Forget about the West Wing. Showtime’s White House drama will head east to retrace the lives of three memorable women in The First Lady, set for the spring of 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 show’s first season will focus on the personal and political lives of Obama, Ford, and Roosevelt, tracing “their journeys to Washington through an enlightening intimacy,” according to Showtime.
Jackson Lee Davis/SHOWTIME From left: Lexi Underwood as Malia, Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, Regina Taylor as Marian Robinson, and Saniyya Sidney as Sasha on ‘The First Lady’
Jackson Lee Davis/SHOWTIME Kathleen Garrett as Laura Bush, Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, and O-T Fagbenle as Barack Obama on ‘The First Lady’
Viola Davis as Michelle Obama
Yes, the Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress (and The First Lady exec producer) did have a nice chat with Michelle Obama — and read her memoir, Becoming — before signing on to the anthology series, which explores the former First Lady’s eight years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (The dead ringer for President Barack Obama is Black Widow‘s O-T Fagbenle.)
“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.”
Murray Close/SHOWTIME Dakota Fanning as Susan Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, and Aaron Eckhart as Jerry Ford on ‘The First Lady’
Murray Close/SHOWTIME Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford in ‘The First Lady’
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). “Michelle is 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.”
Boris Martin/SHOWTIME Cailee Spaeny as Anna Roosevelt and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt in ‘The First Lady’
Daniel McFadden/SHOWTIME Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt in ‘The First Lady’
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.”
A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly‘s December issue, on newsstands Friday and available to order here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.