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HomePreviewThe First Lady Explores Lives of Three Memorable Women! - WATCH

The First Lady Explores Lives of Three Memorable Women! – WATCH

The First Lady Explores Lives of Three Memorable Women! - WATCH

Showtime’s White House drama will head east to retrace the lives of three memorable women in The First Lady, premiering April 17, 2022. EW obtained exclusive first looks of Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Gillian Anderson as first ladies Michelle Obama, Betty Ford, and Eleanor Roosevelt in the limited series from showrunner Cathy Schulman (Crash) and director Susanne Bier (The Undoing).

The First Lady is “a revelatory reframing of American leadership, told through the lens of the women at the heart of the White House,” according to the official description. “The series will peel back the curtain on the personal and political lives of three unique, enigmatic women and their families, tracing their journeys to Washington, dipping into their pasts and following them beyond the White House into their greatest moments.”

The First Lady Season 1 Pilot: Synopsis

After Franklin’s sudden polio diagnosis, Eleanor Roosevelt commits to enabling his political future despite pressure from her mother-in-law, Sara. As the Watergate scandal unfolds, Betty Ford unexpectedly becomes Second Lady upon Jerry’s nomination as Vice President and she clashes with his staff over her newly public role. Following the historic 2008 election, Michelle Obama wrestles with the expectations and dangers that Barack and their children face as the first Black family to live in the White House. Series premiere.

“It’s one of those jobs where you almost have to say yes before you think about it too much because if you think too much you might actually say no out of fear or being absolutely terrified,” Anderson told ET about joining the series and taking on the daunting task of portraying such an iconic figure, with Davis adding that it was “absolutely terrifying” taking on someone like Obama, whom “everyone has ownership over.”

Viola Davis as Michelle Obama

“I feel very protective of Michelle,” says Davis, who also studied the first lady’s 2020 Netflix doc to perfect her gestures. “It’s our job as actors not to judge whoever we are portraying, but I ended up thinking she’s just dope.”

Davis says she fears Michelle Obama’s reaction to her portrayal. “Let me tell you something, not only does the thought [of Michelle Obama watching the show] come to mind, it keeps me up at night.”

“You don’t want to insult them by your portrayal… As much as we feel like we know Michelle Obama—and I did everything I could to research—there are those private moments where there’s some level of creative decision-making that you have to take. I don’t know how she lays in bed with Barack or how she disciplines her children. There are small minutiae that I can just take creative license with and hope that I’m not insulting her with it. That’s what you have to navigate as an artist.” 

While appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the Oscar winner opened up about portraying Michelle Obama in the upcoming political drama The First Lady and the pressure of the part.

“That’s crazy how good you are at this… it’s not just the voice you have down, it’s [also] the walking? It’s crazy how much you became Michelle Obama,” Jimmy Kimmel complimented his guest.

“And I’m glad it’s over!” Davis replied. “I mean, the stress. Because everybody loves Michelle Obama. They know what she sounds like, they know what she looks like. And I’m like, ‘I don’t want Michelle Obama calling me, cussing me out.’ “

Alongside her as Barack Obama is O.T. Fagbenle.

When first offered the role, Fagbenle recalled to ET how he asked himself, “Wow, could I play one of the most beloved characters of all time, who is super charming and intelligent?” He jokingly adds that there’s “no pressure” to play “a superhero amongst men.”

But once filming started, the actor got busy preparing for the role. “I read all of his books, I have read Michelle Obama’s book, they are all great,” he shared. “I have spoken to Viola. So, it is slowly coming together… and I am really up for the challenge and it is something I have not tried before.”

Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford

“Michelle had a very overwhelming part to play — because there were so many times Betty’s life was out of control because of her dependency,” Schulman says of Pfeiffer, pictured above with Dakota Fanning (as first daughter Susan Ford) and Aaron Eckhart (as President Gerald Ford).

“She’s beautiful and brittle and vulnerable and strong, all at the same time,” Schulman adds of the star’s portrayal of Betty Ford — a first lady who, personal addictions aside, was a firebrand known for outspoken advocacy of hot-button issues. “That’s what we needed because that’s what Betty was.”

“Once I realized the scope of this character, it was terrifying,” Pfeiffer said of joining the series, noting that she didn’t “want to let anyone down” with her portrayal.

“I knew very little about Betty Ford like most people, and that was one of the big attractions,” Pfeiffer said of taking on the role. “There’s so much to tell about her. We all know about the Betty Ford clinic, of course. We know about her drug abuse and her alcoholism, but there’s so much more in terms of what she did in the White House as a first lady.”

The actress adds that Ford “really was a trailblazer.”

One of the biggest challenges for Pfeiffer was balancing Ford’s struggle with drug addiction, which “obviously was a big part of her life,” she said. And while it “led to saving thousands of lives and her founding the Betty Ford clinic, I didn’t want that to overshadow everything else. And that’s hard.”

In the end, Pfeiffer came to learn and appreciate how outspoken Ford was. “I was so struck by her intense need to be honest and transparent and do what was right. She had such a sense of integrity for herself and her family and for the country, really,” the actress shared. “She reminded me of my mother a little bit. My mother was from that generation.”

“I had three scripts running. I had my one script that had all of my notes. And then I had my other script that I would constantly revise with the new changes that came along. And then I had another one for something…. I don’t remember what it was for.”

“It was an outline of the time breakdown and the scene numbers so that I had a quick reference,” continues Pfieffer, who had to jump around to different moments in Betty Ford’s life while filming. “And I laminated it and it was sort of this accordion. It was very colorful…. It was folded out and everything.”

“I said I would never do it again,” Pfeiffer says having wrapped First Lady. “It’s just, it’s very, very weighty. And it’s with you all the time. Every choice you make, and you just want to honor the person that you’re playing and you want to be as authentic as possible, knowing that there will be times where you’re not and you can’t be. I’m never doing it again.”

Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt

Fresh off playing the Iron Lady on The Crown, Anderson didn’t have the luxury of studying documentaries or old newsreels to portray our longest-serving first lady — the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Kiefer Sutherland) — whose relationship with Lorena Hickok will be explored. “There is a kind of poetic quality to Gillian,” says Bier, who remains in awe of these White House spouses after directing all 10 First Lady episodes:

“Wanting to have a version of life while still being someone’s wife and managing to have a huge impact? I fell in love with all three of them.”

One of the things that Anderson noted when portraying Roosevelt was the fact that she had “such a voice” before becoming first lady, but she was also riddled with self doubt and low self-esteem. “Despite the fact that internally, at many points in her life, she had great, great doubt, she continued to speak out and to represent things that she believed in,” Anderson explained.

“In her speeches, there’s a tentativeness. But she knows that what she’s actually saying is so much more important than her fear. So, I was really, really moved by that.”

And unlike she did for her portrayal of Thatcher, Anderson had to wear prosthetics in addition to the hair and makeup in order to transform into the first lady. “With Eleanor, I used prosthetics for the first time,” the actress said of having to wear fake teeth. “Eleanor’s teeth were such a prominent part of her facial features. And so, I really enjoyed that aspect and getting used to it and seeing how that affected my performance.”

The cast of The First Lady also includes…

The First Lady will also feature O.T. Fagbenle as President Barack Obama; Aaron Eckhart as President Gerald Ford; Judy Greer as Betty Ford’s trusted confidante Nancy Howe; Jayme Lawson as a young Michelle Obama; Kristine Froseth as a young Betty Ford. Rhys Wakefield as President Ford’s deputy chief of staff and future Vice President Dick Cheney.

In addition, Dakota Fanning will play Susan Elizabeth Ford, the only and youngest child of President Gerald Ford (Eckhart) and Betty Ford (Pfeiffer); Lexi Underwood will play Malia Obama, daughter of President Barack Obama (OT Fagbenle) and Michelle Obama (Viola Davis); Gloria Ruben will play Valerie June Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, as well as a friend and former boss of Michelle Obama; Rosalind Chao will play Tina Tchen, a brilliant lawyer known for her strategy and wit, as well as First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff; Michael Potts will play Fraser Robinson III, Michelle Obama’s father;

Donna Lynne Champlin will instead play Melissa “Mel” Winter, a Democratic political aide who was Michelle Obama’s first hire during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign; Kiefer Sutherland will play President Franklin D. Roosevelt; Lily Rabe will play Lorena “Hick” Hickock, a pioneering American journalist who in 1932 became America’s best-known female reporter and was a devoted friend and mentor to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Jackie Earle Haley will take on the role of Louis McHenry Howe, a former reporter for the New York Herald who spent most of his life serving as a political advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt (Kiefer Sutherland); Maria Dizzia will play Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, the close friend and social secretary of Eleanor Roosevelt (Anderson), whose relationship with FDR was a turning point in Eleanor’s life; and Jeremy Bobb will play Theodore Roosevelt, the progressive 26th president of the United States and Eleanor Roosevelt’s uncle

In addition to these, Clea DuVall, Charlie Plummer, Aya Cash, Jake Picking, Been Cook, Cayden Boyd, Marc Hills, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, Thomas E. Sullivan and Patrice Johnson Chevannes have been announced in the series

The executive producers of the series are already thinking about what historical women to focus on in Season 2

It seems like a future installment could involve Jackie Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, & Melania Trump.
“I would be very intrigued to depict Hillary Clinton because I think that her position was so complicated… I think that would be incredibly interesting,” said Bier.

Schulman added, “If we could figure out a way to do Jackie Kennedy that didn’t tell the same old story again—particularly the latter part of her life— I’m fascinated by that.” When asked whether or not they’d consider Melania Trump, Bier sounded positive. She said, “I think the series could do with a fun season, so let’s talk about that.”

Promotional pictures

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Chiara Lombatti
Chiara Lombatti
When Cristina Yang’s mankind hate, and Sherlock Holmes’ deductive skills meet Randall Pearson’s anxiety and Jamie Fraser’s multilingualism (featuring Claire Fraser’s curls and Kate Pearson’s voice). Translator and feature article with a great love for cinema, TV series and books.


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