss somebody at the same time," Davis said.

Her revelation came while watching Cicely Tyson's landmark performance in the 1974 movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

"I knew then what I would do," Davis said, "who I wanted to be."

That sort of personal assertion was at the heart of her lecture.

"Own your own story," she counseled. "People go around looking for the meaning of life.

"What they really want is the experience of feeling alive."

Even before her Oscar win, Davis had already established herself as one of the top actors working today. She starred in the films Doubt in 2008 and The Help in 2011. How to Get Away with Murder just wrapped up its third season.

Davis' appearance concluded USF's current lecture series. She was booked to appear in Tampa shortly before winning the Academy Award for best supporting actress for Fences, the role that previously earned her a Tony Award in 2010.

Davis' $70,000 fee for the appearance looks like a bargain now. A representative of All American Speakers booking her engagements said Tuesday that her price range now is $150,000 to $200,000 depending on the gig.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Oscar winner Viola Davis tells USF crowd: 'Own your own story' 04/04/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 5, 2017 9:33am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jameis Winston's hardest lesson: He can't always save the day

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Ever wonder what in the world goes through Jameis Winston's mind when he tries to fit the ball in a keyhole as he is being dragged to the turf like he was during Thursday night's 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars?

    JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 17:  Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers attempts a pass during a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on August 17, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) 700069805
  2. Despite pain, woman in court faces ex-boyfriend who lit her on fire

    Criminal

    PORT RICHEY

    Sheron Pasco sat in the wheelchair as her mother pushed it toward the man in the orange jail suit.

    Sheron Pasco, 39, right, along with her mother Tranda Webb, 62, pose for a photograph Wednesday, at their home in Port Richey. Pasco's former boyfriend John Riggins doused Pasco with gasoline and set her on fire after an argument last year.. CHRIS URSO   |   Times

  3. Florida starter under center still under wraps

    College

    GAINESVILLE — With two weeks before Florida opens its season against Michigan, the Gators' three-way quarterback battle remains wide open.

    Luke Del Rio, right, is in the mix to start against Michigan in the season opener … as is Malik Zaire and Feleipe Franks.
  4. A sports rout on Wall Street

    Retail

    NEW YORK — Sporting goods retailers can't shake their losing streak.

  5. Rick Kriseman picks Floribbean restaurant for Manhattan Casino

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG— Mayor Rick Kriseman has chosen a controversial restaurant concept to occupy the Manhattan Casino, saying he made a decision 11 days before the mayoral primary because he didn't want politics to get in the way of progress in struggling Midtown.

    Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson speaks during a Friday press conference announcing that the Callaloo Group will open a Floribbean restraurant in the historic Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg's Midtown neighborhood. Some residents were upset with Mayor Rick Kriseman's choice, saying it will speed up gentrification of the area. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]