“Because I didn’t want to be like my ancestors and everyone else.”
“But I felt like my only two choices was to either make it or not.”
“I didn’t want to be a celebrity, I didn’t want to be an entertainer, I wanted to be an artist.”
“If it’s going to be too degrading and it’s going to be something that I can’t live with, I can’t do it.”
– Viola Davis
Evan: She’s an American producer and actress on stage, screen and television.
Her breakthrough film came in 2008 with her role as a supporting actress in Doubt in 2012 is listed by Time as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
She’s Viola Davis and here’s my take on her top 10 rules of success.
Rule number three is my personal favorite and make sure to stick around all the way to the end for some special bonus clips. Also, as Viola’s talking, if she says something that’s really meaningful to you, really resonates with you, please leave it in the comments below and put quotes around it so other people can be inspired as well. Enjoy.
Rule #1: Live a more examined life
Because I was brought up in such a challenging situation I think that it required me to live a more examined life if I were to get out. I had to dream big. There was no room for failure. So therefore I couldn’t go the normal route.
So I found myself at a very young age living that sort of life because I didn’t want to be like, like my ancestors and everyone else who was like me. They were, you know, everyone was either alcoholics or they lived in poverty, they accepted their lot in life and I just felt like I didn’t want to live that way. And anybody who wants to kind of stray from the pack, I think has to lead a more examined life.
“Because I was brought up in such a challenging situation I think that it required me to live a more examined life if I were to get out. I had to dream big. There was no room for failure.” – Viola Davis
Rule #2: Do the work
I did what I had to do in order to make the dream work. I made the commitment knowing that knowing that it always wasn’t going to be a smooth ride. But I felt like my only two choices was to either make it or not. And the not wasn’t an option. So I paid whatever money I need to pay for the public transportation to get to acting school when I was 15 and I did whatever I had to do to get my undergraduate degree in theater. I did the work and I knew that there was no skimping on the work.
Rule #3: Always do your best
Well, in third grade, this kid was always teasing me, I won’t mention his name. But he was always teasing me, calling me you nigga, you black nigger, just every single day. This is way, way back when so. So one day I said I’m going to get him. He was considered the fastest runner in Central Falls.
And I said I’m going to beat your butt I’m going to race you at recess, you’re not the fastest runner in Central Falls, I’m the fastest runner in Central Falls. I probably flip them the finger, you know I was a vulgar kid too, I could give it as much as I got it. So at recess we decided to race and the whole school was involved, everybody in the school heard about it and all the boys and some of the girls were on his side just kind of screaming for him, and I had my three or four friends on my side.
“You got to give the same quality performances, you’ve got to have the same standard of excellence, even though people know that you come into the race in a deficit, that’s just what life is about” – Viola Davis
And we lived in such abject poverty I remember that we wouldn’t keep up-to-date with the shoes, so my shoes were maybe a size too small, and it was the dead of winter and I could never, I couldn’t walk in the shoes, I’d have to stop every two steps, take the shoes off then put the shoes kind of back on and walk again, they’d hurt my feet so bad. And then my socks were sold torn, only the top part of my socks were left. So I said how am I going to race him at recess with these shoes?
So I said I’m going to take my shoes off. Take my socks off, I’m going to take my shoes off in the dead of winter and the concrete. And I raced him. And I beat him. And I thought to myself, it’s only been recently that thought to myself that everybody was cheering and cheering and he was saying, you didn’t beat me, it was a tie, you didn’t beat me! I said yes I did, yes I did. And then I got in trouble with the teachers for having my shoes off. But nobody noticed that I didn’t have any shoes on.
And that’s, it’s a metaphor for life because nobody knows that when you come to the race, you don’t come with the same set of tools as everyone else. That even when you come into the race with a deficit you still have to run the same race. And that’s a metaphor I use for my career, you know? That you you can’t be perceived even as the black actress who doesn’t get the same kind of roles as the white actors, you got to run the same race. You got to give the same quality performances, you’ve got to have the same standard of excellence, even though people know that you come into the race in a deficit, that’s just what life is about, you know?
Rule #4: Step up your game
You know, that’s all you have at the end of the day is your work and your integrity at all costs. I don’t care if it’s four scenes in a movie and I don’t care what it is that you have to infuses it with as much excellence as you can. So then, absolutely, when I was able to work with Meryl Streep it was a dream come true and I knew that I to step my game. You know, you always get better when you work with people who are excellent.
Rule #5: Find your passion
Interviewer: So when did that dream hit you? If it’s hitting genesis at five when did it hit you that you wanted to do this?
Well, Cicely Tyson, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, when I seven years old. That was it. That was literally, I can absolutely mark it. Definitively in 128 Washington Street, in a rat infested, not mice infested, rat infested, condemned apartment building, with almost no plumbing, every once in awhile, the plumbing would work.
“I didn’t want to be a celebrity, I didn’t want to be an entertainer. I wanted to be an artist”- Viola Davis
No phone, lack of food, most of the time, no electricity. No hot water. But that one, it was summertime I believe. And we had some electricity because we ran the wires through the other apartment, we had that one TV that you put the aluminum foil on the antenna. And I saw magic, I saw craft. And that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t want to be a celebrity, I didn’t want to be an entertainer. I wanted to be an artist because that’s what I saw.
Rule #6: Have boundaries
There’s always, you always have to have a boundary as an actor. For me you, are not going to see me naked. : I’m not going to get naked. I’ve turned down a lot of money to get naked for this one television show that actually never made it, because I said I’m not going to be able to live with this if this is kind of preserved in celluloid forever. But you always have to have a boundary of what you will or will not do. Now your boundary is different from my boundary because it’s like you start, you weigh your choices and for me if it’s going to be too degrading and it’s going to be something that I can’t live with, I can’t do it. I can’t do it. And even, I can’t even do a lot of roles where I cuss a lot a lot. I’d have do an audition where I had to really, really, I mean, but it was extraordinary amount of cussing, I just couldn’t do it.
“You always have to have a boundary of what you will or will not do. Now your boundary is different from my boundary because it’s like you start, you weigh your choices and for me if it’s going to be too degrading and it’s going to be something that I can’t live with, I can’t do it.” – Viola Davis
And I don’t feel like I’m that puritanical but it’s just too much for me. So if you don’t have to have any boundaries then you’re going to to be a puppet, you know. And at the same time, you have to live with yourself at the end of the day. You know that’s something the actors, we do a lot because we want it so bad so we’re willing to do anything to get it. It’s good to have boundaries, I think it’s really good.
Rule #7: Create Art
I know that acting is not rocket science but it is an art form. And what I find that as the time has gone on that people have kind of forgotten that it’s an art form. I had a guy who drove my husband and I somewhere and he said that his brother was an acting coach, and more and more young people are coming to him and saying just make me good enough to get the role.
And I didn’t go win it for that and I’m not trying to make myself look good either but when I saw Cicely Tyson do Jane Pittman, I wanted to be a crafts person. I really understood that it was a craft, that I wanted to transform in every role. I wanted to be brave and now it’s gotten harder to do that, when, especially as your profile raises, it’s hard to do that.
Rule #8: Work On Your Passion
I mean, I don’t mean to sound confusing. When you talk to most actors they will tell you, oh, this is what I’ve always wanted to do, I love acting, and I do love acting. But it’s like any commitment. You have periods where you fall out of love with it. And along your journey as an actor, there are so many moments you fall out of love with it, that you, you wonder, you forget why you wanted to do it and you wonder if this is what you’re meant to do. But basically, it is a love, I guess. I think along the way, I’ve question the commitment.
Interviewer: So those moments of questioning come when you’re doing work that’s not as interesting or do they come when you’re doing particularly interesting stuff?
“You question the passion. You know it’s like any commitment, you got to work on the passion, too. You got to work to bring the passion back.” – Viola Davis
They come when I’m not doing things that are interesting. They come when I’m doing something interesting, I think, and it’s not received well. They come when the business strangles my love of it. Those are the moments that come and you forget why you love it. You do. And sometimes the memory lapse can last a long time. And then you think OK, there’s got to be something else that’s going to come in it this just, comes in my life that’s going to wake me up in the morning. That’s the journey of an actor though, I guess that’s what it is.
Interviewer: Well, I guess that anything that you love that becomes a job, it hurts. It doesn’t have that same… I mean, obviously a lot of people just go through life working for the weekend, as the song says.
Interviewer: But if you have things that you’re passionate about, that you’re working for, reexamining it and finding it again
Interviewer: It’s certainly a challenge we all go through in whatever profession over and over again.
Yeah and I guess that’s what it is, I went through that long diatribe.
Interviewer: No, it was great diatribe.
But really, that’s what it is. You question the passion. You know it’s like any commitment, you got to work on the passion, too. You got to work to bring the passion back.
Rule #9: Always Be Prepared
Interviewer: With Doubt, which might be the first time that people in film necessarily really appreciated what you’re doing. : Your preparation for that was astronomical, amazing and so the last the last pre-Help question, if I can just ask you just to show the kind of work that you’re willing to do for even, I think it was eight minutes of screen time, which was deservedly rewarded with an Oscar nomination, but I mean that is not a ton to work with and yet you made the most of it. What did you do to prepare for that one?
Well, it’s based on a play so I read the play. After the play I said I don’t even understand this woman. I don’t know why this got all this attention, this woman wants to sacrifice her son and da, da, da, da. And I had all the kind of responses that you would have with character that you didn’t understand but it’s, being an actor you have to do investigative work. You have to, you have to make sure that when people are in the audience they understand you.
“Sometimes a person’s motivations are absolutely pure, but to the outside eye, they look very dysfunctional.” – Viola Davis
And they ultimately feel something. And so I had to write a bio which ended up being over a hundred pages. I talk to people who had seen the play because I was doing a play at the same time and never saw the play. I read the script probably I don’t know how many times. So literally study the script for four months before I finally got it, like I had the aha moment. And the aha moment is we always want to feel that decisions are pretty.
We always want to believe that decisions are easy and sometimes they’re a Sophie’s Choice. You know? And sometimes a person’s motivations are absolutely pure, but to the outside eye, they look very dysfunctional. And I probably, you know, had the aha moment two days before even started filming and I was really waiting for that aha moment because I said I’m going to be opposite Meryl Streep and she’s going to tear me a new A-hole. And I do not want to look bad so, but I had that aha moment.
But I did my work with that. I can’t emphasize that enough, you know? Because I never want anyone to dismiss my talent. Listen I may get up in the screen and there are times where may stink because it’s occupational hazard to not always be good, but I never want anyone to say that she’s not an actress.
Rule #10: Be You!
I’m an artist, I consider myself to be an artist, first and foremost. And when I was given Annalise Keating, I tell this story a lot that I saw the pilot and I was horrified ’cause you got to look at yourself, with my lashes and my little chubby waste, that I thought was a very chubby waste. And I didn’t look the way I thought I would look. I had an idea in my head when I thought of the adjectives, sexy, dynamic, mysterious! You know, and I didn’t see sexy, dynamic, mysterious.
“I reject the notion, in the past, that dark skin women cannot be beautiful. I reject the fact that if I take my wig off and do a whole scene with my fro, that somehow that’s taboo. I reject the fact that I have to be a size two. I reject the fact that I have to be likable, I’d rather be interesting. Nobody asked Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver or James Gandolfini, or Anthony Hopkins. You know, were you concerned that you were likable in Silence of the Lambs? That somehow, you have to reject all the things that people have told you you were. And I think it starts there.” – Viola Davis
Co-Panelist: We did, they’re right.
But no, what I’m leading to is, I said why not? And I think that that’s where it all beings. Is that question of why not? Why can’t I be sexy? I reject the notion, in the past, that dark skin women cannot be beautiful. I reject the fact that if I take my wig off and do a whole scene with my fro, that somehow that’s taboo. I reject the fact that I have to be a size two. I reject the fact that I have to be likable, I’d rather be interesting. Nobody asked Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver or James Gandolfini, or Anthony Hopkins. You know, were you concerned that you were likable in Silence of the Lambs? That somehow, you have to reject all the things that people have told you you were. And I think it starts there.
That’s amazing, I don’t think, who can follow that? On that note…
Evan: Thank you guys, so much for watching. I made this video because Sheryl Chapman asked me to.
So if there’s a famous entrepreneur that you want me to profile next, leave it in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do. I’d also love to know, what was the most impactful part of this video for you? What lesson resonated the most with you and you’re going to carry that forward into your life and your business.
Please leave it in the comments below, I’m going to join in the discussion. I also want to give a quick shout out to Davina Lyons. Thank you so much for picking up a copy of my book, Your One Word. It really, really, really means a lot to me.
Thank you guys again for watching, I believe in you, I hope you continue to believe in yourself. And whatever your one word is, much love. I’ll see you soon.
Stand for something
In my mind, I see a line. And over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.” That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something.
The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes. People who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods. To Gabrielle Union. Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you.
What is there but a dream, you can’t trade in your dream for another dream. I am so proud to be an actor and I thank The Screen Actors Guild for this award. And I have a special, special note to the kids in Central Falls, Rhode Island and Segue Institute of Learning in Central Falls, Rhode Island. To dream big and dream fierce. Thank you very much.
That white foreman threw his body on the back of a truck. Drove to the colored hospital. Dumped him there and honked the horn. There was nothin’ they could do so I brought my baby home. Laid him down on that sofa right there. He died right in front of me. Just 24 years old, Miss Skeeter. Best part of a person’s life. Anniversary of his death come every year and I can’t breathe. But to you all it’s just another day of bridge. You stop this, everything I wrote, he wrote, everything he was going to die with him.
You might also like
More from Motivation
Watch Evan Carmichael’s Top 10 Rules For Success video. Famous Entrepreneur Quotes Evan Carmichael's Quotes "Changing my environment had a dramatic impact …
Watch Mark Hamill’s Top 10 Rules For Success video. Famous Entrepreneur Quotes Mark Hamill's Quotes "I love the allure, the danger, of …
Watch Brandon Beck’s Top 10 Rules For Success video. Famous Entrepreneur Quotes Brandon Beck's Quotes "Whether you think you can do it, …