‘I had a swagger with this one’

Viola Davis is a well-known dramatic powerhouse, but for her latest role in female king The 57-year-old Oscar winner proved that he is ready to start a new career as an action hero.

“I had a conflict with it,” Davis tells Yahoo Entertainment of her fierce star turn in director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s rousing period epic, which had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. (Watch our video interview above.)

Inspired by real historical events, female king Takes place in 19th-century West Africa, where an all-female army led by Davies’ commanding general, Naniska, defends against a rival tribe seeking to undermine the power of its ruler, King Gezo (John Boyega). But Naniska’s resolve is tested by the arrival of a new warrior, Navi (Thuso Mbedu), with whom she shares a personal history, as well as allies like Izogi (Lashana Lynch) and Amenza (Sheila Atim). Responsibility to lead in battles. From where they cannot return.

While Davis has appeared in such spectacle-heavy blockbusters before suicide squad And Ender’s game, female king Marks the first time she has been at the center of the action. And Prince-Bythewood says the star committed herself to transforming her body into fighting form. “His work ethic is insane,” praises the director. “I remember the first call with Viola and our fight coordinator, Daniel Hernandez. We told him: ‘We’re not going to fit you in our box – you’re going to build a box, and we’re going to build. You Looking good.’ He’s very strong, and so we built around that.”

Viola Davis is the perfect action hero in The Woman King.  (Photo: Courtesy of TIFF)

Viola Davis goes full action hero female king. (Photo: Courtesy of TIFF)

talked to size Magazine recently, Davis’ trainer, Gabriel McClain, revealed that the actress underwent a DNA health analysis prior to production that helped improve her nutrition and exercise regimen. “Viola worked to build her body to be an athlete,” confirmed Prince-Bythewood, adding that the star performed many of her own stunts, including a climactic duel that required hours of technical training. is needed “I told him, ‘It’s got to be you,'” the director recalls. “That scene says a lot about her character and what she was going through, and I didn’t want to cut out a stunt double.”

Reflecting on the experience now, Davis describes his time as an action hero as “terrifying” and “satisfying”.

“I shrink from compliments,” adds the actress. “I’m very introverted … but this is a role where I’ll get on the phone with all my friends, especially the people at Juilliard, and say, ‘You know what I did today?’ …. I became a braggart!”

Her co-stars certainly didn’t mind Davis’ newfound bravado. “He enjoyed it,” laughs Mbedou. “It was hard, but we were achieving great things. Gina always was [saying,] ‘More Swagger!’ And Viola would go, ‘I should have asked for more money!’

Meanwhile, Atim marveled at how Davis’ commanding presence kept the rest of the cast grounded during a difficult shoot. “She leads by example, and everyone admires her, because she’s a true professional and really dedicated to the craft.”

Lashana Lynch, Davis and Sheila Atim in The Woman King.  (Photo: TriStar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Lashana Lynch, Davis and Sheila Atim In female king. (Photo: TriStar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Apart from the action movie swagger, female king Also provides a brief depiction of African history, touching on the role of rulers such as King Gezo in the slave trade. In the film, Gezo maintains relationships with slaves as a source of wealth for his kingdom, even as Naniska urges him to sever those relationships. Prince-Bythewood says it was difficult to face that piece of history, but it couldn’t be avoided. “Telling the truth was important, and I knew that’s what we were going to do,” she noted.

Boyega similarly felt conflicted about wrestling with that particular piece of history. “You definitely have your instincts about this type of business,” he says Star Wars the star “But at the same time, [it’s important] For the integrity of the film, and how Gina found it in the narrative and explored it. You have to show what the narrative is and also the truth of this era. As an actor, I had to bypass my opinion and bring the truth to the audience.”

Lynch confronts those harsh truths head-on in one of the film’s most dramatically-charged scenes, where Izogi is held hostage in a slave market and molested by a slaver, played by Hero. Fiennes is played by Tiffin. “It was a very difficult scene to shoot,” the No time to die The film took several days, recalls the star. “After reading the script, that was the part that really scared me. I cried a lot while shooting it.”

John Boyega in The Woman King.  (Photo: TriStar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)

John Boyega as King Gezo female king. (Photo: TriStar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)

The actress credits both Prince-Bythewood and her co-star, Tiffin, with helping her with the scene. “Hiro took me aside and said, ‘Tell me what you want to do and what you don’t want to do,'” Lynch recalls. “It was really amazing — to have a young man come to this woman and really care about her and her body and have agency for her. And then Gina is one of the nicest and best directors I’ve ever worked with. is, and he was very careful with this whole sequence. I’m thankful that I didn’t have to push myself too hard to achieve what we did.”

For her part, Prince-Bythewood described the sequence as “harsh” and praised Lynch for portraying the reality of what happened to real women like Izogi, who was forced into slavery. “She honored that and was as genuine as possible. When you have an actress like Lashana who feels everything so deeply, it’s a very inspiring environment.”

At the same time, the director emphasizes that slavery is only one part of the larger story being told. female king.

“We wanted to tell the story of these incredible women who defended the state,” says Prince-Bythewood, adding that she was inspired by such films. brave heart And gladiator. “It was an opportunity to show another side of Africa that we don’t get to see – the beauty of it, and the kings, the warriors, that’s something that’s missing from a lot of narratives. It was exciting to be able to do that. That’s what to do.”

– Video produced by Kyle Moss and edited by Jimmy Rhee

female king Now playing in theaters

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