Academy Award nominee Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt), stars in ABC’s new drama How to Get Away with Murder, playing Annalise Keating, a Criminal Law professor who is as fearless in the courtroom as she is in the classroom, doing almost anything to get the criminals she’s defending their freedom.
Each year, Annalise selects a group of the most promising students to work at her law firm. This year, one of the coveted positions goes to Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch, who played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter franchise). It’s a life-changing experience for all the students, especially when they find themselves involved in a murder plot that will rock the university.
Viola Davis and Alfred Enoch spoke with TV Critics about their new series, which premieres on September 24th, and is Executive Produced by the prolific Shonda Rhimes. In the UK it will be on the Universal Channel at 10pm from Wednesday October 22nd 2014.
Viola, can you talk about deciding to do television?
Viola: The attraction was the material. I think the day of choosing TV over film somehow diminishing your career as an actor or actress has changed.
I think people migrate towards material, especially after they reach a certain age, certain hue, certain sex.
I will be bold enough to say, that I have gotten so many wonderful film roles, but I’ve gotten even more film roles where it’s like I’ve been invited to a really fabulous party, only to hold up the wall. (she laughs)
I wanted to have a character that took me out of my comfort zone. And that character happened to be in a Shonda Rhimes show in How to Get Away with Murder. And so I did the only smart thing that any sensible actress would do, and I took it.
I love the fact that she’s messy and mysterious and you don’t know who she is. She’s not necessarily nurturing and, ‘Come sit on my lap so I can talk to you, baby.’ She’s a woman. She’s sexual. She’s vulnerable.
I feel extremely fortunate that I am alive and still active and this role came to me at this point in my life.
Alfred, how did you get this role?
Alfred: I was doing a play in London and it was coming towards the end of the run, we’d done something like three months, and like all actors I was thinking, ‘What’s next?’
I got sent through this script and asked to go and tape for it. My first thought was, ‘An American pilot. That’s exciting.’
I read through it and it had so much depth and sophistication, it was so fascinating and so well constructed. It was a great script, but in the back of my head I was thinking, ‘This isn’t going to happen.’ It seemed like a really remote possibility.
I did my test on Skype and they liked what I was doing. Then I found out I got the pilot, and I’m still pinching myself.
What’s it like working with Viola?
Alfred: I was so excited. Whenever you get an opportunity to work with someone you respect, who is that impressive, that accomplished and works to that level, you’re thrilled, aren’t you?
You want to be working with people who challenge you and stretch you. It was fascinating doing some of the scenes with her. The first time we had a scene, just the two of us, I had to pinch myself.
Annalise seems morally kind of questionable. How does it feel playing someone who is in a gray area?
Viola: I think I’m always confused when people say that people are morally questionable, because I think we’re all morally questionable. I think that we so much act on nature and not on morals. So I found her to be a realistic protagonist.
I find her to be very human, as we all are, that we all have gray areas. And that was the attraction for me.
Why is Wes so quick to morally or ethically compromise himself for Annalise?
Alfred: Well, personally, I think it’s a difficult question. And I think my character certainly is a newcomer to this environment.
Wes is uncompromising at the start, so he has reservations. But I think that’s to do with understanding law and understanding the gray areas and difficulty and complexity of it.
You can’t always come down with a very neat, prepared notion of what is acceptable and what isn’t. I think that’s what we need to find out. So I think that journey is part of it for me, we get to see this largely though Wes’ eyes.
Alfred Enoch – Sound bytes
After the panel I caught up with Alfred, and asked him about his father, British actor William Russell, who appeared in the first series of Doctor Who. He is also asked what he thinks of Peter Capaldi being cast? (Note this was before any of Peter Capaldi’s episodes had aired)
Alfred was also asked about how weird it was not having Harry Potter in his life anymore? Also how TV filming on How to Get Away with Murder is different.