Viola Davis as Michelle Obama in THE FIRST LADY
(R): Viola Davis as Michelle Obama in THE FIRST LADY. Photo credit: Jackson Lee Davis/SHOWTIME.

Showtime’s The First Lady Cast Icons As Michelle, Eleanor, And Betty

Check out who's playing FDR, y'all
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Three award-winning actresses play three history-making First Ladies in Showtime’s The First Lady. Bring on the wigs! The prestige series will compare and contrast the experiences of these women.

At the Television Critics Association Summer Tour in 2021, co-president of entertainment at Showtime Networks Gary Levine said that The First Lady could become America’s version of The Crown, according to journalist Saloni Gajjar and a few other critics who live-tweeted and covered the event. This makes a lot of sense. The position of First Lady is one of the only aspects of American society that resembles the royal family at all. It’s a largely ceremonial and symbolic position without any real political power. They are not always the spouse of the President (sisters, daughters, nieces, and daughters-in-law have also filled the role), and they generally serve as the hostess of the White House.

But many of the women who take on the FLOTUS title and duties use their position and platform to do more than ceremonial duties. The three women at the center of The First Lady in its first season are excellent examples.

Viola Davis plays Michelle Obama

Viola Davis as Michelle Obama in THE FIRST LADY

I’m excited to watch the unstoppable Viola Davis transform more fully into the former First Lady and now bestselling author, podcaster, and all-around icon. Since this third of the series is set in the modern-day with relatively recent events, it’s a little harder for me to suspend my disbelief and not just think “that’s Viola Davis.” But I trust that Davis will smash it. The Oscar and Emmy award-winning actress is always stunning to see in action.

O-T Fagbenle (Black Widow, The Handmaid’s Tale) plays President Barack Obama … I’m listening. Jayme Lawson plays a young Michelle.

Michelle Pfieffer plays Betty Ford

Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford in THE FIRST LADY

Pfeiffer plays the socially active wife of the United States’ 38th President whose beliefs and causes were far more liberal than her Republican husband’s politics. She was also considered one of history’s most fashionable First Ladies. (This may seem frivolous but it does have an effect on the public perception of the American woman.) She was also the first First Lady to publicly announce her struggles with addiction, which had a radical impact that still radiates to this day.

Plus, Dakota Fanning plays her daughter Susan Ford, Aaron Eckhart plays President Gerald Ford, and Kristine Froseth (The Society) plays young Betty.

Gillian Anderson plays Eleanor Roosevelt

Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt in THE FIRST LADY

Apparently, the X-Files (and The Fall and Sex Education) star loves to ~transform~ into historical women. After winning a Screen Actor’s Guild Award and a Primetime Emmy for portraying Margaret Thatcher on The Crown, she’s crossed the pond to be Franklin D. Roosevelt’s powerhouse spouse.

In addition, Eliza Scanlan (Little Women, Sharp Objects) plays young Eleanor and Kiefer Sutherland plays FDR. They got Kiefer!

This cast is absolutely stacked, and I can’t wait to see the show. I also kind of hope that it gets a Season 2 with three new First Ladies played by three new iconic actresses. Maybe some deep cuts? Harriet Lane, perhaps? Helen Taft? Edith Wilson, who Drunk History called the low-key first female president? Just a suggestion.

(images: Showtime)

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Leah Marilla Thomas
Leah Marilla Thomas (she/her) is a contributor at The Mary Sue. She has been working in digital entertainment journalism since 2013, covering primarily television as well as film and live theatre. She's been on the Marvel beat professionally since Daredevil was a Netflix series. (You might recognize her voice from the Newcomers: Marvel podcast). Outside of journalism, she is 50% Southerner, 50% New Englander, and 100% fangirl over everything from Lord of the Rings to stage lighting and comics about teenagers. She lives in New York City and can often be found in a park. She used to test toys for Hasbro. True story!