Viola Davis and her husband Julius Tennon have been together for almost 25 years after meeting on the set of City of Angels in 1999. The award-winning actress had been imagining a man like Tennon for some time, according to an interview she had with Oprah Winfrey years later during the Oprah + Viola: A Netflix Special Event to promote Davis’ memoir, Finding Me.
“I said I want a big Black man from the south who’s probably been married before,” Davis told Winfrey. “Has kids, because I don’t want any pressure in that department…Someone who’s maybe been an actor who understands the artistic community. Someone who goes to church and loves God. I said, ‘If you give me that, I’ll start going to church, God. I really will. I’m committed to it.’ And then I signed off, just like writing a letter.”
She went on, “Three and a half weeks later, I met Julius from Texas. … Ex-football player, been married, raised his children on his own, was an actor. [He] invited me to church. And I thought to myself, ‘Whoa.’”
Four years after meeting, the couple was married, and they now share one child. Here’s their entire relationship timeline so far.
In 1999, the couple crossed paths on the CBS series City of Angels. She told People they met over the craft table.
“He was like, ‘Hey,’ because we had just did a scene,” she said. “The only thing I thought was, ‘He’s good-looking. He’s really good-looking.’”
Tennon was clearly interested in Davis and used the fact she was new to LA as an opportunity. He offered to take her to the Santa Monica Pier, but it took a while for her to reach out.
“I didn’t call him for six weeks,” she said. “I had bad credit at the time. I had anxiety attacks from driving. I had to work out some personal issues first.”
She eventually did, and their relationship took off. They were married on June 23, 2003.
“The first time we got married with 15 people in our condo. It wasn’t big enough,” Davis said during an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2016. “So, three months later, we went to Rhode Island with about 100 people.”
Not only are they both actors, but they were also interested in development and production. In 2011, they co-founded JuVee Productions to support narratives “from a diverse range of emerging and established voices alike.”
Davis’ projects The First Lady and The Woman King were all produced through JuVee.
The couple decided to adopt a child together, and discussed the decision during an interview on the red carpet for the premiere of The Help.
“We are about to adopt a baby,” she told reporters.
On October 11, 2011, Davis and Tennon officially became parents. Davis was honored at the ELLE Women in Hollywood event that year. Her friend Octavia Spencer made a joke in her speech about Davis becoming a mom “like, two days ago.”
Davis shared the same news in her own speech, and reps confirmed that they had welcomed a baby girl named Genesis Tennon.
On the red carpet for the 86th annual Academy Awards, Davis shared a little bit from their personal life, saying, “We do date nights in the jacuzzi.”
Just before Valentine’s Day, Davis shared a bit more about how they keep the spark alive over the years.
“It’s about the everyday,” she said. “I think that, that’s what people forget when they fall in love with someone and it’s exciting.”
She continued, “You have to get back to the everyday—the taking the garbage out, the cooking, the cleaning—and it’s something that I think really works with me and my husband.”
Davis really meant what she said, because the couple renewed their vows on a romantic holiday after almost 13 years of marriage. A small group including Winfrey, Gayle King, Alfred Enoch, and their daughter Genesis headed to Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica for the ceremony. She shared a pic from the day on Instagram and added a John Updike quote in the caption reading, “We are most alive when we’re in love.”
On January 5, 2017, Davis received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She thanked her “handsome husband” and “beautiful daughter” during her speech.
During her turn on How to Get Away With Murder, Tennon played a guest role in season four, and the two shared an intimate scene on screen. During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Davis spoke about how it was different to do those scenes with her actual husband.
“Well, it feels safe,” she explained. “He had to take my panties off at one point, and then I had to keep resetting them—you know, because you gotta keep doing the scene over and over again. But I forgot to reset them once. And so we got to the point, and he went to go and pull them off. And [he went], ‘V, you forgot to put your panties back on!’”
Once again, Davis confirmed that she and Tennon absolutely love the jacuzzi.
“We have together time every single morning when we get in the jacuzzi, and we have together time every night ’cause we get in the tub together,” she told People. “And we soak in the tub and we talk. Sometimes he falls asleep with his mouth open!”
A few years after their vow renewal, on Valentine’s Day 2021, Davis shared a photo of herself with Tennon and Genesis to celebrate her love for her family.
“My heart!! THIS is what I live for!!” Davis wrote in the caption. “It gives my life meaning and I am forever grateful that they grace my life. Love you G and J…forever and beyond. Happy Valentine’s Day!!!”
The whole family appeared on the cover of W magazine, and her husband appeared in a photo essay directed by Regina King, who shared some of her personal thoughts on Tennon.
“I loved that Julius always seemed to be very protective of Viola, but not in a way that looked problematic,” she shared. “He really feels like a partner.”
In June 2021, Davis shared a sweet photo of them embracing in the car to celebrate their 18th anniversary of marriage.
“Happy 18th Anniversary to the love of my life!!” she wrote. “Love you Julius.”
As producers, Davis and Tennon were asked to discuss working conditions in Hollywood during a conference panel moderated by actress Yvette Nicole Brown, as reported by Deadline.
“We meet each other exhausted,” Davis said. “When you’re under stress, you start screaming at people, and you only scream at people you think are beneath you. You scream at the PA, the makeup artist, the people who are sacrificing just as much as you to be there.”
Tennon added, “We really have to think more about how this work-life balance works out. Where we can, we need to find a way to make those hours less to make productivity go up. Productivity is going to go up when you’re rested.”
During an interview together with Los Angeles Times, they shared more about their eventual first date that finally happened at Crocodile Cafe in Santa Monica. Davis said she liked her husband’s “Texas hospitality” as soon as they met.
“He drove me to the front curb and he shook my hand. He said I was beautiful and that he’d had such a beautiful time,” she said. “And he stayed there until I got to the door of my apartment. He was such a gentleman.”
Davis won a Grammy for best audiobook, narration, and storytelling recording for her memoir Finding Me, making her a rare EGOT winner. The actress now has an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. She thanked Tennon and their daughter Genesis in her speech, adding, “You are my life and my joy, the best chapter in my book.”
Usually, Davis describes her experience meeting Tennon, but in an interview with his wife on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Tennon told his side of the story.
“I noticed her and I said, ‘Hey, how ya doin.’ Then, later on, we went to the set. I passed blood to her, and I [thought], ‘This seems like a pretty nice lady. At the end of the day, I’m going to give her my card,’” Tennon said. “That’s what I did. I gave you my card only because my mom told me, my mom said, ‘If you want to meet a girl, don’t ask for her phone number, give her your card. If she’s interested, she’ll call you.’ She promptly called me a month later.”
Davis spoke up, saying her personal issues were “bad credit” and not having a car.
“No one wants to meet a 34-year-old woman on a bus with bad credit,” she explained. “So, I was trying to get my stuff together, and then I was like, ‘You know what, it’s going to take too long to get the credit right.’”
The couple dressed up for the 2023 Met Gala red carpet, with Davis wearing a Valentino gown.
The couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary
“20 years of connection. We’ve seen the loss of family members and held each other up. We’ve had accolades, triumphs, joy, grief, exhaustion and still I feel your grip,” Davis wrote in a post. “Through the fire and brimstone of life we have held on…together…..to each other….understanding no matter what, the promise is to not let go. To the end my love…..Happy 20th Anniversary!!!”
Aimée Lutkin is the weekend editor at ELLE.com. Her writing has appeared in Jezebel, Glamour, Marie Claire and more. Her first book, The Lonely Hunter, will be released by Dial Press in February 2022.