“Stress is my number-one achilles heel,” Viola Davis, wearing a crisp white pantsuit and red lipstick, told me at a L’Oréal Paris event last month, two weeks before Angelenos were asked to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19. “I should be doing meditation, but I’m not; there’s too much going on up here.”
While there was no shortage of topics to discuss with Davis during our interview —like being the face of L’Oréal Paris’ Age Perfect line or her upcoming role playing Michelle Obama — with growing unease about a global pandemic, it was impossible to ignore the elephant in the room: the stress and anxiety we were all feeling.
But, if there were ever a celebrity to take advice from on the subject, it’s Davis. The award-winning actress, who is also a professional motivational speaker, has spent years learning how to cope with internal pressure — and her words are proverbial milk and honey in these unprecedented times.
Keep scrolling for highlights from our sit-down, including how she’s preparing to play FLOTUS in the upcoming First Ladies Showtime series, what being the face of a beauty brand truly means to her, and the epiphany that changed how she manages stress.
People are more stressed out than ever and it’s showing up on our faces. How do you combat stress?
“I am one of those people whose brain never shuts off, so I have to do something physical to knock the stress out of me. Sleep is important, and so is exercise, but how I combat stress most is I take a lot of baths. I put epsom salt and lavender in the tub and just soak. I don’t want my stress to show on my skin, that’s my big thing, so I always use serums before moisturizer. I love the L’Oréal Revitalist moisturizer.”
You are the face of L’Oréal Paris at 54. Do you think that women above 50 are fairly represented in the beauty world?
“No, and I think that’s why Age Perfect is resonating. I grew up with beauty brands that were [represented] by skinny white women. I certainly loved all those women, like Twiggy, but I couldn’t have been any further from them. L’Oréal is giving a message that is so deep and meaningful of a woman’s worth. Aging gets a bad rap in general, perhaps because people think you’re closer to death, don’t look as good, or are not as viable, when in fact, everything gets better. There is honest pressure, then there is the pressure that’s a lie — and most pressure is a lie.”
What kind of pressures do you consider lies?
“The ultimate image of perfectionism is money, youth, and beauty, and when you get to a certain age, you begin to understand that it’s a lie. So what happens next is this extraordinary thing where all the other values, like wisdom and authenticity, take over and you cannot help but feel less anxiety — it just happens! One day you just wake up and say, ‘I feel great!’ You cannot put a price tag on wisdom, on getting to the point in your life where you feel worth it, on understanding the power of no.”
What advice would you give to young people who are trying to feel less stressed?
“I was always in internal strife in my 20s — always. It was every single day and I didn’t know how to get out of it. People don’t value the internal, but that’s where all the value lies.”
How did you beat those feelings of daily turmoil?
“Becoming a mother, then my career taking off and feeling like, ‘I did it! I’m done! I am successful!’ — but then feeling tired, disillusioned, and not happy. Then one day, I was sitting next to a life strategist at a party and he said, ‘Viola, that’s not the final step; the final step is living a life of significance.’ He said that when the last person who has a memory of you dies, that’s when you’ll truly be dead. So that made me think, What are you leaving behind? What’s bigger than putting on the perfect shade of lipstick? What’s bigger than your brand and your net worth? I realized that I became worthy on August 11, 1965 — the day I was born. Realizing this sort of blows a hole in everything that the world tells you value is.”
You just signed on to executive produce and star in First Ladies as Michelle Obama. How are you feeling?
“I talk about worth and then I’m like, ‘Oh shit!” I feel terrified!'”
What are you doing to get into the role?
“I started looking at interviews and started reading her book, and then, of course, I am talking to my makeup artist and hairstylist. I am one of those people who will work work work then I get scared and fall apart… and eat. And then I’ll work work work and then fall apart again.”
Have you talked to Michelle about the role? Do you feel like you need to get her blessing?
“I have met Michelle Obama twice and we’re certainly representing her beautifully. There is something about her… she’s perfect. I haven’t had the real interview, which is the getting in there, getting to know her, sitting down and really hearing her feedback. I have to do it before I start, but I am terrified. I am, but you know what? I am not afraid to fail.”