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‘How To Get Away With Murder’ star Viola Davis had to dumpster-dive for food as a child

When the actress playing TV’s newest power lady was honored at an event called “Power of Women,” she didn’t take the mike to talk about women in Hollywood. She didn’t discuss her rise to fame or even mention “How To Get Away With Murder,” a show that already has a passionate following at week three.

Instead, Viola Davis talked poverty.

So?, you say. Another celeb, another cause.

But this time, the poverty that brought this celebrity to tears wasn’t in the abstract; it was her own.

“I did everything to get food. I have stolen for food,” Davis said. “I have jumped in huge garbage bins with maggots for food. I have befriended people in the neighborhood who I knew had mothers who cooked three meals a day for food, and I sacrificed a childhood for food and grew up in immense shame.”

The 49-year-old actress has discussed her difficult childhood in various magazine interviews before. She was born in St. Matthews, S.C., in a home with a hole in the roof, no running water and no indoor toilet. She told More magazine that she and her five siblings lived there for the first two months of her life. Then, part of her family moved to Central Falls, R.I., where they lived in a home that was condemned and infested with rats. According to New York Magazine, the Davises were also the only black family in their town. Her mother was a factory worker and maid. Her father was a horse trainer with a fifth-grade-level education. Davis said she and her siblings were the victims of constant bullying.

“You know they say, you’re never too old to have a happy childhood,” Davis said at the Variety ceremony. She explained that by working with Hunger Is (that’s the effort she was being honored for) she had set out “to save herself.”

The charity is the work of grocery store chain Safeway and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, Hollywood’s leading philanthropic organization. Davis was the star of this “Hunger Is” PSA earlier this year:

On the Shonda Rhimes-produced “How To Get Away With Murder,” Davis’s character, Annalise Keating, is breaking barriers on what a mainstream TV show’s leading lady is supposed to be. She’s black, strong and beautiful — but she also cheats on her husband, defends known killers and, from what we’ve seen so far,  might just be a murderer herself.

So it’s fitting that when Davis opens up about her own back story, she doesn’t shy away from admitting the complicated. Watch her full speech here: