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Viola Davis On Her Transformation Into The Leader Of African Warriors In 'The Woman King'
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Kering

Viola Davis On Her Transformation Into The Leader Of African Warriors In 'The Woman King'

“I’ve never had a role like this before. It’s transformative."

Culture & Entertainment

We’ve seen Viola Davis play a bevy of characters from her compelling role as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder to the revolutionary singer Ma Rainey in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Now, the Oscar-award-winning actress will be taking on the role of General Nanisca, the leader of mighty women warriors in The Woman King. The film, which is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball), is a true story about women warriors, known as the Agojie, who defended what is now modern-day Benin.


In an interview with Vanity Fair, Viola and Gina discussed the film, the history behind the Agojie, and how the actress transformed into a warrior.

Viola Davis on 'The Woman King' Being Her Magnum Opus

“I’ve never had a role like this before. It’s transformative. And to be a producer on it, and to know that I had a hand in bringing it to fruition…. There’s always a vision you have for your career, but there are very few roles as an actress of color. Dark skin with a wide nose and big lips. I’m just gonna continue to say it. Those stories are extraordinarily limited.”

Viola and Gina on Fear

Viola: “I knew what it would mean to us as Black people. Something that has never been done before. And what it would mean for Black women sitting in that movie theater. The responsibility is really high.”

Gina: “Fear is a thing you can let swallow you up, or push you to excellence. It’s scary as hell.”

Viola and Gina on the Struggles of Getting a Film Like This Made

Viola: "It’s always hard. It is hard to be an artist, hard to be a Black artist, and even harder to be a Black female artist."

Gina: “It takes so long to get to a greenlight, especially to tell a story like this. There are so many hurdles—and the finish line keeps getting moved. I just kept picturing the first time I would be on set, and say ‘action,’ and look around and be surrounded by us. I held that thought with me until it happened.”

Viola on Transforming Her Body for the Role

“We started intensely a few months before shooting—four hours a day, five days a week. Weight training, sprinting, martial arts, and weaponry training for the machete. I like to say that I was the OG warrior.” [Laughs.]

Viola on Tapping Into the Agojie Mindset

“It was a different state of mind to tap into that spirit—that bravery. Certainly, that’s not a mindset that I carry on a day-to-day basis. I’m someone who carries pepper spray and a little alarm on my keychain.”

The film also stars Lashana Lynch and John Boyega as King Ghezo and premieres September 16.

Check out the trailer below.

Watch Viola Davis in 'The Woman King' Official Trailer

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Featured image by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Kering