Viola Davis On Why She Was Terrified To Play Michelle Obama


Viola Davis explains her performance as Michelle Obama in the upcoming series, The First Lady, and what made the role a challenge for her.

Viola Davis is revealing why she was terrified to play Michelle Obama in the upcoming anthology series, The First Lady. Created by Aaron Cooley, the show will serve as an observation of the White House throughout various points in history and three of its first ladies, responsible for some of the country’s most pivotal and influential decisions that were oftentimes hidden from view. Prior to the series’ April 17 premiere date, official first-look photos of Davis as Michelle Obama displayed the actor’s transformation, as well as those from the majority of its cast. In addition to Davis, the show will star Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt, and will feature O.T. Fagbenle, Aaron Eckhart, Kiefer Sutherland, and Dakota Fanning in other roles.


News of Davis’ casting first came out in 2019, with a then three-script commitment from Showtime, and the following year, it was announced that the network had given the project a series order. The actor is no stranger to taking on parts inspired by real-life figures, having previously been a part of the biographical feature films Get On Up and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, in which she portrayed the titular character. Davis spoke highly of her experience making Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and sharing the screen with the late Chadwick Boseman, and her performance as the “Mother of the Blues” received praise from critics, earning her a fourth Academy Award nomination.

Related: Becoming: What Michelle Obama’s Netflix Documentary Leaves Out

Now, The Wrap is reporting on the most recent TCA Panel, where Davis recounted feeling nervous about playing Michelle Obama. She spoke about the difficult task of trying to portray someone that everyone knows. She stated, “I was terrified, I was absolutely terrified. I think I listened to her podcast probably over 100 times and I still felt terrified.” She also discussed the specificity of the role and challenge that presented. Read more of Davis’ quote regarding playing Michelle Obama below:

It’s so specific and I had the insurmountable task [because] everyone knows who Michelle Obama is, everybody has claimed ownership of her. There is nothing about her that they want desecrated. A lot of times, when you approach a character, you want their mess, but with Michelle Obama… it’s not like she beats her husband. There is a small window of exercising your creative input. It’s way too specific for that. Exactly how she uses her mouth is how you have to use your mouth. How she touches her pearls is how you have to touch your pearls.

The First Lady Showtime Header

As The First Lady nears closer to its release, Showtime has been dropping more and more teasers in terms of what audiences can expect. One of the latest updates came with the previously mentioned first-look photos, including Obama, Ford, and Roosevelt family images as well. Each photo contains a closer look at the recreation of the different, and very distinct, time periods and reveals more of the show’s cast in character. With the first official trailer having also come out, the series is giving viewers a better taste of its story and makes its direction feel all the more pertinent.

In addition to starring in The First Lady, Davis serves as an executive producer, and being a strong voice in the entertainment industry, audiences can go into the series expecting the stories of its three central women to be told right. The show can also help to inform viewers of these women’s roles in politics as well as their accomplishments by focusing on certain moments in American history, as seen through their lenses. Fans of Davis and her acclaimed roles will get to see her take on the part of Michelle Obama when The First Lady premieres on Showtime in April.

More: Becoming: Biggest Reveals From Michelle Obama’s Netflix Documentary

Source: The Wrap

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