This How To Get Away With Murder Star Just Wants To Watch Scandal

Photographed by David Cortes.
ABC's Thursday night trifecta of deliciously soapy dramas has had such a cultural impact that it's changed one of the most common acronyms we know. TGIF is now TGIT, and we couldn't agree more with that game-changing day switch. First came Grey's Anatomy, then Scandal. Then, this past fall, How To Get Away With Murder completed the ShondaLand trio and immediately became the must-watch show of the season. It's a testament to the wonderful Viola Davis, who stars as the smart, inscrutable Annalise Keating, sure, but it's also a sign of an extremely strong ensemble.

Actress Aja Naomi King is part of the Keating Five on HTGAWM. She plays Michaela Pratt, who at first glance seems like a well-heeled, extremely driven, type A law student, but like every other character on the show, turns out to be so much more than she appears. As the first season progresses, viewers learn that Michaela didn't come from the privileged background she let on, nor were things going to go smoothly with her aspiring-politician fiancé and future in-laws. The perfect life she'd worked so hard to cultivate is tumbling down around her like a house of cards, and Michaela is unravelling right along with it.

We had a chance to speak with King ahead of the show's return tonight on ABC. She let us in on a lot of secrets, although she still won't tell anyone how to get away with murder. Guess we'll have to watch and find out.

Warning: Very mild spoilers ahead if you're not caught up with season 1.
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Photographed by David Cortes.
Did you always want to act?
"My father had insisted that it was important to find a career where you'll always be necessary, so for a long time I was telling people that I wanted to be a doctor. My junior year of high school, I was like president of choir and in the school plays, and I had just a complete meltdown because I knew I couldn't do other things. I was already doing the things that I loved. And, then the terror set in because as we all know, careers in the arts aren't always the most stable. I decided if you really want to do something, you have to do it with your whole heart or you can't do it at all. I had no real backup plan. I just kind of went full force."

Was it scary?
"Yes! As I was going into college and putting down my major, I was so afraid of committing to theater and art. But, I did, and it began from there, really. The teachers at UC Santa Barbara were so wonderful and really motivated me to go to grad school. I had no idea that even existed, grad school for acting."

You ended up going to one of the most prestigious ones.
"I was lucky enough to get accepted into the grad program at Yale. I've never seen so many talented people in one room who were above and beyond way more talented than I was. That was the driving force that really pushed me to excel. When you're surrounded by people like that, you think, 'I can do that; I can do more. Let's see how far this can go.'"
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Photographed by David Cortes.
How did you get into television?
"When I graduated, I moved to New York with all my classmates because I thought that's what you're supposed to do. I felt like, I'm an artist, and artists go to New York. I thought I was going to do theater. I did do a play here and there in very small, off- off- off-, so far away from Broadway, theaters. I was also lucky enough to book my first guest-star role on Blue Bloods and got to do a couple of scenes opposite Donnie Wahlberg. That was my first TV experience.

"I had a couple of other guest-star roles after that, and [then] I moved to L.A. and booked Emily Owens, M.D. Jennie Snyder Urman did not have to, but [she] really took a chance on me. [She] saw something in me and gave me a series regular role. I'd never had one before. She was just like, 'You.' That has really changed so much for me. It's like a building that you get to a certain floor, and from there you can start going up and up and up."

What was the casting process for Michaela on How To Get Away With Murder?
"That audition was quite possibly the most stress-free and seamless audition I'd ever had in my life. Which is the best — when you're not ripping your hair out of your head. We did the Skype call with Michael Offer, who was the director of the pilot, and Pete Nowalk, the writer and creator of the show. You only see these blurry, tiny images of them, and I was just like, 'I hope they can see me, and I hope I look good.' After we finished, I got in the elevator and went downstairs. Before I walked out of the building, they called and said I had the part."

Did you know Viola Davis was on board at that point?
"It was in that same phone call that my agent and manager told me they think Viola Davis is going to play the lead. I started crying. I was like, 'I need to call my parents. My life is literally changing right now; this moment.' And, it has. It's been the most wonderful change."
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Photographed by David Cortes.
How much did you know about your character when you first got the role?
"I knew she was type A and that she was going to have this amazing arc, even within the pilot episode. We have those first scenes with Michaela in the classroom and the way she talks to Wes, and the way she holds herself. Then, we have the flash-forward scenes where I'm like breaking down and can't handle it. That was so exciting. I enjoyed discovering that arc and that transition for my character — how she kind of evolved as a person in those moments to get from where we began to where we finished."

We've also learned that appearances are deceiving when it comes to Michaela.
"[She's from] the Bayou. I'm still excited to learn more about that. [The producers] did say we were going to be a little deceptive with me where it wouldn't be what it seemed…[Peter Nowalk] held onto this possibility with me that I wasn't from a well-to-do family. I haven't had it easy."

Is that why she agreed to sign the prenup?
"At that point, it was about getting back on track. That night is so devastating — my involvement; what I've witnessed. I mean, they're thinking about how to get rid of a body. I'm also thinking about not only the murder, but how much I wanted that trophy and how that's involved in the murder. Plus, I almost tried to hit my future mother-in-law.

"[W]ith all of that, and all the pressures of trying to be this person and knowing that I've had to fight so hard to get to here, I need to move forward. I need to make this marriage happen, because I'm going to need someone to protect me. These people I've been competing against, who I don't really know — we have just performed the most intimate act of violence, and now they're forever going to be a part of my life. I don't really know how to trust them, and that's why it's so important to have Aiden and to have his love and to be able to trust him and know that he would do anything for me. Michaela signs that prenup. That's the beginning of her trying to get back on track."
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Photographed by David Cortes.
The more we learn about Annalise and Michaela, the more their characters tie into the ongoing conversation about likable female characters versus male antiheroes.
"It's so weird, right? Who cares if someone is likable as a character? Of course, we don't want Annalise to be a sociopath, but I don't think that's really an issue. I think we see those intimate moments with her being distressed and trying to rise above. Yes, she kind of has a by-any-means-necessary attitude when it comes to solving problems. But, I think it's important to portray the danger in people in that way. We're all dangerous, men and women. There could be a female Walter White. There is a female Walter White. And, to think that there isn't, well, that's being delusional. Everything is complicated and living in gray areas. I think it's important to show that and to acknowledge the fact that we do live in that gray zone."
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Photographed by David Cortes.
That scene where Annalise removed her makeup felt so symbolic.
"I remember reading that in the room, and it was such a powerful moment. Just this complete release of all the artifice. This baring of her soul, really. I was excited just by hearing it, but to see it and to witness it. The power in that. How we can all relate to it, man or woman. How we have to strip ourselves of this armor that we put on every day just to walk outside our homes. Because, we don't know what we're going to encounter, and we believe that if we put on certain makeup or dress a certain way, they're almost like our talismans, our armor that makes us feel protected from whatever might happen. It gives us the confidence to get through the day. For her to unburden herself of all of that and then confront the man in her life, it was like she was talking to him completely naked. It was just so powerful and so wonderful to see."

"I love in that moment that it’s not about a big speech; it’s not about yelling and rocking someone to their core, which Viola can do. She nails that daily. It was such a quiet moment, and the silence of it. It almost overwhelmed you to witness it."

The show is also groundbreaking for how it portrays all different types of sex.
"That’s what I love about it. It’s based in being human. All humans have sex lives. All humans have friends or interests or are trying to get jobs or impress people. That has nothing to do with sexuality. It’s just so wonderful. If we keep treating something like, oh, this is so different, this is so rare, when in reality it’s so normal. Just treating it the way it is — completely normal — then it’s like, oh, I’m witnessing truth, I’m witnessing human life. We’re all being represented, and that’s what matters."
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Photographed by David Cortes.
What do you think will surprise viewers the most when the show comes back?
"It's structured differently; there aren't those flash forwards. We're moving into the future. This probably won't surprise people at all, but Marcia Gay Harden is so awesome. She's just incredible. Just being in a room with her, like, ah! What an intense aura she has."

How can the group move forward with law school? When do they have time to do anything not involving the murder?
"How do they move forward from there…we will definitely be playing with that, as scary and exciting as that is. When do they go to the grocery store? Do they ever cook dinner or stay in and watch Scandal?"

That would be great, an episode where they acknowledge that they really just want a night off to watch Scandal.
"That would be amazing."

How To Get Away With Murder airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.
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