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Viola Davis has earned raves for such films as Doubt and The Help, and for such Broadway plays as King Hedley II and Fences.
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Born in South Carolina, Viola Davis grew up in Rhode Island, where she began acting—first in high school, and then at Rhode Island College. After attending the Juilliard School of Performing Arts, Davis soon made her Broadway debut in 1996. She won her first Tony Award in 2001, and was nominated for an Oscar in 2008 for Doubt. In 2011, Davis starred in the hit dramatic film The Help.
Growing up poor in Rhode Island, Viola Davis found an oasis from her family's financial woes in watching movies. Her father worked at racetracks, often as a horse groomer. She discovered a love of acting early in high school. At Rhode Island College, Davis earned her degree in theater in 1988. From there, she soon continued her studies at the famed Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York City.
Before long, Davis began to establish a name for herself in the New York theater world. She made her Broadway debut in August Wilson's tragic comedy Seven Guitars in 1996. In the play, Davis starred as Vera, a woman who takes back the boyfriend who wronged her. She again worked with Wilson on his 2001 drama King Hedley II, for which she won her first Tony Award.
On the small screen, Davis tried her hand at series television with the medical drama City of Angeles, in 2000. She also made several guest appearances on other shows as well; one of her most notable performances was as a serial killer on Law & Order. It is one of her favorite roles, despite some negative reactions in the African-American community. "I've had backlash playing a serial killer ... Anthony Hopkins didn't, but I did. I have to follow my heart at the end of the day," she later told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
After a few feature film parts, Davis caught the attention of critics with her small role in 2002's Antwone Fisher. She made the most out of her one scene in the film, in which she barely speaks. Her turn as the mother of a troubled navy sailor (Derek Luke) brought her critical praise and an Independent Spirit Award nomination.
In 2008, Davis' career reached new heights with her nuanced performance in Doubt. She, once again, made a tremendous impression with a small supporting role, and showed she could hold her own against some of Hollywood's greatest talents. In the film, Davis played the mother of a boy who may have been sexually assaulted by a priest (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) at his Catholic school. She delivered an especially strong performance, as her character clashes with the school's principal (Meryl Streep) over her son and the alleged crime. For her work, Davis received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Returning to the stage, Davis gave another show-stopping performance in Fences in 2010. She co-starred with Denzel Washington in this revival of the August Wilson play, playing the wife in a long-married couple whose relationship is falling apart. The pair had great chemistry together, creating a believable and compelling portrait of a struggling marriage undone by infidelity.
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Some of the most inspirational films in history are those about an educator's lasting impact on his or her students. For instance, in To Sir, with Love, Sidney Poitier stars as a newly hired London school teacher; Mr. Holland's Opus, starring Richard Dreyfuss, tells the story of an impassioned high school music teacher; Michelle Pfeiffer plays a marine turned educator of an inner-city school in Dangerous Minds; in Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams plays a motivational English professor; and Hilary Swank garnered fame for her role as a compassionate educator in Freedom Writers. For more on famous educators of the big-screen, visit Biography.com's group of Famous Movie Teachers.
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