The new Showtime series The First Lady premiered Sunday, a show that features Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford. Unlike Anderson and Pfeiffer, Davis is portraying somebody who is still very much alive and well, and she spoke to Vanity Fair about that pressure:
- "Everyone knows what she looks like and what she sounds like, so I am absolutely terrified," says Davis. "But I'm mostly terrified about what she will think. I don't want to insult her and have her calling me. I gotta make the sister look good. I just hope that it lands with her."
Davis further says she pored over videos of Obama, listened to her podcasts over and over, and even spoke to the former first lady in preparation. "She said to me, 'I’m not an angry person,'" recalls Davis. "So what I really wanted to do with my performance was to protect her, to honor her, and not be the perception that Black women are angry and hostile." In a separate interview with the Guardian, Davis elaborates: "Here’s the thing about Michelle Obama, which is very different from me, different from a lot of people: She's healthy. She’s a healthy human being, because she grew up in an environment where she always felt seen, always felt worthy," she says.
"Maybe because I’ve been with a lot of artists in my life, a lot of people who’ve been traumatized, including myself, it’s very interesting to portray someone who literally is healthy," adds Davis. So far, Obama has not publicly weighed in since the show's Sunday debut, though the New York Post picks up on social media chatter from people who aren't crazy about Davis' use of pursed lips in her portrayal. In general, the show itself is getting lackluster reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. (Read more Viola Davis stories.)