Viola Davis Viola Davis

How to Get Away with Murder? For Viola Davis, it was more like How to Work with Shonda Rhimes.

"I'm a failed television pilot queen," Davis tells of her decision to join the new ABC legal thriller, which is executive-produced by Rhimes. "And she has a successful track rate."

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Davis plays Professor Annalise Keating, a criminal law professor who tasks her students with real-world cases and definitely believes that the ends justify the (sometimes illegal) means. "She's really, really good at her job," Davis says. "My take on her is she's just swimming through a big lake of filthy swill to ultimately reach dry land like we all are."Check out our interview below to see what else the two-time Oscar nominee has to say about her first lead role on the small screen and what she's most looking forward to.

(Additional reporting by Robyn Ross)How to Get Away with Murder premieres Thursday at 10/9c on ABC.