Viola Davis gave an empowering speech about self-acceptance as she picked up the #SeeHer Award at the Critics' Choice Awards.

The 51-year-old actress - who portrays tough lawyer Annalise Keating in 'How to Get Away With Murder' - spoke candidly about how she initially felt she'd have to diet for her role in the legal drama, before realising he should just ''embrace'' who she really is and not change for the role.

Speaking on stage at the ceremony at The Baker Hangar in Santa Monica, California, on Sunday (11.12.16), she said: ''It's hard to accept being a role model for women when you're trying to lose weight.

''I've always discovered the heart of my characters, I guess, by asking 'Why?' ''When I was handed Annalise Keating, I said, 'She's sexy, she's mysterious.'

''I'm used to playing women where I've got to gain 40 pounds and wear an apron. So I said, 'Oh God, I've got to lose weight. I've got to learn how to walk like Kerry Washington in heels. I gotta lose my belly.' And then I asked myself, 'Well, why do I have to do all of that?'

''I truly believe that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, and I just recently embraced that at 51.''

And Viola - who has daughter Genesis, five, with husband Julius Tennon, and is stepmother to his two children from a previous marriage - thinks her ''strongest power'' is her role on the TV show.

She said: ''I think my strongest power is that at 10 o'clock every Thursday night, I want you to come into my world. I am not going to come into yours. You come into my world and you sit with me, my size, my hue, my age, and you sit and you experience. And I think that's the only power I have as an artist, so I thank you for this award.''

Later in the evening, Viola picked up the Best Supporting Actress prize for here role in 'Fences' - which is based on work by late playwright August Wilson - and paid tribute to her co-star in the production, ''the leader and the captain'', Denzel Washington.

She said: ''Thank you so much ... for having the courage and the vision to bring August Wilson to the screen.

''But most importantly: the leader, the captain, Denzel Washington, who said the two scariest words an actor can ever hear: 'Trust me.'

''Usually that's because you can't trust a lot of people with a performance in this business. But we trusted you, you delivered as a leader and you've made us proud and most importantly, you've made August proud. Thank you very much.''