Home Cover Story Viola Davis: “SOUTH AFRICA IS GOD’SPLAYGROUND”
Cover Story

Viola Davis: “SOUTH AFRICA IS GOD’SPLAYGROUND”

WINNER OF THE BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS FOR HER ROLE IN ‘FENCES,’ AT THE 89TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS.

Hollywood producers are lured by South Africa’s low production costs. Our mountains and sea views are every cinematographer’s dream. But for Hollywood actress, Oscar winner and film producer Viola Davis, it’s about much more than just the landscape. It’s about the hearts and spirit of the people. And our food, she tells InBound SA magazine in an exclusive interview.

BY GAVIN PRINS

She is in Cape Town. Incognito. She appears in the crowds unnoticed. She is working on a new film project. She is not doing any media interviews. She is focused on the character that she is playing and the movie she is producing. There are none of Hollywood’s usual ostentatious outings when out on the streets. Just plain Viola. Unnoticed.

Until the day, standup comedian Marc Lottering walked past a restaurant in Cape Town and saw the Hollywood actress sitting inside having a meal. 

“I just walked past a restaurant and saw Viola Davis having lunch. I was shaking but kept on walking because she was eating. And now I’ll spend the rest of the year wondering if she would have said yes to a pic and whether I missed my one shot at Hollywood.” He wrote on X afterwards.

Social media went crazy for two reasons: Viola Davis is in our country, and one of our funniest comedians got stage fright when seeing her. South Africa is not new to the How To Get Away With Murder star. She filmed the Hollywood blockbuster The Woman King in various parts of the country. This is her fifth visit. Imagine our excitement when we get the call from one of her assistants to say: “Viola will be happy to give you an interview.” And, of course, our joy was uncontainable. 

A few days later, she told us that she calls South Africa “God’s playground”. We were interested in her love for our country. “It’s as if the most beautiful traits of every part of earth and life were splattered here,” she says. She loves it so much that she was perfectly fine spending her 58th birthday here last year. 

“The kindness, heart and spirit of the people is what first grab you. They give….and give in abundance.”

She adds, “What put my stay here over the top were the Safari experiences at Thanda, Aquila, and Sabi Sabi at Kruger National Park which cannot be described in words.” 

And then the conversation turns to food with one simple statement: “The food!” And then she lists her favourite restaurants. “Willoughby’s, Nobu, Ginja, Tang, The Bungalow, Salsify restaurant and Kloof Street House are some of the best dining experiences of my life. And I’ve lived a life,” she tells us. 

“The Spa at The One And Only Hotel and my life-shifting stay at Sante Wellness have tattooed themselves on my soul. It has shifted my life. The wines are beyond comparison. Babylonstoren, Boschendal, and Vergenoegd wines exceeded my expectations.”

But she is not always out dining at these fine restaurants. When on set, she adheres to a strict diet. And the person responsible for this is local chef Leonard Williams. Leonard hails from Heidelberg in the Southern Cape. He cooked for her, Thuso Mbedu and Lashana Lynch, while they were working on The Woman King. Here, the Oscar winner first got a taste of Leonard’s food, and she has been hooked ever since.

“Leonard is a part of this landscape. His food and culinary awareness,” she says. “He surprises me every day.”

For Leonard, it is an honour to be cooking for Viola. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would cook for a Hollywood Actress. This is truly a highlight of my career,” he tells InBound SA. 

“An opportunity came my way at the end of 2021 to work as a cast chef on The Woman King where Viola Davis was the lead actress. I had to prepare the main cast meals with specific dietary requirements.”

Viola, he says, is not a fussy eater at all. “I work closely with Viola’s personal trainer Gabriela (McClain). The brief concerning dietary requirements was gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb and low-sugar. Viola is really disciplined when it comes to her diet,” says Leonard.

Her favourite? Lamb briyani. “Viola requested this for her Christmas lunch last year. In preparing it, I stayed true to a traditional briyani while still maintaining her dietary requirements.”

Viola says she feels like a child who never wants to leave the playground, holding onto a swing or a seesaw whenever she is in the country, whether it’s the food or the people. 

“South Africa is joy,” says Viola. IB

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