Michelle Obama on Her Early Years With Husband Barack: ‘The Heat Was Coming Out of the Phone’

In her new Netflix documentary, Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama got real about the early days of her relationship with her husband, former U.S. president Barack Obama.

Barack and Michelle Obama
Barack and Michelle Obama | ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

As she phrased it in Becoming, “this was love, y’all!”

Netflix’s ‘Becoming’ documentary follows her after-White House days on her book tour

The 56-year-old author’s new Netflix documentary, Becoming, picks up a couple of years after the Obamas have left the White House. Michelle has written her memoir by the same name and the cameras follow her as she embarks on a promotional tour for her book.

The film’s director, Nadia Hallgren, told Variety in May 2020 about her experience working with the Chicago native for the project.

“On the tour, I got incredible access to her,” Hallgren said. “We had spoken with her team about filming with her in the motorcade, and there’s very specific rules of how these things go. So I go to the motorcade vehicle, and there’s a Secret Service agent standing outside. I’m like, ‘Hello, sir. I’ll be riding with Mrs. Obama today.’ “

“He gave me a look of like, ‘You sure about that?’ And I have a camera, so clearly, I’m not just her friend. So he’s like, ‘Give me one second,’ and talks into his wrist. And then he’s like, ‘OK. This never happens,’ but in a way of being like: This is special.”

Michelle mentored Barack at the law firm where they first met

Michelle was working at the law firm of Sidley Austin when she met Barack, whom she was asked to mentor. The firm had agreed to take the young law student on as a summer associate even though he was only in his first year of law school.

“I have my suspicions when a bunch of white folks fawn all over a black man because I sorta think, ‘Ok, he can talk straight so they think he’s wonderful.’ So that was my theory,” she told Robin Roberts on 20/20 in 2018.

Before meeting Barack, the mother of two had her doubts about the arrangement – and lingering thoughts about the new summer intern.

Speaking to him on the phone before meeting him, Michelle recalled in the Netflix documentary, “I had to talk to him on the phone. And he’s got that Barack Obama voice that did not match the nerdy image I had in my head. I really was like, ‘Whoa!’ The heat was coming out of the phone from that voice.”

Barack was late to their first meeting, which didn’t sit well with the future First Lady, but all was forgotten when she set eyes on him.

“And then in walks Barack Obama. And Barack Obama has always walked like Barack Obama,” she said. “Like he’s got all the time in the world. He had that stride, I was like ‘Dude, you’re cute.’ But in my mind, I was like —”

Roberts finished Michelle’s thought, “Not interested?”

“Off limits. Not even not interested,” Michelle continued. “I’m not going to date one of the few black summer associates, Robin, how tacky.”

Michelle couldn’t resist Barack’s ‘tsunami’

By that summer of 1989, Michelle explained, Barack had been asking her out on dates and she continued to turn him down.

“”We had been hanging out, getting closer,” she continued in her conversation with Robin Roberts. “Barack had suggested that we date. But I was like ‘No, no be my friend. Do this, do that. It wouldn’t be right, no.’ And he was like, ‘You’re crazy, we should date. I like you, you like me,’ and I liked that about him. He was straightforward; he wasn’t playing games.”

At their first kiss, Michelle was admittedly hooked.

“He played it real smooth,” she said. “He just leaned in for a kiss and that really was it. From that kiss on we were — it was love, and he was my man.”

The couple was married in 1992, and even then, Michelle stated in a conversation with Gayle King in Becoming, “I knew he was a tsunami coming after me, and if I didn’t get my act together, he would have just swept me up,” she said.

“I didn’t want to just be an appendage to his dreams. If I was going to have an equal voice with this very opinionated man, I had to set myself off to a place where I was confident I was going to be his equal.”

It took that kind of intentionality, persistence on her part – and marriage counseling – that enabled the couple to move ahead with clarity and purpose, all the way to the White House.