Viola Davis

The First Lady: Viola Davis embodies Michelle Obama in new first-look images

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We may not yet know when The First Lady is set to hit screens, but a selection of first-look images showing Viola Davis as Michelle Obama are already making waves online.

From the moment we found out Viola Davis would be playing Michelle Obama in Showtime’s The First Lady, we knew it was going to be an iconic performance. But nothing could have prepared us for what Davis had in store.

In a series of first-look images published yesterday by Entertainment Weekly, we were finally given a taste of Davis’ take on the former First Lady – and it’s safe to say the internet is already pretty obsessed. 

Viola Davis forever understands the assignment just give her the awards now,” read one tweet responding to the images.

While another added: “Viola Davis can play the hell out of anyone.”

The first-look images also gave fans a sneak peek at Gillian Anderson as the inimitable Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford – both of whom look just the part.

Intrigued? Keep reading to check out everything we know about this exciting new show so far. 

What is The First Lady about?

The First Lady is a new three-part anthology series that will look at America’s historic presidencies through a female lens.

As the official synopsis reads: “In the East Wing of the White House, many of history’s most impactful and world-changing decisions have been hidden from view, made by America’s charismatic, complex and dynamic First Ladies. 

“This series will peel back the curtain on the personal and political lives of three unique, enigmatic women, tracing their journeys to Washington through interweaving storylines with an enlightening intimacy, with season one focusing on Michelle Obama, Betty Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Eleanor Roosevelt sat with headphones on at a 1946 UN conference
Eleanor Roosevelt at a UN conference in 1946.

In terms of the events that the series could cover, there are obviously plenty of possibilities. Although many will be familiar with the incredible work Michelle Obama did during her time as First Lady, all three of the women at the heart of the series were trailblazers in their own right.

Roosevelt, for example, was not only the longest-serving First Lady in history (she took on the role from 1933 to 1945), but she was also outspoken on human rights, becoming the first woman to serve as a delegate on the new United Nations General Assembly after her husband’s death. She was also the first First Lady to hold regular press conferences, to which she only invited women reporters, forcing many newspapers to hire women reporters for the first time.

Betty Ford was also a very active figure throughout her husband’s time in office, too. Throughout her time in the spotlight, she spoke out on everything from feminism and equal pay to abortion and gun control, and was known for being very candid – after being diagnosed with malignant breast cancer during a routine exam and undergoing a mastectomy, she spoke out about her experience and raised awareness of an illness that had previously been under-discussed.

Who will star in The First Lady?

Viola Davis and Michelle Pfeiffer will star alongside Gillian Anderson in the series, taking on the roles of Michelle Obama, Betty Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt respectively. 

Alongside the three women, Kiefer Sutherland (Designated Survivor) will play President Franklin D. Roosevelt, O.T. Fagbenle (The Handmaid’s Tale) will play President Barack Obama, and Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) will play President Gerald Ford.

And the cast doesn’t stop there. Other names joining the cast include Dakota Fanning as Susan Elizabeth Ford, Betty and Gerald’s daughter; Judy Greer as Nancy Howe, Betty Ford’s social secretary and confidant; Lily Rabe as Lorena ‘Hick’ Hickock, a journalist and one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s closest confidantes; Lexi Underwood as Malia Obama, the eldest of Michelle and Barack’s children; and Rhys Wakefield as Dick Cheney, Ford’s Chief of Staff.

And last, but by no means least, Jayme Lawson, Kristine Froseth and Eliza Scanlen will play young Michelle Obama, Betty Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt respectively. 

Who else is working on The First Lady?

Susanne Bier, who recently directed Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant’s smash hit drama The Undoing and has worked on projects including The Night Manager and Bird Box, is taking on the role of director and executive producer.

What else has been shared about The First Lady?

Back in August, Gillian Anderson gave fans their first glimpse at the set of The First Lady by sharing some exciting photos on her Instagram.

The trio of photos show Anderson getting her wig fitted, alongside a shot of her trailer with the name ‘Eleanor’ attached to the door, and a quote from Roosevelt herself. And as far as captions go, Anderson didn’t give much away either, simply adding a series of three emojis: the US flag, a teapot, and a fire. 

Viola Davis has also spoken several times about the pressure she feels taking on the role of Michelle Obama.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly when it was first announced she would be playing Obama, she explained: “Listen, here’s the thing, you could either fail really big or succeed really big, and I feel this is my succeed very big or fail very big moment.

“I’m a little scared… I’ve met Michelle Obama and…exactly what you think she is, she is. She’s awesome,” the actress explained. “She’s awesome in every way. She’s smart. She’s confident. She’s articulate. She believes in sisterhood.”

She continued: “I think Michelle Obama really sacrificed a lot being in the White House, being the first lady, but being the first lady of colour also, which is…who do you go to to learn that?”

And recently, after revealing she studied Obama’s Becoming documentary to perfect her gestures, she added: “I feel very protective of Michelle. It’s our job as actors not to judge whoever we are portraying, but I ended up thinking she’s just dope.”

Although we don’t yet know much about when we can expect the series to air (it currently has a release date of ‘2022’ on the Showtime website), it’s safe to say the cast line-up has left us feeling pretty damn excited. We’ll update you with more information when we get it.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.