Marian Seldes on Viola Davis


Marian Seldes and I went to see August Wilson’s King Hedley II  when it was produced on Broadway, in 2001. I knew that Viola Davis, who won her first Tony Award for her work in this play, had been a student of Marian’s at Juilliard, and I wanted to hear from Marian what she thought of this actress, from whom great things were expected.

What a teacher hopes to impart to a student–intention, concentration, love of acting and actors, love of literature–Viola arrived possessing to an astonishing degree. Her commitment to everything in class or production was terminal, deep, unfailing. We can’t know if this degree of talent and dedication will find a place in the business of acting, but we could not really doubt that a path would appear for her, because she was so powerful a wave of ability and kindness. Viola is a generous wave, and she brings everyone along with her. She excludes all negative things, and is open to making the best happen. I think we share a belief that our commitment saves us and makes us worthy of space on the planet, and her devotion is maternal. She wants to act, yes, but she also wants to save people and things and ideas.

From a conversation in 2001

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