Newly minted Emmy winner Viola Davis made history on Sunday, but before the show, she had “mixed emotions” about what would become a defining moment in the award show’s history.
ET’s Nancy O’Dell spoke to the How to Get Away With Murder star on the red carpet before she became the first black actress ever to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series about the potential historical moment.
“I feel both excited and proud that one of us could be first, but mixed emotions about it being 2015 and we’re [still] talking about it,” the 50-year-old actress said.
“I just hope this is now a part of the status quo that women of color are included in the narratives that continue to write lead roles for us, to rethink how we see a leading lady and we don’t have to have this discussion anymore,” she continued.
Davis said that being an actress is all about having courage.
“I try to make her a real woman in the midst of everything,” she explained.
And when O’Dell referenced Davis’ talked-about moment on Murder, in which Annalise Keating takes off her makeup and wig onscreen, the actress had a chuckle.
“Being brave is an occupational hazard with me,” Davis said.
During her outstanding acceptance speech, in which she quoted Harriet Tubman, the Julliard-trained actress was appreciative of her history-making win.
“Let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” she said onstage, thanking creator Peter Nowalk and executive producer Shonda Rhimes for being “people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.”
Davis wasn’t the only one hoping to make history on Emmy night.
Empire star Taraji P. Henson, whom Davis was up against in the category, told ET that a black woman winning in the Lead Actress in a Drama Series category is “an important moment."
"I just feel like I want it to happen tonight, either for myself or Viola so we can get past it, so it's not big news anymore. I mean, it is 2015. We have a black president," Henson told O'Dell on the carpet.
"I hope for just that reason alone that we move past it," she continued, "and then it becomes about the work."
Backstage in the press room, Davis told reporters that she and Henson -- whom she hugged before she went onstage to accept her award -- hugged three times.
The Murder star gushed Henson, saying, "It is very, very, very rare to find this in this business -- she is the most supportive actress you could possibly imagine. Supportive in ways that you can't even begin to understand, and it's genuine."
Davis revealed that she and Henson gave each other words of encouragement before their category was announced. "We just whispered to each other, 'Whoever gets it, it's great, it's wonderful and I love you,'" she shared.