Viola Davis strong: How the ‘Widows’ star put real muscle into her power drama role

Viola Davis is receiving rave reviews as Veronica Rawlins in “Widows,” a role that has put last year’s Oscar winner for best supporting actress right back in the awards discussion.

But there’s another force on display in Davis’ portrayal of a grieving widow compelled to finish her dead husband’s final heist.

She’s buff in director Steve McQueen’s thriller.

Davis, 53, says that’s clear, even if “it’s hard to look at myself onscreen and comment on myself.”

“But I saw the buffness and that Steve McQueen was emphasizing it onscreen,” she says. “It’s great when women are seen as physically strong. There’s so much emphasis placed with women looking tiny and slim and petite – femininity is associated with all of those things. It’s nice when it’s associated with strong.”

McQueen says Davis was an obvious choice to lead the ensemble of wives-turned-heisters including Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and (a recruited babysitter) Cynthia Erivo. Davis already has the acting pedigree and brings viewers along on her character’s gradual physical transformation to convincing burglar.

“Veronica cannot suddenly be (tough); she has to develop into that character. It’s a journey you want the audience to believe, so we took our time in telling the story,” McQueen says.

During filming on location in Chicago, Davis added intense, thrice-weekly weight training sessions to her regular workout schedule. She laughingly recalls enduring exercises that had her stepping onto a 3-foot-box with hand weights. “We did that so many times, Lord I lost count.”

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