Samuel L. Jackson and Viola Davis are both veterans of the New York theater scene, and have embraced the opportunity to share their experiences before addressing their previous work on TV. On Apple TV +, Jackson plays the lead role in “The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray,” an adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novel about an elderly man struggling with dementia. And in Showtime, Davis plays Michelle Obama in the dramatic collection “The First Lady.”
Samuel L. Jackson: How do you feel when you look around the city at these big old billboards? How is that
Viola Davis: I don’t see it as my own. I see it differently. Michelle Obama, another Viola Davis. I will not marry these two because otherwise it is very difficult.
Jackson: What was the first time you saw yourself on a big old billboard and it was nice to see yourself?
Davis: It was okay to look at myself while doing drama. Because acting is different. It was exciting to see myself outside the theater.
Jackson: When were you at Juilliard?
Davis: I was at Juilliard from ’89 to ’93.
Jackson: At that time I was about to leave New York. I think “Jungle Fever” drove me out of New York. I remember the first time I saw you, you were playing this rude-ass cop in “Law and Order”.
Davis: I liked that role. I played the role of serial killer. No one else in my family liked this role. But I liked it.
Jackson: We all went through the “law and order” phase because when I was doing my stuff, it was one of the two shows that was shot in New York. Only “Law and Order” and “The Cosby Show.”
Davis: Henry Street, the Negro Ensemble – what year were you doing all those plays?
Jackson: We moved to New York on Halloween night 1976. We drove from Atlanta to New York, in the village she was drawn to the Halloween parade. Latanya [Richardson Jackson] And I both played our first game on Henry Street in New York.
Davis: When I got my first नाटक 250 a week play in a public theater, I was like, “This is a rap – I made it.” I always went from job to job. I never thought “I want to be famous.” There was only an overflow of infamous work. Now you have so many actors that they know where they want to go.
Jackson: People started talking.
Davis: I have no criticism in this. I do not want to be evil.
Jackson: This is not criticism.
Davis: No This is an observation.
Jackson: And when you work, if you become a real actor, all those things … become the back of your mind.
Jackson: We weren’t auditioning for such stuff in New York anyway. I was in New York, and from time to time a movie was going on. I remember when I got “Ragtime” in 1980. It was my first time in London to film and be on location. I thought, “This is going to happen.” I returned to New York. I haven’t seen another movie in 10 years. I lost it and I started to focus on work, especially when I was calm. Work is the thing.
Davis: People always ask me, “Viola, was it hard?” I follow suit: I worked hard because I thought it was just part of the business. I just said, “This is something I’m going to have to deal with.” I didn’t get that role. People always feel that the opportunity for talent is a mistake.
Davis: They are, as always, “Viola, you don’t just play romantic leads.” I said, “Listen, if I get a romantic lead, I’ll play a romantic lead.” But I didn’t, so I did what I got.
Jackson: Latanya would say, “Why did you take that pidling ass job?” It’s like, “Well, it’s been two days in the movie, and that guy is going to be a great director one day,” and sometimes he works.
Davis: I’m always interested in artists who are not humble because this is a very humble profession for me. You don’t really know if you are going to fail or if you are going to succeed.
Jackson: How does it help you or bring yourself to become Michelle Obama – what do you have to do with someone who is alive and will look after you?
Davis: Other than taking a good shot of vodka … here’s the thing. It’s very difficult to play a real life person, especially someone who has occupied the White House. There’s the shroud of protection of obligation, and as an actor, that’s a nightmare. When you enter any character, you should be armed with as much information as possible. Where did you go to school, what do you drink? Do you love your husband Are you arguing with your husband? Do you fight with your children? You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We need a mess. It makes us human. I think you really have to be armed as an actor, that’s courage. When you play a character and you don’t see all the spaces being filled, you have to fill in what you’ve seen from other people in the past – who I know is a black woman – with Michelle Obama, and you have to be brave enough to go for it.
Jackson: How do you get rid of your preconceived notions? Because everyone has different ideas about who Michelle is and who she should be.
Davis: You are limited to the scope and depth of the script. Always my pet, number one. Limited by script. If it’s not there, you have to fill it out, and sometimes it’s almost impossible. Two, it’s not my job to give you an image of the person you want to see. I need a writer, I need a director, and then, finally, I need an audience. It’s my job to make you feel at home in those moments of solitude. They may surprise you, but if you recognize it, I’m done. When you were doing “Ptolemy Gray”, I’m sure that was your process.
Jackson: I have been living with that book for 12 years or more. I read it once a year because I want people to do it. When I actually got a chance to portray him, I had a very solid idea of who he was. I had the freedom to go there and become a Ptolemy. I knew how uncomfortable the first episode would be. But I was not going to run away and try to make it easier. I’ve played characters that I know people shouldn’t like, and have fun, like Stephen in “Django” [Unchained]”That’s my job, to make you uncomfortable. People know, ‘My God.’ And that’s satisfying for us.”
Davis: Yes A lot
Jackson: I wasn’t always comfortable looking at you as an analyst, but there it is. When you’re doing series like “How to Get Away with Murder”, do you know, first season, where you’re finally going?
Davis: No This is a big challenge. My big thing is that you will not always be in a perfect position as an actor. You’re going on set, and all of a sudden, you’re given a scene, it’s like, “That scene changes everything. Does he kill another person? Why?” Then you have to understand what it means. For me, with Analysys, I was given the opportunity, especially as a black woman with dark skin, at the age of 47. She is sensual; She is a sociologist. It gave me a chance to be an unexpected, dirty woman. And I find that when, for example, if you see a white woman on the screen, you can say, “She looks like my mother.” Many studio chiefs used to say, “She can look like my sister, my aunt, the woman I want to marry.” You see the possibilities. That was not in my career. My prospects were crack addicts, mothers watching their sons die in challenging circumstances, vague lawyers or judges. And I was glad to have them – don’t get me wrong. I made the most of it. But this was the first opportunity to play the role of a woman. And it was in the middle of a melodrama. We can admit that many of the situations were fantastic, but it was still an opportunity to boldly come out and surprise people and make choices that people would see me as a woman.
Jackson: This is how I saw Annalis.
Diversity “Actors in Actors” presented by Apple TV +.