Iconic actress Cicely Tyson has been bringing us introspective portrayals of Black women for decades. And her role as Ophelia Harkness in the hit show, How To Get Away With Murder, is no exception.
Thankfully for fans, the 95-year-old Emmy-nominated actress will be returning for the ABC show’s final six episodes. And ESSENCE has an exclusive first-look at Tyson’s guest starring role, for which she’s sure to earn another Emmy Award nod.
The actress said in an exclusive statement to ESSENCE that portraying the mother of Viola Davis’ steely Annalise Keating has been a role of a lifetime.
“When I was told that Viola Davis wanted for me to play her mother in her television series, How To Get Away With Murder, I went straight to bed,” recalled Tyson. “I did not really know Viola at the time, as I had only met her briefly before at a reading for The Help. I had not seen nor heard from her after that until her invitation.”
As a crucial recurring character since the show’s first season, the role gave Tyson the opportunity to tap into a dynamic she had always been curious about portraying.
“I have long been fascinated with the relationships that exist between mothers and daughters and wondered why these relationships were not explored on screen in the same way that father and son relationships have been explored,” Tyson explained. “I was fascinated by the possibility of delving into the many complex issues that exist in mother and daughter relationships.”
In fact the role, which Tyson called “a challenge” made her reflect on “the many moments of joy and sorrow with my own mother,” she continued.
Tyson credited the show’s creator, Peter Nowalk, for giving her the freedom to mold her character into the groundbreaking template we see on screen. The scene of Tyson tenderly greasing Davis’ scalp during a moment of crisis was as authentically Black as it gets.
“The genius of [producer] Shonda Rhimes allowed me to ride the crest of her wave,” Tyson added. “Her support and faith never wavered. This experience has been invaluable and one that I will never get over because I learned so much from each member of the cast and production team. It’s a pinnacle of my career.”
“I just don’t like goodbyes,” she concluded, referencing that this is the last and final season of the hit ABC drama after six seasons.
Show creator Nowalk told ESSENCE there’s a reason why the series taps Tyson season over season. “The writers and I build a storyline for Ms. Tyson every season because we know her appearance will not only give the audience joy, but also our entire cast and crew,” Norwalk explained. “Emmy voters seem to agree as they’ve nominated her nearly every season of the show.”
Get a first look at Tyson in some of her final moments on the set of How To Get Away with Murder below. The series, also starring Billy Brown and Aja Naomi King, airs Thursdays on ABC at 10 p.m. ET.