Viola Davis may be fresh off the red carpet earning rave reviews for The Help, but the ever-ambitious star is never one to sit pretty. Davis told EW at The Help’s Tuesday night premiere that the production company she started with her husband, actor Julius Tennon, is busy optioning the rights to Ann Weisgarber’s 2008 book The Personal History of Rachel DuPree.
“We want to have imaginative roles,” she said. “Especially for people of color – women of color.” The role in question is that of DuPree, a fictional early 20th-century Chicagoan who leaves home to become a rancher’s wife in South Dakota’s Badlands.
The neighboring white settlers rely on each other during 1917’s crippling summer drought, but the pregnant DuPree is isolated by both race and geography. The story focuses on her struggle to survive and provide for her family, but also examines the harsh racial struggles facing the rarely-explored lives of black pioneers.
“It spans generations, and we’re committed to it,” Davis said. “I don’t know how it’s going to go.”
Booklist called Weisgarber’s work “a shimmering novel of the sacrifice, hardship, and determination of a black family in the early-twentieth-century settlement of the West,” and Davis’ own remarks were published on the author’s personal website. “The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is a John Ford movie … with black people!” Davis said. “It’s spectacular! Really great! I can’t put it down. I’ve never read anything like it!”
Viking Penguin could not confirm any progress on the deal with Davis and Tennon’s JuVee Inc., but a spokesperson issued the following statement to EW, vocalizing their support: “This possibility of Viola Davis optioning Ann Weisgarber’s extraordinary debut novel The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is very exciting to us, as Ms. Davis has been a big fan of the book since it came out in hardcover.”
Davis was mum when asked whether she would cast any of her Help cast mates in her new producer’s role, but she did note that she was up to the challenge. “I like going on emotional rides,” she said. “I feel like that’s what I was trained for as an actor.”