Viola Davis Talks Growing Up Hungry, Poor and Ashamed

'How to Get Away With Murder' star reflects on her life and career at age 50

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Turning age 50 this month (August 11), Viola Davis is taking stock of the things she has in her life now. Davis, star of ABC’s hit series How to Get Away with Murder, discusses the crippling effects of growing up poor and hungry in Central Falls, Rhode Island, in a revealing interview with AARP The Magazine.

As the second of six children, she grew up in a household of eight that could barely afford to eat even one meal a day. Her father, Dan Davis, worked as a horse groomer and trainer, while her mother, Mary Alice (Logan), was a maid and factory worker. Additionally, from the love she now shares with her husband and young daughter to the luxuries she never dreamed of affording, the two-time Oscar nominee and Tony Award winner reflects on her achievements, biggest anxieties and the determination that has led to her greatest successes.

Davis graces the cover of the August issue of AARP, which boasts more than 35.2 million readers. AARP is a bimonthly lifestyle publication for Americans 50 and older, featuring celebrity interviews, financial guidance, and consumer information. The following are excerpts from the cover story featuring Davis:

On her reaction to turning 50 and her thoughts on the life she used to live:

“Turning 50 is making me reflect on my life in a way that’s more compassionate and forgiving. I’m able to almost accept the old me.”

On the work of acting and the pressure of living in the limelight:

“The work of acting is fantastic, but being a celebrity sometimes makes me tense and anxious. Expectations, not meeting expectations, criticism — it really hurts.”

On the day she was caught shoplifting:

“I was 9. The store owner screamed at me to get out, looking at me like I was nothing, and the shame of that forced me to stop.”

On growing up poor and the hatred that people projected towards her because of it:

“Most of the time, the school lunch was the only meal I had. I would befriend kids whose mothers cooked three meals a day and go to their homes when I could.

“People would throw things out of cars and call us the N-word. It was constant.”

On the things she has now that she thought she’d never have:

“Having a house! When you grow up poor, you dream of just having a home, and a bed that’s clean — that’s a sanctuary. Having a really great husband, a child who’s healthy and happy and brings me joy — all of that has been my dream. … As kids, we often didn’t have bus fare, so to have a car today — it’s unbelievable to me.”

Read the story at aarp.org/magazine