Viola Davis describes her gritty transformation for ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

Viola Davis plays the titular character in the upcoming Netflix film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Davis described her process for getting into character as the legendary blues singer in an interview with Entertainment Tonight.

Few photos exist of Rainey, dubbed the Mother of the Blues, but Davis attempted to capture her appearance, by being fitted with padding, gold teeth and greased on makeup.

“They say she always looked like she was dripping in sweat, all the time,” said Davis, so that became part of the look as well.

Beyond that, the 55-year-old actress added some of her own touches to the character. “I wanted to create a character on my own terms,” she tells the entertainment magazine. “I did not want to filter it through the white gaze or through any idea that people would have about someone who is larger, Black, a singer, a woman.”

“Usually those characters are just big and funny.  Big, Black and funny,” she added.  “I wanted more than that. I wanted autonomy.”

The film, based on the August Wilson play of the same name, centers on an afternoon recording session for the titular song in 1920s Chicago.  It follows Ma’s band members who await her arrival, and Ma, who argues with her white manager and producer.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, also starring Chadwick Boseman and Colman Domingo, premieres Friday on Netflix.

By George Costantino
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.