September 20, 2015 01:25 PM

Though she’s grateful to be nominated for an Emmy, How to Get Away with Murder star Viola Davis said it’s “just a small sign of something far more significant.”

“It’s the impact of my work, I think art matters,” she told PEOPLE before being honored Saturday at the National Women’s History Museum’s fourth annual Women Making History Brunch in Los Angeles. “I have to continue that whether I have the statue in my hand or not.”

Viola Davis
Jason Kempin/Getty

Davis, 50, laid out a vision for the future of breaking down barriers for women of color in Hollywood when she took the stage to receive her recognition, given to her by friend Maria Bello.

Davis looked into the crowd and said, “I understand that acting is not rocket science. I do. But I do feel that it’s an important art form. It is my mission in life to make women of color a part of the narrative in our business.”

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Davis, accompanied by her husband, Julius, then said, “I feel that come tomorrow, win or lose, I hope that this wave [continues] of seeing Taraji P. Henson, Halle Berry, Nicole Beharie, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union, and the nameless faceless actresses out there that the only thing that has ever separated us in this world, in this business, is opportunity.

“If it s not written, we can t play it.”

About the Emmy ceremony itself, Davis told reporters, “I feel mellow.”

“Yesterday, I was nervous. Today, I feel good,” she said. “There are expectations. You wonder, If I don’t win, am I a failure? But today, I feel mellow.”

So how will she prepare before the big event?

“It’s not my first day at the rodeo, you know,” Davis said. “I’ll probably work out. If I had a jacuzzi, I’d go in that. Watch some CNN. Maybe have a glass of Prosecco. Talk to my husband. Just relax a little bit.”

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