Viola Davis on the Reaction to her Historic Emmy Win Speech: 'I Didn't Know How It Was Landing'

"I think the most surprising thing is the impact it's made on people's lives," she told PEOPLE

Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Viola Davis‘ acceptance speech for her historic Emmy win last weekend was a huge hit – but she said she wasn’t certain if it would go over well while she was onstage.

“I didn’t know how it was landing,” she told PEOPLE Saturday at PEOPLE, Entertainment Weekly and Essence‘s #TGIT Celebration Event in Los Angeles, adding with a laugh, “I was up there talking. My husband was like, ‘I didn’t know where you were going with that thing.’ ”

“I think the most surprising thing is the impact it’s made on people’s lives,” she continued. “That it wasn’t just, ‘Oh, you made a really good speech.’ It really is, it meant a lot in people’s lives and kind of transforming them and shifting them just a little bit.

“Because all you really need to do is shift people just a tiny bit for change to happen. It doesn’t have to be huge and humongous. That’s been a surprise.”

Her speech has since earned praise from fans, viewers and colleagues alike.

Scandal star Kerry Washington called it “incredibly courageous, just phenomenally bold and honest and beautiful.”

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Davis, 50, said she had already picked out the Harriet Tubman quote which opened the speech – “In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line.” – because she knew it would feel universal.

“I knew it would have the impact because of the truth of it,” she said, “the progressiveness of is the fact that people see a line, and beyond that line, they see all the things that they could be, all the rewards of life, and somehow, it s denied them, and I knew that it would speak to a lot of people.”

And even though Davis said it’s not her style to “bask” in the attention or celebrate on set, this week has been “awesome.”

“I’m always the girl who lost the Miss Central Falls Recreation Contest,” she said. “I never made the cheerleading team. And now, I felt like I won a beauty pageant.”


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