The How to Get Away with Murder star has been experiencing an uptick in her career in recent years after starring on the highly popular TV series for three seasons and winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Fences last week (ends26Feb17).

Viola has received a slew of other accolades and praise for her acting and career achievements, but she reveals she still has a "chip on her shoulder" about how she felt when she first started out.

"I spent so many years at Juilliard (School) just wanting to beat somebody up," she told the crowd at Harvard University's Sander Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Saturday (04Mar17), when she was honoured with the school's 2017 Artist of the Year. "I think it was the height of my anger; that chip on my shoulder."

"I'm still trying to take care of that chip on my shoulder, by the way," she added. "It was mainly because I felt my voice as an artist was being stifled."

The 51-year-old considers the stage and the screen "very sacred places" and wants her art to reflect what people are going through in real life.

"I want people to be seen," she said. "I want them to feel less alone. I think Picasso is the one who said, 'I paint because I want to show people what's going on behind the eyes'."

And she urged audience members and the students to be as honest as possible in their future performances.

"Your job is to come open and willing to transform, and that's the power of what we do," she continued. "And I feel like if one audience member is shifted in any way possible, I've done my job."

"I can't promise that I won't do some crap every once in a while, because I've done some crap, let me tell you," she added. "But I have to say that I am honoured to even be in the presence of so many artists here."