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Viola Davis on the Importance of Fences: "This Is a Universal Story"

The How to Get Away with Murder star could also make Oscar and Emmy history this year

Joyce Eng

Viola Davis made history in 2015 when she became the first black actress to win the lead drama actress Emmy for How to Get Away with Murder. She's once again rewriting the awards annals this year: She's the first black actress to receive three Oscar nominations, and as the runaway favorite to win supporting actress for Fences, she could become only the fourth person to accept an Oscar and an Emmy in the same calendar year.

But the film -- an adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer-winning play about a working-class African-American family in the 1950s -- means much more than mere hardware for Davis. "Fences has been the experience of my life," she tells
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Long before she brought Annalise Keating to life, Davis played dutiful wife Rose Maxson in the 2010 Broadway production of Fences opposite Denzel Washington, who directed the film and reprised his role as her husband Troy Maxson. (Both won Tonys, and Davis could become the 23rd person to achieve the Triple Crown of acting -- win a Tony, an Emmy and an Oscar -- thus putting her a Grammy short of an EGOT.) They were the last pieces in the decades-long journey to shepherd Wilson's play to the big screen.

"You will sit with this family ... and see that this is a universal story," Davis, who's already won the Critics' Choice Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award, says. "It's truly an everyman story."

The 89th Academy Awards air Sunday, Feb. 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT on ABC. How to Get Away with Murder airs Thursdays at 10/9c on ABC.