Personal Quotes

We grew up in abject poverty. Acting, writing scripts and skits were a way of escaping our environment at a very young age.

[on why she’s not inspired to direct] I can’t deal with actors! I can’t deal with myself. We’re neurotic and miserable… I love doing what I’m doing, but while I’m doing it, I’m miserable.

[on undertaking the role of Aibileen Clark in The Help (2011)] I absolutely feel that she just had the nurturing instinct. You know, it’s like my mom. She’s said she’s taken care of kids since she was four years old, and she’s now sixty-eight. That’s all she knew, which was to take care of kids. She also had seventeen of her brothers and sisters and cousins and all of that – and she was always taking care of them. I myself was delivered by my grandmother.

The thing about the African-American community compared with the white community is, we are more concerned with image and message than execution. I don’t play roles that are necessarily attractive or portray a positive image. They are well-rounded characters. When you squelch excellence to put out a message it’s like passing the baton and seeing it drop.

[on roles for African-American actresses] You’re not doing the Irish and Scottish accents they taught at Juilliard. In the real world you’re doing Ebonics and Jamaican.

[on performing with Jeremy Irons in Beautiful Creatures (2013)] He’s a total hippie. Here’s this grand, talented man who counters it with just humility – very casual and loose. So it was a joy to work with him in the swamps.

People migrate toward material when they reach a certain age, especially if they’re a certain hue, certain gender. I have had so many wonderful film roles where I wasn’t the show. It’s like being invited to a really fabulous party, only to hold up the wall. I wanted to be the show. I wanted to be character that took me out of my comfort zone.

[on playing Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder (2014)] The challenge for any writer, any artist, is to somehow combine art with the mess that we call life. I spent too much time in my career – probably too much – trying to force writers to write for me in a way that was bold. Well, you know what? This is it. This is bold.

Meryl Streep is the greatest actress because you can see so many different emotions going on in her eyes. It’s a joy as an artist.

The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.

The happily ever after comes after you’ve done the work.

[on female sexuality] It’s all about the choices you make. And what I mean by that is the choice of how you look, how you do your hair, how you choose to show your body. If the writer says: “What do you think?”, well, what are you telling them? In 2015, just like people say men have to “man up”, we have to “woman up” and live our truths through our work and define ourselves in our terms, not the Mr. Potato Head model of male desirability.

I consider myself a hero. I don’t have a cape, I don’t have a golden lasso. I had a call to adventure, a call to live life bigger than myself. I found the elixir.
The more I’m pushed in a position of leadership and I know I have to be the mouthpiece for so many other people who can’t speak for themselves, the more confidence I’m gaining.
Colorism and racism in this country are so powerful. As an actress, I have been a great victim of that. There were a lot of things that people did not allow me to be until I got…Annalise Keating [How to Get Away with Murder (2014)]. I was not able to be sexualized. *Ever.* In my entire career.

[on her Fences (2016) role] That was the role of womanhood in the ’50s. You were an instrument for everyone else’s joy except for your own. The ’50s in America had the highest rate of alcoholism and depression. There were whole manuals out there that were being passed out about how to make your husband happy – put on make-up when he walks through the door, after a long day of work, don’t weigh him down with any of your problems, ask him about his problems, greet him with a smile, make sure the children are fed and they’re clean, his favorite meal is on the table, and nowhere in that manual is anything about her joy, and the center of her happiness.

I don’t see acting as hiding. I see it as stepping up buck naked in front of a group of people that you don’t know. Every single time. It’s about exposing. If you’re not doing that, you’re basically not doing anything.

[on growing up in poverty] I just wanted to get out, to be somebody. I was always so hungry and ashamed. I couldn’t get at the business of being me.

I’ll play a mysterious, sexualized woman if I can explore why she’s mysterious and sexual because that’s the only thing that’s going to make her human – and that’s the only thing I know to do. I don’t know how to smoke around in Alexander McQueen outfits, or diet myself down to a size two.

When you’re acting, you’re feeling everything – every last receptor in your body is alive, 100% alive, and you’re not hiding anything, because everything is used as a tool to make the character a fully realized human being.

Reese Witherspoon, who I love by the way, can say: “I use my own money for my movies”. I don’t have Reese Witherspoon money. As much as I’m on the A-list, it still requires a big white male or female star for me to even get a movie deal. And I’m not saying that with a lack of gratitude for the position I’m in now. I’m not complaining. It’s absolutely an honest observation. There are very few black females spearheading the movies. That’s not because we can’t, but it’s still a fight.

When I first started, acting was very therapeutic. I needed it. I felt I was unfinished. Then I went into therapy. I got married to the most beautiful man [Julius Tennon].

If you haven’t experienced poverty, you can’t imagine it. It’s so close, so tight. It’s fraught with so much deprivation that it just explodes. Homosexuals, the transgender community, women, blacks – they’re mistreated. With poor people, it’s not mistreatment. You’re not even there. You don’t exist. It seeps into your brain.

[on the oppression facing women of color] I know the ropes, I’ve been in the casting offices, I’ve felt the discrimination, I’ve felt “the line”…so when someone gives me a stage to be able to say something, it’s already in there. By the time you’re 50, you have a built-in narrative of your own. Sometimes there is no sugar-coating it. Sometimes you have to challenge people’s belief systems in a progressive way.

[on television roles for women] I look at them sometimes and don’t recognize them. They’re watered-down femininity. Like when your mom told you to make sure when you sat down to keep your legs closed, or not mess up your hair, it’s the famous saying: “The well-behaved woman seldom makes history”. And it’s very true. But in our lives we are bold, we are messy, we are psychotic at times, and then we are very beautiful and well-spoken and sensitive and loving, and all of those expansive things that men can be.

[on her How to Get Away with Murder (2014) character] It’s blowing the lid off everything that people say we should be, especially as a dark-skinned woman, that you can’t be sexual, you can’t be unlikable, you can be angry but with no vulnerability, you can’t be damaged, you can’t be smart. It blows the lid off all of it. And even if it’s not executed all the time in ways that people like, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she’s out there. That’s it. She’s out there, she’s on screen, she’s making an impact.

I became an artist – and thank God I did – because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.

I call myself an actor. I mean, when did you last see a doctress?

There’s no one who’s not entertained by The Help (2011). But there’s a part of me that feels like I betrayed myself, and my people, because I was in a movie that wasn’t ready to [tell the whole truth].

Quotes taken from IMDB.