But in portraying this powerful female character, who isn’t afraid to use her sexuality for manipulation, Davis, 49, said she found the show’s more intense, intimate and sexual scenes hard to get used to.
"I will say that [I’m] not comfortable [with those scenes], but why should I be, you know? You're having sex. I mean, how many times do people have sex in front of a lot of people, unless you're a porn star,” Davis said, laughing.
But, Davis added, it’s that raw exposure, mixed with sex, murder and cover-ups, that made this latest Shonda Rhimes production a new fan favorite.
“Shonda creates opportunities for actors … to be private, to show that part of human life that we usually sweep under the rug,” Davis said. “And when people can see it, they feel less alone. I think that's why they're attracted to her work.”
One of the most powerful scenes on “How To Get Away With Murder” was from this season, when Annalise comes home and slowly strips away her wig, fake eyelashes and make-up at the end of a long day. Davis said this moving scene, which resonated with women across the country, was her idea.
“I felt the only way that I could play Annalise is if I played her as a real woman,” Davis said. "I feel that that’s part of being a woman that people kind of throw in the trash heap when you see them on TV.”
“They buy heels that hurt their feet all the time, but they wear them anyway, they take their makeup off at night,” she continued. “They're strong in their public life and they're very vulnerable in their personal lives… that’s very empowering and for me, intensely interesting.”
But the bold decision to show Annalise in this exposed manner almost didn’t happen. Davis said Laura Ennis, who directed the episode, questioned whether she should have gone that far “just for a moment.”
“I said, 'You know what? I want to take it off,’” Davis said.
After years of playing roles on the big screen in films such as “Doubt” and “The Help,” two movies that earned her Oscar nods, Davis won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series two weeks ago for her portrayal of Annalise Keating. Her SAG award acceptance speech, in which she references her young daughter, went viral.
“I'm aware that my presence is probably unusual in Hollywood,” Davis said. “I'm aware of just so many actors of color out there... and they feel like they're on the periphery."