Showtime’s ‘The First Lady’ reveals the women behind the image

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If, indeed, the head that wears the crown rests uneasily, as Shakespeare wrote, the one on the next pillow is in a similar state, as is explored in an anthology drama series upcoming on Showtime.

In “The First Lady,” premiering Sunday, the story of the American presidency is reframed and retold through the lens of the women who are at the heart of the White House, who though hidden from view in the East Wing, have been responsible for some of the most impactful decisions and world-changing decisions in history.

So in the 10 episodes, the series follows the personal and professional stories of Michelle Obama (Viola Davis, “How to Get Away With Murder”), Betty Ford (Michelle Pfeiffer, “French Exit”) and Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson, “The X Files”). Others in the all-star cast include Kiefer Sutherland as Franklin Roosevelt, Aaron Eckhart as Gerald Ford and O-T Fagbenie as Barack Obama, along with Dakota Fanning, Regina Taylor, Lily Rabe, Ellen Burstyn, Jackie Earle Haley and Judy Greer.

Taking on the portrayal of a well-known public figure like a first lady can be daunting and in the case of Obama, Davis says it was especially so.

“Everyone knows who Michelle Obama is,” the actress said. “Everybody has claimed ownership of her. Everybody has a time period where they loved her hair or hated her hair or loved her eyebrows or hated her eyebrows, and they feel like they own her.”

“So I felt that there is a small window of exercising your creative input,” she continued. “Exactly how she uses her mouth is how you have to use your mouth. Exactly how she touches her pearls is how you have to touch your pearls. So I was terrified. I’m not going to lie. I was absolutely terrified.”

Michelle Pfeiffer stars in ‘The First Lady,’ premiering Sunday on Showtime.

As Betty Ford, Pfeiffer brings forth a private persona that at times is a stark departure from the public. That’s evident in Sunday’s opener, which shows a tipsy, bathrobe-clad Ford dancing around her home and sipping a martini, days before her husband was tabbed to succeed Spiro Agnew as Richard Nixon’s Vice President in 1973.

Of course, Ford’s struggles with substance abuse, alcoholism and cancer are well-documented and Pfeiffer was honored to bring her story to the small screen.

“It’s one thing to be brave in the privacy of your own circumstances,” Pfeiffer said. “Betty Ford did it in front of the whole world and still managed to be fearless, frank and kind. For millions of women across this country, she wrote a new chapter of American history practically on a daily basis, shedding light on many issues no first lady had ever acknowledged.”


“The First Lady” premieres Sunday on Showtime.



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