Michelle O’Neill is Viola Davis’ best friend. On Monday’s edition of Celebrity IOU, Davis enlisted the help of HGTV’s Drew and Jonathan Scott, best known from the Property Brothers, to redo her friend’s home. Davis has been friends with O’Neill for more than three decades and wanted to surprise her friend by fixing up her Minneapolis home.
The Scott brothers and Davis helped recreate O’Neill’s home, giving her an open floor plan perfect with a modern kitchen that is ideal for hosting. They also created a Zen room so she can relax, work and listen to music.
The renovation was the perfect way for Davis to show how much she cared about her friend.
To find out more about O’Neill and her friendship with Davis, continue reading below for five fast facts:
1. Davis and O’Neill Lived Together in Brooklyn
The friends both had a passion for acting. They learned to rely on each other while they were at school.
“We ended up rooming together in Brooklyn in kind-of a rough section at the time. I don’t know who say’s it, but it’s true that hard times make good friends because you really need each other,” O’Neill told the HGTV cameras. “One of the things we had in common was that we were both so passionate about the craft of acting.”
They stayed close after graduating, with O’Neill starting a family and Davis embarking on her Hollywood career. But they’re different paths didn’t change the nature of their friendship. “I decided to come out to Minneapolis where I knew some terrific actors who were raising families and living a beautiful life. Through all of that we stayed connected,” O’Neill shared. “I feel like she knows who I am. She embraces me.”
O’Neill joked that If anyone famous came to talk to them as students at Juilliard, Davis would sit in the front row and be so excited. Then she would fall asleep “every time,” she said with a laugh.
2. Davis Considers O’Neill Her Sister
In the beginning of the episode, Davis referred to O’Neill as her “sister from another mister.” They grew up together while studying at Juilliard. “Two acts and two artists, struggling in New York together, just to eat. To pay the bills,” Davis said.
O’Neill has remained at Davis’ side as she experienced the ups and downs of life. “She’s helped me through some bad relationships. She’s helped me when I’ve been stuck in life,” Davis said. “She’s helped me in a way when I never had anyone to talk to.”
That’s why the How to Get Away With Murder star wanted to do something special for O’Neill. “I wanted to do something on a big scale because I felt like I wanted to give her something as big as she gives because she gives so much her kids,” Davis said. “You guys have no idea what she has given to the friends in her life.”
“The best thing about Michelle is I could tell her anything because she doesn’t judge,” she added.
3. O’Neill Is a Breast Cancer Survivor
Just as Davis was able to rely on O’Neill when she needed her, O’Neill turned to Davis when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. The actress was the first person she told about her diagnosis.
“It was the last thing that I ever thought would happen to me. [My life] just flipped in a moment. My whole understanding of who I was in the world changed,” O’Neill said. “I feel incredibly lucky that I have someone in my life like that.”
Davis wanted the Scott brothers to create a place where O’Neill could bond with her family. “The most important thing for Michelle is family connection. For instance, her and her daughters cuddle together and do art projects so everything is about gathering the family. She’s a terrific cook so she has a lot of dinner parties,” she said. “Everything is about connection.”
4. O’Neill Is Always Giving to Others
Davis described her friend as “someone who puts the needs of others ahead of her own.”
“I understand the givers in the world—I really do,” the How to Get Away With Murder star said about her friend, who she met at The Juilliard School. “Every once in a while, I think the giver can get exhausted and drained and depleted and needs to be reminded that they’re a gift to people too. So, this renovation of Michelle’s home is my gift to her.”
“The reason I want to do this for Michelle is because I love her, and it’s my way of showing my love for her,” the actress said. “And, also because she deserves something just for her.”
5. O’Neill Said The Renovation Was a ‘Sanctuary’
O’Neill was thrilled with the renovation. “Stuff like this doesn’t happen! It’s just really great,” she said, with tears in her eyes.
“What I want to say about this is you knocked it out of the park. I already see it,” she said, looking around at her new home. “I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning, make some coffee, sit in that bright room and light the fireplace. Now I’m going to be in this spacious, beautiful, light-filled sanctuary.”
Davis said her friend looked fabulous in the new home. “Allow me to be shallow about it. You look fabulous in this house,” she said. “It complements your blonde hair.”
O’Neill was overwhelmed with gratitude. “It’s just very powerful to see it in front of you and know you’ve got a lot of people in your life who love you and you got a good life,” she said.
She really loved the Zen room. “That office to me was walking into memory. There’s pictures of my kids. There’s music. There’s art,” O’Neill said. “I’ve never had that, by the way, I’ve never had a place where I can just close the door.”
The redo is something the friends will always remember. “The renovation of this house was motivated by love and trying to give your friend the gift of sanctuary and a home, a home that reflects all that she is,” Davis said. “This whole experience is going to be something we look back on when we’re 90. We’re just going to be looking at each other, even if we can’t see each other, and remember.”
Don’t miss Celebrity IOU when it airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on HGTV.