Viola Davis: I've found my own voice

Viola Davis on "CBS This Morning."
Viola Davis on "CBS This Morning."

Viola Davis is being celebrated for her role as Aibileen Clark, a maid in 1960s Mississippi in the film, "The Help." She has already won Screen Actors Guild Award and is nominated for Best Actress Oscar.

But the actress initially had reservations about taking on the movie, particularly because it was the role of a maid.

"I didn't feel people would perceive it as a fleshed out role," Davis said. "(I feared) that they would just see the maid in 1963 in Mississippi with a broken dialect. I wanted them to see the human being behind the uniform."

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"You're always aware as a woman of color, as an artist of color, of the stigma involved in stereotypes and the maid absolutely is an image that has been visited time and time again in film," Davis added. "Seventy-two years ago Hattie McDaniel won an award for Mammy in 'Gone with the Wind', and such a stigma (was) involved with that image. I just, once again, I wanted (my character in 'The Help') to be humanized. I feel like that's the most revolutionary thing you can do."

Davis' mother and grandmother were maids. Davis' mother hasn't seen her in "The Help" yet. "At first I thought, oh, OK, she's having health challenges with her hip. She's having problems walking. But I think it's just because -- I think it's painful. I think you have a generation of women who don't want to be reminded of the past."

Davis said her mother has told her about her past and her grandmother's, but that the information comes in "little spurts." Davis said her mother expressed that her grandmother was treated cruelly by her employers.

"My grandmother had 18 children, 11 survived," Davis said. "And she would work from sunup to sundown in the homes, taking care of the white children and also cleaning the house. I mean, you know as a mother, listen, when I take care of my daughter, I can't clean. I can't clean and cook. She did it all, as well as having all the children at home. And she got paid $25 a week. And then my mom always stops there. She never gives you the details. I think it's a generation that's used to sucking it in. Which is I loved Abilene. To me, she represented most people in that time period who just had to suck it in and their whole lives, dreams, hopes, everything just took place in their spirits."

Davis said her mother told her she cried when she heard her daughter won the Screen Actors Guild Award.

"She said, 'That's my baby. That's my baby,'" Davis said. "But I just think that my mom, who has (an) eighth grade education and it's know, I don't even know what her dreams were.' I can't really get that out of her. But it's like someone said, her dreams were -- it's me. It's my sister. We were her dreams. And I think that that's what's going on now. That she's seeing her dreams come to fruition through us."

Davis is in the midst of a successful career and a burgeoning family. But that wasn't always the case. Davis has been open about how she was bullied and teased as a black child in a predominantly white neighborhood.

These days, Davis said she has heard from some of those people.

"Although I don't think they have any memory of the names that they called. I don't -- I'm past that, so I don't feel like I should remind them of that," Davis said.

And what do they say?

Davis said, "(They say,) 'Viola, I always knew you would make it.'"

And she has. And it's not just about her success on the screen. Davis said she's feeling more confident.

Davis said, "You know what, I always think of this quote: What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. I always think of that lately because of what's happened through the course of me kind of justifying my choice to do this role, I kind of found my own voice. I've suffered from years of low self-esteem, shyness and now I really feel like now is a time to step into all of who I am. You know, more so than ever. There's no kind of room to hold back, and through that, I feel really confident about myself lately. I've never really felt that before."

For more with Viola Davis on her family and her recent glamorous photo shoots for various publications, watch her full "CBS This Morning" interview in the video above.