Viola Davis opens up about 'stress' of playing Michelle Obama in new Showtime series

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Viola Davis says that it was stressful playing former first lady Michelle Obama, 58, in Showtime’s new series The First Lady — because high expectations come with portraying a person that is beloved by so many. 

Davis, 56, took on the role in the ten-part series, which she also produced, but she admits now that she is relieved the production is finish.

‘I’m glad it’s over!’ she said on Monday night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. ‘I mean, the stress. Because everybody likes — loves — Michelle Obama. They know what she sounds like, they know what she looks like. 

‘And I’m like, “I don’t want Michelle Obama calling me, cussing me out.”‘

Viola Davis says that it was stressful playing former first lady Michelle Obama in Showtime's new series The First Lady

Viola Davis says that it was stressful playing former first lady Michelle Obama in Showtime’s new series The First Lady

Davis (pictured) took on the role in the ten-part series, which she also produced, but she admits now that she is relieved the production is finished

Davis, 56, took on the role in the ten-part series, which she also produced, but she admits now that she is relieved the production is finished

Davis (left), 56, took on the role in the ten-part series, which she also produced, but she admits now that she is relieved the production is finished

'I'm glad it's over!' she said on Monday night's Jimmy Kimmel Live.'I mean, the stress. Because everybody likes - loves - Michelle Obama'

‘I’m glad it’s over!’ she said on Monday night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. ‘I mean, the stress. Because everybody likes – loves – Michelle Obama’

The First Lady premieres Sunday, but Kimmel and his wife already got a sneak peak — and he sang Davis’ praises on his show. 

‘That’s crazy how good you are at this,’ he told her. ‘It’s not just the voice you have down, it’s [also] the walking? It’s crazy how much you became Michelle Obama,’ Jimmy Kimmel said.

The series also stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Gillian Anderson plays Eleanor Roosevelet, but Kimmel noted that Davis had the biggest challenge because she’s playing someone who is still alive.

‘It may seem like you’re giving me a compliment, but you’re just rising my anxiety level. That’s all you’re doing right now,’ she said.  

In fact, she was incredulous at the suggestion that she had reached out to the former first lady about the role or sent her screeners.

'They know what she sounds like, they know what she looks like,' she said of viewers' expectations

f'They know what she sounds like, they know what she looks like,' she said of viewers' expectations

‘They know what she sounds like, they know what she looks like,’ the actress (left) said of viewers’ expectations

'I am hiding from Michelle. I'm hiding. I'm hiding in my house,' she said

'I am hiding from Michelle. I'm hiding. I'm hiding in my house,' she said

‘I am hiding from Michelle. I’m hiding. I’m hiding in my house,’ Davis (seen recreating a portrait of the former first lady) said

‘I am hiding from Michelle. I’m hiding. I’m hiding in my house,’ she said. ‘I’m not sending her nothing.’

Davis — who has won as won an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, a Golden Globe Award, three Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and four Screen Actors Guild Awards — seems anxious that the former first lady might not like something about her performance.

‘That’s the kind of thing where you have to prostate yourself on the floor and just go, “OK, Michelle, I messed up,”‘ she said. 

While Davis didn’t speak to Obama during or after the making of the series, she has spoken her before — but she told Deadline she’s keeping most of the contents of their conversation private.

‘What’s dramatic about Michelle Obama? I’ll tell you what’s dramatic. She is a black woman and the first Black woman in the White House built by slaves, someone who literally was perceived to be overly masculine, not feminine, angry, hostile, and I will share one thing that she said to me,’ she said. 

Davis (pictured in the show) didn't speak to Obama during or after the making of the series, but she has spoken her before

Davis (pictured in the show) didn't speak to Obama during or after the making of the series, but she has spoken her before

Davis (pictured in the show) didn’t speak to Obama during or after the making of the series, but she has spoken her before

The series also stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford

The series also stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford

Gillian Anderson plays Eleanor Roosevelt (pictured). The series premieres on Sunday

Gillian Anderson plays Eleanor Roosevelt (pictured). The series premieres on Sunday

‘She said, “I’m not even an angry person.” Isn’t that something? Listen, I am sort of an angry person, but she’s not. And so what I wanted to do was honor her and not the perception of what Black women are supposed to be.’

Davis’ Obama does have some emotional moments in the series, and Davis said they employed artistic license — like when Michelle uses the n-word in a conversation with her husband about racist attacks.

‘We use creative license because we all know that Michelle Obama is someone who does not like politics, the viciousness of it,’ she said.

‘And so it was an imagined conversation. And I did push for those words to be used because I know that those are the words that Black people use in private. We do. We use those words in private, especially to drive something home, and Michelle Obama is from the South Side of Chicago. 

‘So I felt it was imagined but I felt good about it being something that could have happened.’

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