The USA Today did a story on Viola as she talks about her new series How To Get Away With Murder!
LOS ANGELES – Star litigator Annalise Keating is on the offensive, trying to get a judge to approve a gag order to protect her client, murder defendant Rebecca Sutter.
In a scene from Thursday’s episode of ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder (10 p.m. ET/PT), Annalise (Viola Davis) leans forward at the defense table, speaking righteously of the harm done by leaked information while brandishing a newspaper. She wins her motion easily and sits down, but is back up in seconds, arguing strongly against an opposing lawyer’s surprise request.
In the courtroom or the classroom, the defense lawyer and law professor is in command, earning the awe of a cadre of first-year law students hand-picked to work at her firm. Outside those venues, where her marriage is frayed and both she and her husband, Sam (Tom Verica), have been unfaithful, blunt forcefulness can melt into tears and uncertainty.
After a celebrated career that includes many supporting film roles, two-time Oscar nominee Davis (Doubt, The Help) enjoys being front and center on the drama, which is averaging 14.8 million viewers and is this fall’s top new show among young adults. And it caps ABC’s powerful Thursday lineup, following two other series produced by Shonda Rhimes, Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.
“I’ve never had a role quite like this, that really shows all that I can do. I’m the lead of the show, someone who’s sexual, messy, mysterious, my age,” says Davis, 49. “I’ve never had someone who’s this complicated to work on.”
Annalise’s professional and personal lives are intertwined in the season’s central case, the murder of student Lila Stangard at the prestigious Philadelphia university where she teaches. She’s defending young drug dealer Rebecca (Katie Findlay), who’s accused of the crime, while trying to protect Sam, who had an affair with Lila.
As a lawyer, “She’s pretty ruthless. She wants to win at all costs,” says Davis, who describes Murder’s brisk legal proceedings as “some reflection of the law and some fiction.”
The students seek her favor, but worry about her wrath. “Because you admire her, there’s that fear of disappointing her,” says Aja Naomi King, who plays the overachieving Michaela. “There’s this fine line of, how can I be in your good graces and how do I not mess up?”
Murder creator Pete Nowalk says driven yet vulnerable Annalise “comes from a place where maybe not-so-happy things happened to her. She’s seen a lot of dark things that have made her have a very specific worldview, especially about the legal system: that justice doesn’t always come.”
Producers feel fortunate to have Davis — “a nuanced, emotionally driven actress who can play so many complexities,” Nowalk says – although they initially didn’t know if they could get her .
“I remember Pete being like, ‘I really want Viola,’ and me being like, ‘We all want Viola. Let’s send the script to her. She’s never going to say yes.’ And her saying yes,” says Rhimes. “She’s beautiful, sexy, talented and incredible. You can write anything for her to do or say and she pulls it off. And more important, she’s so enthusiastic about this project. She elevates everything.”
Murder operates on multiple tiers in terms of characters and stories. Annalise demands fealty from her smart but subservient law-firm associates, Bonnie (Liza Weil) and Frank (Charlie Weber), who oversee a diverse group of young law students — Wes (Alfred Enoch), Connor (Jack Falahee), Asher (Matt McGorry), Laurel (Karla Souza) and Michaela.
“Every time a new batch comes in, it’s a little bit thrilling for Bonnie and Frank, because the students are the only people they can really assert their power over,” Weil says.
Annalise’s chosen students often don’t play well together. “It’s survival of the fittest, the Darwinian peak of the pyramid,” says McGorry (Orange is the New Black), who plays law student Asher.. “There’s a lot of bumping of heads.”
Asher is the only student not directly involved in another ongoing plot, , the disposal of Sam’s lifeless, bloody body, which is seen in a series of flash-forward scenes set a few months after the first day of law school. The identity of Sam’s killer will be revealed on the Nov. 20 fall finale, and both Lila’s and Sam’s killings will be resolved in the remaining six episodes of the season, which returns January 29. “It feels like two mysteries, but it’s really one,” says Nowalk, who also has written for Grey’s and Scandal.
The situation will prove especially challenging for the mysterious Annalise, whom Davis calls neither sinner nor saint..
“We’re all a mixture of things that are very wonderful and beautiful and public and also a mix of things that are quite putrid,” she says. “And that’s what makes us human.”