Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Regina King and Taraji P. Henson On Their Most Challenging Moments and Unexpected Milestones

Excerpts from THR’s   Viola Davis, Constance Wu and 9 Other Actresses on Their Most Challenging Moments and Unexpected Milestones

Viola Davis How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)

What scene was particularly tough to pull off this season?

Davis won the lead drama actress Emmy in 2015 for her first season playing criminal law professor Annalise Keating.

“When I do the homecoming — the burial scene — for the baby with Ms. Cecily Tyson in the finale epi­sode. I think it resonated for me because it’s not something that I would normally see in a one-hour drama, especially a one-hour drama that was filled with, OMG, really sexy and salacious moments. There was something about that scene that for me was very cinematic. The depth of it I enjoyed. I enjoyed the fact that I got to play it with Ms. Tyson and the fact that she was playing my mother. Just the concept of that scene I felt was very thoughtful and very heart-rending. It wasn’t gimmicky at all. It was a beautiful journey that I felt I took with my mom, considering how our relationship played out in the first season. The other thing that I loved about that scene was that when I signed up to play Annalise Keating, [she started out as] this mysterious, sexualized law professor, and for me, this character has taken me on a journey that has been quite unexpected but somehow feels right. I realize in my 50 years that you can never put a finger on someone. Ever. They have experiences in their lives that you cannot even imagine, and what you get is the final byproduct of that. I feel like she’s very vast.”

Kerry Washington Scandal (ABC), Confirmation (HBO)

What scene was particularly tough to pull off this season?

In addition to her role as crisis manager Olivia Pope on Scandal, Washington also produced and starred in the retelling of Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings, playing the role of Anita Hill.

“That scene [in Confirmation] at the end where I’m reading the letters — that was never written to be a moment that included an emotional break. It just happened based on the story we were telling and stepping into what [Hill] would have been feeling and my understanding of the impact that the public response had on her in terms of breaking her isolation. I think that was a scene that I didn’t focus on, like, ‘Oh, I have to get this scene right.’ I didn’t actually know what the scene was going to be until we were doing it. Once we shot it, all the producers and the writers and myself were all like, ‘Whoa. That’s the moment. We don’t have to worry about another one. That’s it. We found it.’ ”

Regina King American Crime (ABC), The Leftovers (HBO)

What scene was particularly tough to pull off this season?

King shot a significant portion of the second seasons of The Leftovers andAmerican Crime at the same time.

“In The Leftovers, I wanted more than anything to have a great scene with Ann Dowd and Carrie Coon. Those were the two. They are powerhouses to me. Apparently, Carrie felt the same way, which neither of us knew until afterward. When we got a script and saw that it was an eight-page scene, just the two of us, then it was really like, 'You know what? If there wasgonna be an eight-page scene with anybody on this show, I want it to be with you.’ Then the day came. Carrie’s a very lighthearted person, and she’s witty and not walking around as [her character] Nora Durst all year round. Some actors do have to do that, they kind of have to be that person all the time to deliver a performance that they need to or want to deliver. I’m not quite like that, and neither is Carrie. It was great to have that intensity but then in between takes be talking about, 'So, what do you think about the Lakers?’ ”

Taraji P. Henson Empire (Fox)

How would you describe your character’s arc this season?

In season two, Henson’s Cookie Lyon witnessed one son get shot, another aggressively take control of the family record label, an unborn grandchild die and the ex-husband she still loves marry someone else to protect the family business.

“We got off to a rough start because at the beginning it became about, 'Who’s gonna be on the show?’ We lost focus of the family. So, I was more like, 'Let’s not make [season two] about who is going to be on the show.’ In the first season, the stars just happened. Courtney Love just happened to be on the show. It wasn’t just about, 'Hire this person or this big name.’ I was like, 'We have to stay focused on the family.’ That’s what people fell in love with. The world is able to tap into all different aspects and problems that this one family goes through. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is. I was more focused on that and continuing Cookie’s struggles to keep this family together in this crazy world we created. That’s where she started. That is what her 17 years was about: her family.”