Viola Davis: ‘The respect Barack has for Michelle, it was a joy to play’

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I watched the first episode of The First Lady over the weekend, the new Showtime series starring Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt. I was surprised by how much I liked it and how entertaining it is. My favorite scenes were of the Obamas because of course I lived through that exciting time. It was also interesting to imagine their very recent history as the first Black family in the White House. Viola Davis is fabulous as Michelle Obama. I know people are making fun of her expressions (in a good-natured way), but I found her compelling in the role and barely even noticed that. O-T Fagbenle plays Barack and he nails his voice, humor and cadence! It’s crazy to watch. The sections with the Roosevelts and Fords are also highly watchable and interesting, it’s like a highlights reel of these influential women’s lives. I’ll definitely keep watching it.

Entertainment Weekly has an actors roundtable featuring Elle Fanning (Susan Ford), Michelle, Viola, Gillian and Kiefer Sutherland (FDR). It’s a nice look into their roles and how they prepared for the series. You can tell they all have a lot of deep knowledge and appreciation for the historical figures they’re playing. I wanted to talk about Viola’s thoughts on Michelle Obama, because that was the most meaningful to me. Here’s some of what Viola said, and you can see the interview here:

We’re playing iconic characters that people have ownership of, people know. With Michelle Obama anyway, they know how she talks, how she walks, how she wears her hair. The different incarnations of her eyebrows.

I love playing the levity of their relationship and the fun. I love that they have a good marriage. I’ve played a lot of tortured souls and tortured marriages… relationships. The friendship I felt they had and shared. The respect that Barack has for michelle. It was a joy to play. The fun, playfulness, the dancing. Then when she’s got to move in [to the White House]. Like she said ‘there are times I wanted to throw Barack out the window.’ I loved it.

When she first got into the White House she literally started a mommy group. I have an 11-year-old, I don’t like mommies groups. It was brave of her to start a mommy group. I think she needed it. It’s a very isolating journey. She invited her mom to come live with her in the White House to help raise her children with her. I think that she kept her close as a way of always reminding herself what home is. I’ve said this in other interviews, it’s the first Black family in the White House. There’s already an element of distrust because of [politics] but also you’re walking into a house where most of the servants are Black. You need to find something familiar, something that grounds you.

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The Obamas are such a great example of a power couple who supports and appreciates each other. (I need to read both Barack and Michelle’s biographies. Honestly I am not much of a reader lately, but I preordered Viola’s biography!) They remind me of Harry and Meghan in that way, in that they clearly respect and adore each other. You can’t fake what those couples have! I’m trying to manifest that kind of relationship in my life and I don’t think it’s too late for me. Viola did it!

Getting back to Viola, I hope people watch this series and see how phenomenal her performance is. She may be exaggerating some of Michelle’s expressions, but those are screenshots and like I said I barely noticed that when I was watching it. Try to imagine any other actress playing Michelle, I definitely can’t.

Also, Viola’s interview with Oprah is up now on Netflix! I can’t wait to watch it!

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photos credit: Huy Doan/Netflix, Getty images and via Instagram

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17 Responses to “Viola Davis: ‘The respect Barack has for Michelle, it was a joy to play’”

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  1. Southern Fried says:

    Same. It’s quite good. I feel the sprit of the Obamas strongly. I’m very much looking forward the the next episodes. Also enjoying the Betty Ford story. Don’t know enough to know if Michelle P captures Betty or not.

    • dj says:

      These First Lady stories are good. I was least interested in Betty Ford but found hers compelling. The only thing I really don’t care for is the way the flip-flop between the stories. I wish it would only focus on one at a time. But it is still very interesting. Everyone starring in this production is so good. This series elucidates how strong these women are and how much crap they put up with. I highly recommend it.

  2. Jessica says:

    I don’t have Showtime so I will watch it when I can.

    • Christine says:

      I don’t either, but now I am so excited to watch it when it moves somewhere I can watch!

  3. Bettyrose says:

    I wasn’t interested in this but now maybe I am? I cried all the way through Michelle Obama’s book. Because it was touching. Inspirational. And finally horrifying knowing what’s coming next. I’m worried this will be just as emotional. But I’m interested. Also, Gillian Anderson has now played both Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Thatcher.

    • Jan90067 says:

      Gillian nails the accent, but man oh man, those prosthetic teeth are just as distracting as Rami Malek’s were as Freddy Mercury! I can understand wanting to capture that overbite, but they look like she has to keep sucking them back in! I’m watching her mouth more than anything else in the scene lol

      Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode (esp. to “Betty” dancing to Harry Nilson’s “Coconut!”)

  4. TIFFANY says:

    I adore Viola and will be watching this this weekend.

    And HONK for more stories about Viola Davis, who is easily one of the greatest living actresses working today.

    And she was robbed for Doubt and I will take that opinion as fact to me grave.

    • Trina says:

      I could have written your comment Tiffany! I am saving this for the weekend too, and I 100% agree about Viola Davis.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        I will watch anything that Viola Davis is in. Unfortunately both my iPad and my tv monitor are broken, so I am stuck using my old iPad and I think it hates me or someone placed a curse on it. Not certain which one. Viola was brilliant in Fences, which I watched twice!! The fact that Denzel Washington was also her co-star didn’t hurt either!!

        Viola doesn’t get the credit she deserves but I hope her time comes soon as she has certainly proven herself!! I am so excited about this series!!

  5. Tempest says:

    God, I miss the Obama years. It was a hopeful time.

    • Trina says:

      I know. I feel like hope died. Trump took a dump on it. And it’s all gotten worse from there. I fear the worst is yet to come. I am the exact opposite of hopeful.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        I miss the Obama’s as well!! Such a classy, intelligent, brilliant and lovely family that were such an inspiration to us all!! I was so proud while they were in office!! Never a scandal, or diplomatic disaster of epic proportions! A true couple of partnership and respect as well!! Barack was lucky that she accepted his marriage proposal! I also love the fact that her mother lives with them during his two terms as that must have been such a foreign and turbulent time as their girls were so young. I miss there time as in the White House but we can still stand strong knowing that as the first Black President, we chose well and were lucky!!

    • Christine says:

      Me too. I wonder if this is how people my age felt when JFK died. Like all of the hope for the future has been and gone.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        I would imagine they did, I can’t imagine the shock that was felt around the world, especially Jackie still in her blood soaked suit. I think that the world stopped spinning when JFK was shot. I would imagine hope was lost for many years. I wish I had asked my parents about it when they were still here. My mother was from Massachusetts and was fighting for womens and POC rights in NYC before she met my father. I am certain that people never recovered.

  6. JFerber says:

    I miss the Obama years so much. They were the definition of class. competence and kindness. The charisma and joy of Mr. Obama just after winning the presidency and appearing at the Apollo Theater–so much promise and hope. I wish he could have served four terms, as FDR would have, had he not died. Viola Davis is such a stunning woman.

  7. Ms. says:

    Viola Davis is a national treasure. She is so smart, so compassionate, so resilient, interesting, brave, and thoughtful. And that’s besides being a hell of an actress and singer. If she made faces they were supposed to be there! 😉

  8. sondra says: