Why Viola Davis Is ‘Terrified’ to Play Michelle Obama in ‘First Ladies’

Viola Davis is a highly-accoladed actor whose dramatic turns have earned her multiple awards. Whichever character she decides to play — whether it be a mischievous and intelligent lawyer/murderer on TV or a woman forced to live beside a man who always wanted more — she captures their humanity, finds their soul, and inspires viewers. Yet, though Viola Davis has already earned two Tonys, an Oscar, and the Emmy, she is “terrified” to play Michelle Obama. 

Viola Davis sat down for an interview with Jimmy Kimmel and explained why she is nervous to take on the role of the former First Lady. Given Michelle Obama’s grand presence in contemporary society, Davis will have a lot to live up to. 

Viola Davis
Viola Davis | Alberto E. Rodriguez / Staff

Viola Davis on playing Michelle Obama in ‘First Ladies’ 

Jimmy Kimmel asked Viola Davis whether the former First Lady knows that Davis will be portraying her in an upcoming drama. Viola Davis said, “I have no idea, and I’m terrified.” Davis went on to explain where the fear comes from, stating: 

I’m absolutely terrified. I don’t care what else I’ve done in my life. I’ve won an Emmy. I’ve won an Oscar. Two Tonys. But, If I mess this up, this is going to be a defining moment in my life. It’s like, “You’ve raised a great kid, but you messed up Michelle Obama.” 

Viola Davis on Jimmy Kimmel 

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Viola Davis explained that Michelle Obama is easily one of, if not the most important real-life figure she will have come to portray in her career. Michelle Obama is also very important to many people — she is an inspiration, and someone people look to for guidance and wisdom. Thus, if Davis isn’t on the mark, it may not bode well for her. 

Viola Davis says ‘I don’t want to make my people mad’

Viola Davis goes on to explain that the script will be strong and that the writing is not something viewers will have to worry about. She says, “Listen, I don’t want to make my people mad” and nervously laughs with Kimmel about the upcoming production, as well as her desire to get it right. 

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As for First Ladies, the TV series is set to premiere sometime in 2020, yet the production is likely facing delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first season of the showtime anthology is also going to focus on Eleanor Roosevelt and Betty Ford, yet casting for those two parts remains unconfirmed. 

While Davis is set to star, she will also work alongside writer and producer Aaron Cooley behind the scenes. Davis and her husband’s production company, JuVee Productions, is behind the Showtime series.