In addition to leading ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder (which returns Jan. 29), Viola Davis also stars opposite Chris Hemsworth in the new action-thriller, Blackhat, now in theaters. In the film, Davis plays Carol Barrett, an FBI agent who teams up with an incarcerated hacker (Hemsworth) to hunt down a dangerous international cybercrime ring.
TIME caught up with the actress to talk her Facebook habits, her research for the role and how she’s staying relevant in Hollywood.
TIME: After starring in a movie about cybercrime and hacking, what was your reaction to the big Sony hack?
Viola Davis: I have to say, I was not surprised! Because of my experience in the film, I knew how vulnerable we are to cyber attacks. I’m so careful with what I put out there on Facebook and my emails. I’m so careful before I press that send button. I know how accessible our information is and how we could be easily shut down just as a country. I had an expert come to my house and just walk me through what they do when they hack a computer and how they problem-solve. Your computer basically is you!
You mentioned Facebook — is that an official actress Facebook, or a secret one for friends and family?
No, I just have one. I don’t have any secret ones. I’m not that sophisticated to have a secret one! I probably should have a secret one. I should probably have a secret name when I check into hotels, but I dont. I just have one email and one Facebook. People will go, “Is that your Facebook page? Or is someone handling it for you?” I always say, “No, it’s me!”
What else did you do to prepare?
I literally flew to D.C. to meet with Michele Leonhart, who’s the head of the DEA. I sat with her for an afternoon, so I did all of that. I learned a little bit of Mandarin, which was terrifying.
Do you still to practice it?
Oh my God, no. Literally once I learned my three sentences, that was it! I couldn’t do anymore.
Parts of Blackhat were shot in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur — what was it like being there with that cast?
I was blown away. I was just transported into a completely different way of life — the smells, the sounds, the pace, the people, the landscapes, the mountains and the harbor. Shooting in Kowloon can’t be explained unless you’re there. It was great being with that cast there because it was just such a special cast that was willing to sacrifice comfort, that’s for sure. There are no trailers in China! It was mostly 100 degrees with 200 percent humidity. No trailers, no air conditioning. You were really thrust in the midst of the cities. Asia’s just a completely different world, that’s all I can say. I absolutely loved it.
You’ve been offered no shortage of roles as a government employee or agent. What made this one different?
Working with [director] Michael Mann and working in a movie that was international. I need television because the opportunities in film are still few and far between. You always have to look for reasons to stay relevant. You always have to look for reasons to be international. That international market means everything in terms of relevancy. Working with Michael Mann and Chris Hemsworth? Being one of the leads in an international movie? All of that helps JuVee Productions, which is me and my husband’s production company. We have so many exciting projects coming out. I do so many roles for so many different reasons now. There are a lot of different reasons I did it.
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