Viola Davis stars as Michelle Obama in Showtime’s The First Lady, and her portrayal has been largely panned by critics. Which begs the question: How does an actor portray a living legend? And how do they handle the negativity?
Davis, alongside Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt, has seen her work on The First Lady criticized by outlets like The Atlantic and Variety, which said the actors “struggle to bring the characters to believable life.”
The limited series moves through three different storylines and covers many stages of each first lady’s life, finding commonality among them. Common threads The Atlantic criticized as “tenuous, awkward, and sometimes nonsensical.”
While Davis told the BBC that criticism is an “occupational hazard,” she was hurt by it. “[It’s] incredibly hurtful when people say negative things about your work.”
“How do you move on from the hurt, from failure?” she added. “But you have to. Not everything is going to be an awards-worthy performance.”
Davis went on to say critics “serve no purpose,” noting that she felt a sense of duty in her role in The First Lady.
“Ultimately I feel like it is my job as a leader to make bold choices,” she told the BBC. “Win or fail it is my duty to do that.”
Playing a living icon like Michelle Obama is “almost impossible,” Davis added. “Either you’re doing too much or not enough.”
While she doesn’t have personal contact with Obama, perhaps she might understand what Davis means.
Star Tribune via Getty Images/Star Tribune/Getty Images
As first lady, Michelle Obama dealt with an enormous amount of criticism. Not just about her politics but about her looks, her clothing, her parenting; just like Betty Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt before her, as shown in The First Lady.
Dan MacMedan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Davis is one of the most successful actors in modern history. She has an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony. And she is simply not listening to any more hurtful remarks about all of her hard work. Perhaps just like Michelle Obama herself.