OnlyOnAOL: The major issue that consumes Viola Davis
By: Donna Freydkin
Before she won her Emmy for playing volatile lawyer Annalise Keating on ABC's hit "How To Get Away with Murder," Viola Davis dealt with far less glamorous issues. Like a rumbling belly. (Watch our interview with her costar Karla Souza above).
She's been open about growing up without access to regular meals, and digging in the trash to find food; Davis was born in South Carolina but raised in Rhode Island. She's shared her story in her campaign for Hunger Is, a charitable initiative between the Albertsons Companies Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation. And that's helped raise more than $5 million through in-store donations during September.
"It makes me feel awesome. Since we started the whole Hunger Is campaign, they've raised a total of $18 million. Whenever I hear about the $5 million, it means people were somehow to moved. Somehow hunger has touched their lives in some way. Either they were that kid that was hungry. Or it sparked something in them," says Davis. "I do it from my heart."
And from her gut. "EIF and Albertson's wanted to eradicate childhood hunger. Not reduce it. Eradicate it. That's why I joined," says Davis. In this country, one in five kids are hungry; this year's campaign has met its goal of providing 5 million more breakfasts for needy children.
Davis serves as the ambassador of the Hunger Is campaign and is starring in the "Hungry For More" PSAs. Since its creation, Hunger Is has awarded grants to more than 250 programs dealing with childhood hunger.
Now, people contact Davis on Facebook to share their own stories, and even reporters tell her about their experiences with food shortages growing up.
"Someone has to give you permission to share your testimony. I had never shared my story about being hungry. If you share your story in front of people who have empathy, shame can't exist. Something was released in me. It helps when you have people who have your back. I'd like to say I was incredibly brave. But it was permission more than anything," says Davis.
She recalls falling asleep in school as kid, so exhausted was she from lack of nutrition.
"A personal testimony is the most powerful way to bring people in and make them lean in. You need one person to speak up. You can't do anything in your life if you're hungry. It's like someone turned off a light switch," says Davis.
She brings that same honesty and empathy to her day job. This season, Annalise is dealing with alcoholism, in all its messy, gritty reality.
"It's never shown. We have a higher rate of binge drinking with women. I know a lot of alcoholics. I know it's not pretty. Listen, I took on this job to play a real woman. I didn't want to play an extension of a male fantasy. When you have a drinking problem, it's not sexy. I wouldn't be doing my job if I played it any other way," she says.