Saturday, April 20, 2024

Viola Davis on Playing Michelle Obama: “I’m Terrified About What She Will Think”

Must Read

Viola Davis is not easily intimidated. But the formidable Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and SAG Award–winning actor says she is “terrified” about the reaction to her latest performance as Michelle Obama in the new Showtime series The First Lady, which tells the stories of Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, and Obama, reinforcing their enduring place in American history.

“I’ve had lots of ‘what was I thinking?’ moments by taking this part because of the enormity of it all,” Davis said at the series’ premiere screening in Los Angeles on Thursday. “There’s a lot of fear that I messed up my portrayal of Michelle Obama. She’s an icon. Everyone knows what she looks like and what she sounds like, so I am absolutely terrified. 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.”

To speak like Obama, Davis studied her speech patterns by listening to her podcasts “over a hundred times” and viewed multiple videos to capture her mannerisms for the 10-episode Showtime series that debuts on April 17. Davis also read her memoir, Becoming, and even consulted with Obama directly about the project a few times prior to filming.

“She said to me, ‘I’m not an angry person,’” recalled Davis, who also serves as an executive producer on the series. “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. Michelle Obama was the first Black woman in the White House, and she was perceived to be angry, hostile, overly masculine, and not feminine enough. There is so much scrutiny that first ladies have to deal with. Everyone has an opinion, from their clothes to the way they raise their children, and she was Black, so everything she did was emphasized.”

In each episode, The First Lady interweaves the real-life events experienced by Roosevelt (played by Gillian Anderson), Ford (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), and Obama, alternating between the three timelines to juxtapose how each woman fought to find and use her voice in her political and personal lives—and ultimately redefined the social constructs of the era she lived in.

“The whole purpose of this show is to show the importance of female voices and to speak up,” said Cathy Schulman, the series’ showrunner and co-executive producer. “Look what happened when these three women did that. They were so enormously relevant and had a huge impact on social activism in this country. They were ordered to be in the background and refused. They fought their way through and were able to have their voices be heard. We all have a voice, and that’s such an important lesson we can’t forget.”

Ford, the wife of Gerald Ford (played by Aaron Eckhart), spoke her mind despite many considering her a political liability. Her candor about taboo topics was unprecedented.

“What I really admire the most about Betty Ford was her transparency and her intense need to be honest and do what was right,” said Pfeiffer. “She was so honest with the American people about her personal issues like breast cancer and her alcoholism and drug addiction. None of the people around her wanted her to do that, but she realized the tremendous power in being open. She talked about things that people were terrified by and led by example. She lifted the stigma off a lot of hot-button issues. She encouraged women to do the same so they could get help, and she never forgot it. That’s incredible and very inspiring.”

Roosevelt also was expected to follow social norms and refused. The series features Roosevelt’s alleged same-sex relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok, who lived at the White House. Historians discovered that Roosevelt exchanged thousands of letters with the highly accomplished reporter, hinting at an intimate affair.

“Some people consider their relationship to be a rumor and not necessarily actual,” said Anderson. “They don’t want it to be true, and then there are the letters that were published that they shared between each other that are so clearly intimate beyond friendship and very much hinted at a physical intimacy and indeed actual proof of their intimate relationship. The show really handles the relationship well. It’s so respectful, so beautiful and delicate and sacred almost. They had challenges for both of them, but it was a longtime friendship and relationship.”

To physically transform into Roosevelt and master her vocal cadence, Anderson wore prosthetic teeth that matched the first lady’s full, prominent set. “The teeth slightly changed the structure of my face, and it changed how I spoke, which felt more akin to the way that she spoke,” said the Emmy winner. “I was pleased in the end by the impact that they had.”

Read More

- Advertisement - Antennas Direct - Antennas Reinvented
- Advertisement -
Latest News

Weight Loss Drugs Should Be Taken With Diet and Exercise

People who take weight loss drugs should not neglect diet and exercise. Here's what to know...Read More
- Advertisement - Yarden: ENJOY $20 OFF of $150 or more with code 20YD150

More Articles Like This

- Advertisement -spot_img