Viola Davis on Her Powerful 'How to Get Away with Murder' Scenes

From intimate to violent scenes, Davis talks about how she portrays the fierce character, Annalise Keating.
6:34 | 02/06/15

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Transcript for Viola Davis on Her Powerful 'How to Get Away with Murder' Scenes
It's a show about homicide, sex, conspiracy, and betrayal. And those are the tame episodes. "How to get away with murder" is a breakaway hit here on ABC and in the starring role, viola Davis, who takes some big risks. As she reveals to us tonight, some of those risks have made her more than a little bit uncomfortable. Here's ABC's Brandi hip. Reporter: It's the shocking scene recognized as one of the most revealing moments on television. Viola Davis stripping everything off this season on the hit ABC show "How to get away with murder." In a loading role as Anna lease Keating. Whose idea was it to have your character take off her wig and makeup on camera? It was my idea. I felt the only way that I could play annalise is if I played her as a real woman. I feel that's the 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 but wear them anyway. They take their makeup off at night. They're strong in their public life and they're very vulnerable in their personal lives. It's very empowering. For me, intensely interesting. Reporter: A bold decision resonating with women across the country and one she says almost didn't happen. Laura inese, who directed the episode, she said, do we want to take off all the makeup? People questioned whether you should have gone that far? Just for a moment she did. I said, I want to take it off. Reporter: It's that raw exposure that's made "How to get away with murder" a fan favorite. That along with sex. Murder. And intrigue. I got you into this, and it's my job to get you out of it. I think people like to see the mess. I really do. I think that people like to see really private moments, private sexual moments. Private really clandestine moments. Reporter: Davis plays a fearless and brazen criminal defense attorney and law professor who will stop at nothing to win a case. Bury the evidence. Reporter: Annalise is no shrinking violet. That's a piece of garbage you are! Reporter: The show, created by peter Nowak and Chanda Rimes, is being touted as the most Progressive for its time. Not only for its diverse cast, but graphic sex scenes for both its straight and gay characters. And I think that Shaun decreate Shanda creates opportunities for actors to do it all the time. To be private. To show that part of human life that we usually sweep under the rug, you know? And when people can see it, they feel less alone. I think that's why they're attracted to her work. Reporter: And while she applauds the show's bold approach, she still finds some scenes a bit difficult for herself. How comfortable are you when it comes to the sex scenes? You know what, not comfortable. I will say that. Not comfortable. But why should I be? You're having sex. I mean, how many times do people have sex in front of a lot of people? Unless you're, you know, the porn star. Is it awkward for your husband when you're doing sex scenes? , I don't, quo I don't tell him when those shows are on. Maybe the show was preempted. No, I'm kidding. Reporter: Risk-taking is paying off. The show is dominating in the ratings with almost 10 million viewers tuning in. After 20 years in a cell I think I'd say pretty much anything for that. Reporter: It's bringing fresh success to Davis after years of oscar-nominated roles on the big screen in films like "Doubt." You can't hold a child responsible for what god gave them to be. Reporter: And "The help." You is smart, you is important -- Reporter: Two weeks ago Davis was honored by fellow actors. And the actor goes to -- vie Yelle Davis. Viola Davis. Reporter: Winning a screen actors guild for "How to get away with murder." Her empowering acceptance speech decrying the lack of diversity in Hollywood. For thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old, dark-skinned, african-american woman who looks like me. Some say you're defining Hollywood. Do you feel that? I am aware that my presence is probably unusual in Hollywood. And a way of just so many actors of color out there because they come to me all the time and they feel like they're on the periphery. And that's why I always want acknowledge them by giving my testimony. Reporter: Davis has been a fixture on the red carpet. But it has been a long, hard-fought road to get there. She grew up in dirt poor central falls, Rhode Island, where she describes feeling the ugly sting of racism when she sat down with us three years ago. I remember I used to pray a lot when I was a kid and I would pray, I would say, god, if you really loved me you would take me away. And I would open my eyes and I would still be in my house. You know? No phone, electricity cut off, whatever. How sweet is success after all of that? Success is very, very, very sweet. I feel that god has truly blessed my life. Because I always think that the young girl in you is always with you. Always. Reporter: Davis' time off-camera is now devoted to another young girl. Her 4-year-old daughter genesis. She runs through the set, she thinks everything is grand. She'll come home and she'll say, okay, roll tape! Okay, cut, cut, cut, cut! No, it's not working! She does all of it. Reporter: For all you die-hard fans waiting with bated breath, when I pressed her for details on upcoming episodes -- I can't tell you, I'd have to kill you and I don't want to do that. Reporter: It seems Davis has more annalise keeting in her than she'd like to admit, only revealing Cecily Tyson will be a guest star. Is she related to annalise in any way this. I don't know if she's related to me or not. Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm Brandi Hitt in Los Angeles.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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