She plays the mother of the only black boy in his class at a Catholic school in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1964, and she's been called in for a chat with the principal (Meryl Streep). "She's hoping it's nothing serious," Davis says of her character, Mrs. Miller. But when she hears accusations involving her child and a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman), "she has no choice but to fight for the right of her son." Drop by careful drop, she pours out her heart, revealing the grit and desperation of any parent trying to ensure that her child has a better life than she did. It's a thrilling few minutes, thanks to writer-director John Patrick Shanley's pinpoint dramaturgy as well as the actress's restraint. "In 1964," she says, "I don't have the choice to flail my arms or raise my voice." Davis was inspired by her own mother, the rare black woman in a Rhode Island town in the '60s, who, she says, "had to fight for us on a daily basis." The Golden Globe nominee next plays a brasher sort of battler, an ex-prostitute in Madea Goes to Jail, in which she faces another strong female antagonist: Tyler Perry in drag as Madea.
Reported by Rebecca Winters Keegan
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