A graduate of the Juilliard School, Viola Davis built an exceptional background in theater productions and has continued to perform on-stage throughout her television and film career. Making her feature-film debut in 1996 as a nurse in The Substance of Fire, she followed that up with several TV movies and guest-star appearances on dramatic series like Law & Order and NYPD Blue. She went on to play another nurse in City of Angels, a hospital drama with a predominately African-American cast that didn't last long on CBS. She began collaborating with Steven Soderbergh for Out of Sight, and went on to star in two of the director's next few films, Traffic and Solaris. In 2001, she appeared in Kate and Leopold and in Oprah Winfrey's television presentation of Amy & Isabelle. The next year she played parts in both Far From Heaven and Denzel Washington's directorial debut, Antwone Fisher.
Davis continued to work steadily in a variety of notable projects including Steven Soderbergh's Solaris, Syriana, and played a notable part in the television movie biopic of American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino. However, in 2008 she landed the small but crucial role of the mother in John Patrick Shanley's adaptation of his award-winning play Doubt. Although her screen time is minimal, her indelible performance garnered her Best Supporting Actress nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Academy. Davis became a well known entity almost instantly, and was soon filling her docket with projects like 2009's State of Play, 2010's Knight and Day and Eat Pray Love, and an arc on the series United States of Tara.
Davis next appeared in the box office hit 2011 big screen adaptation of Kathryn Sockett 's period novel The Help, garnering still more praise as well as Best Actress nominations from the Academy, BAFTA, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild. Her performance was still making waves when the critics began lauding her agian, this time for her role in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that same year.