The anthology series will also star Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford.
It’s really happening. Viola Davis will play former First Lady Michelle Obama for the upcoming Showtime series tentatively titled The First Lady.
Expected to “peel back the curtain on the personal and political lives” of past First Ladies, according to Variety, the show will steer clear of the West Wing and instead focus on the East, “where 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.” The anthology is also expected to focus on Betty Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt.
This won’t be Obama’s first time being memorialized on-screen. She was previously portrayed by Tika Sumpter in 2016’s Southside with You. The former FLOTUS herself has a few projects up her sleeve in the entertainment industry after she and husband Barack Obama signed a major deal to produce series and movies for Netflix, which includes the documentary American Factory.
Here’s what we know about The First Lady so far.
Gillian Anderson will play Eleanor Roosevelt.
After portraying Margaret Thatcher on The Crown, Gillian Anderson will star as Eleanor Roosevelt, political activist and wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The real-life historical figure was known to be more familiar with social conditions than any of her predecessors and apparently transformed the role of First Lady.
Showtime Networks exec Amy Israel called Anderson “an actress of incredible range and exquisite talent—she is the perfect choice to complete this powerhouse trio, who will inhabit the roles of these iconic women,” according to Deadline.
From the Iron Lady to The First Lady. Hello, @GillianA!
📸: Richard Phibbs pic.twitter.com/iaQu9G5QLj
— SHOWTIME (@Showtime) February 22, 2021
Michelle Pfeiffer will play Betty Ford.
Betty Ford, who was First Lady from 1974 to 1977 opposite President Gerald R. Ford, has been hailed as an advocate for breast cancer awareness and a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.
In this role, Michelle Pfeiffer, who recently received a Golden Globe nomination for the film French Exit, returns to a series regular part for the first time since the beginning of her career, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Showtime’s Israel said that the actress “brings authenticity, vulnerability and complexity to all her roles,” including this one.
Young Betty Ford and Michelle Obama have also been cast.
Kristine Froseth (Looking for Alaska) will have a recurring role as a young Betty Ford “as she trains as a dancer for Martha Graham in New York City, and into her 20s in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she worked for Herpolsheimer’s Department Store and eventually married Gerald Ford,” per Variety.
Jayme Lawson (Farewell Armor, The Batman), also a series regular, will play Michelle Obama from the ages of 15 to 30. “The series begins with Obama as a young woman in Chicago and follows her as a Harvard undergraduate and Princeton Law School student, eventually marrying Barack Obama in 1992,” Variety added.
Other real-life characters include Susan Ford, Gerald Ford, and Dick Cheney.
Dakota Fanning will play President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford’s only daughter, Susan Ford. Fanning will appear in six episodes, Variety reported.
Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Erin Brockovich) will play President Ford.
Judy Greer will play Betty Ford’s social secretary and confidante, Nancy Howe, replacing Better Things‘ Pamela Adlon in the role.
Australian actor Rhys Wakefield (True Detective, The Purge) will play Dick Cheney, then chief of staff to President Ford and the youngest person in U.S. history to serve in the role. In the wake of Watergate, Cheney had to convince a wary American public that Ford’s administration would mark a departure from the scandal, per Variety.
Barack and Malia Obama’s roles have also been cast.
O-T Fagbenle (The Handmaid’s Tale) will play President Barack Obama in a recurring role, opposite Davis.
Lexi Underwood, who starred alongside Kerry Washington in Little Fires Everywhere, will play First Daughter Malia Obama in a recurring role. Her on-screen character is described as “open minded and intelligent as she pushes her parents to make socially conscious decisions,” according to Variety.
Showtime has ordered a full series.
Variety originally reported in August 2019 that First Ladies would be a three-part drama consisting of hour-long episodes. Aaron Cooley is attached to write and executive-produce. Davis herself and her partner, Julius Tennon, are also among the executive producers. But in February 2020, Showtime ordered a full series, per The Hollywood Reporter.
Susanne Bier of The Undoing and The Night Manager is also executive-producing, and directing every episode. We don’t know the premiere date yet though.
Viola Davis is pumped.
The actress responded to the news on Twitter. “Sooo proud!!! Honoring and elevating these powerful, worthy Queens with respect,” she wrote.
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) February 5, 2020
It’s no secret that the Oscar winner is a fan of Obama. In January 2019, she celebrated the former First Lady’s birthday by tweeting a photo of them together, writing, “Happy birthday to the Queen! My sis! My image of grace and beauty and intelligence!! All hail!!”
Happy birthday to the Queen! My sis! My image of grace and beauty and intelligence!! All hail!!❤❤❤ pic.twitter.com/whEoqY0gV3
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) January 17, 2019
The First Lady will follow Davis’s stint on How to Get Away with Murder, which took its final bow last year.
Davis is already getting ready for her big transformation.
“Now I am in the place of a little bit of fear—well, I’m not going to lie, a lot of fear,” she told Entertainment Tonight of preparing for her role. When it came to research, which she began last year, Davis was able to speak to Obama, as well as read her book and watch her documentary.
The actress is already doing makeup tests at home with her makeup artist and “they are doing an extraordinary job with the transformation of it all,” she told ET. She added that she’s “looking forward to [the transformation] with a lot of fear, but I am looking forward to it.”