The University of Kentucky Student Activities Board has been working for several years to bring Viola Davis to campus for a talk, but the timing was never quite right.
Now, the timing is perfect.
“We had been talking recently about how perfect this timing seems to be, and then when she won an Academy Award on Sunday, we couldn’t have asked for a better time, a better date,” Roman May, graduate assistant for student activities at UK, said Wednesday.
Thursday night, Davis will sit down with Beth Barnes, professor of integrated strategic communication, for a sold-out talk in the Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall.
Sunday night, the actress well-known for numerous films and the hit TV series “How to Get Away with Murder” finally struck Oscar gold, winning best supporting actress for her performance as Rose Maxson in “Fences,” a role for which she already won a Tony Award for best actress in a play in 2010.
It was her third try at Oscar, having been nominated in 2008 for “Doubt” and 2011 for “The Help.” With the Oscar in hand, Davis accomplished the “triple crown of acting,” winning an Oscar, Tony and Emmy Award, the latter being an honor she picked up in 2015 for her performance as attorney Annalise Keating in “How to Get Away with Murder.” She is the first black actress to win all three acting awards.
At the Oscars, she gave one of the higher profile speeches, saying in part, “I became an artist, and thank god I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
Pursuing Davis was the result of the Student Activities Board brainstorming potential speakers to invite and then surveying students, “to make sure we bring someone students want to hear, not just who we want,” May said.
“She has a unique story from her childhood, how she grew up. She talks a lot in other interviews about growing up in poverty and facing hunger as a child, and how she now works with charities that help hungry children. She’s going to talk about her life and that experience as well as her acting roles, recent ones and other ones.”
Enthusiasm for Davis’ visit was borne out by ticket sales. Most were taken by students soon after they went on sale Feb. 10, and the remainder were gone quickly after they went on sale to the general public Feb. 17. And that was before Davis became an Oscar winner.
“Even if she hadn’t won that award, we were still going to be super thrilled for her to be here,” May said.