Viola Davis

time-100-2017-viola-davis-miles-aldridge Photograph by Miles Aldridge for TIME 

When you spend your life embodying other lives, if you are successful, the one that belongs to you can silently slip behind. But Viola Davis' hard-won, midlife rise to the very top of her profession has not led her to forget the rough trip she took getting there. And that is why she embodies for all women, but especially for women of color, the high-wire rewards of hard work and a dream, risk and faith.

Viola has carved a place for herself on the Mount Rushmore of the 21st century—new faces emerging from a neglected mountain. And when she tells the story of how she got from where she was to where she is, it is as if she is on a pilgrimage, following her own footsteps and honoring that journey. Her gifts as an artist are unassailable, undeniable, deep and rich and true. But her importance in the culture—her ability to identify it, her willingness to speak about it and take on responsibility for it—is what marks her for greatness.

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