Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Gillian Anderson talk about “First Lady”

Michelle Pfeiffer didn’t know much about Betty Ford before she signed on to play her in the new Showtime anthology series The First Lady.

“The only thing I knew of course was the Betty Ford Center, which I think she’s best known for,” Pfeiffer told me at the show’s premiere Thursday at the DGA Building in Los Angeles. “And I knew she was coming out and speaking openly and transparently about her own issues with substance abuse and alcoholism, which was very, very taboo at the time. And she was stopped. And she came out and spoke openly and transparently about her breast cancer and about mental illness.”

Pfeiffer’s admiration for Ford grew as he prepared for the role before morphing into the President’s wife, who became First Lady in 1974 when Gerald Ford was inaugurated as President following Richard Nixon’s resignation amid the Watergate scandal.

“I think people really trusted her and she was one of the most popular first ladies of all time. Because people really trusted her. And because of her, her way of lifting the veil of shame on a lot of these taboo subjects, it allowed other people to talk about it and come out and get the help they needed.”

She added, “As I got into that, I looked at Betty a lot … It was kind of daunting because when you’re playing a real person, especially one that’s so revered and historical, you want to honor them as much as you can.”

Pfeiffer and her co-stars also shared some of the more challenging work they faced for their performances.

“She had such a weird speech pattern,” Pfeiffer said of Ford. “It was a couple of different regions that were kind of mixed together. It was the Midwest with a bit of Southern. I wondered where did the ‘a’ come from?

Viola Davis says becoming Michelle Obama meant following in her footsteps. “She walks like a boss,” Davis said, laughing.

Davis is also a producer on the series. “During the pandemic, I thought, ‘I’m ready to jump out of a plane,'” she said. “I’m willing to do anything that wakes me up, good or bad. And sometimes you need that to rediscover the passion for work.”

Since Davis’ memoir Finding Me came out on April 26, I asked her if she had any plans to adapt her life story into a feature film. While nothing is in the works, the Oscar winner said, “Whoever plays Viola Davis has yet to be discovered. She must be a little chocolate girl.”

Gillan Anderson also had to capture a particular dialect while playing Eleanor Roosevelt. “It was so unpredictable because she grew up in England and in the US,” she told me. “Eleanor had certain words that wouldn’t normally be spoken in her particular way if she hadn’t been raised in Britain… Those idiosyncrasies took some getting used to.”

It was also the first time Anderson used false teeth. She tried out different versions created by Fangs FX from London. “Sometimes they looked completely ridiculous and eventually they were scaled down to something that felt vaguely human,” she said.

“First Lady” premieres Sunday, April 17 on Showtime.

https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/first-lady-viola-davis-michelle-pfeiffer-gillian-anderson-1235233525/ Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Gillian Anderson talk about “First Lady”

Charles Jones

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