Viola Davis Admits She's 'a Little Scared' to Play Michelle Obama in 'First Ladies'

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Viola Davis is gearing up for the role of a lifetime -- former first lady Michelle Obama.

Last month, the 54-year-old actress was cast in the role for the upcoming series First Ladies on Showtime, which will explore some of the most renowned women who've lived in the White House throughout history, beginning with Obama, Betty Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt in season one. ET's Leanne Aguilera sat down with the acclaimed actress on Monday to discuss tackling the prestigious role.

"I'm always intrigued by the first ladies. I'm always intrigued by the person who doesn't get as much attention as the other person," she said while promoting the final season of How to Get Away With Murder. "And I don't wanna say 'the women behind the men,' the women beside the men, what their sacrifices are…their day-to-day."

Davis, who is also executive producing the series, hinted that, with this role, she senses this might be a make-or-break moment for her and her career.

"Listen, here's the thing, you could either fail really big or succeed really big, and I feel this is my succeed very big or fail very big moment," she stated. The veteran actress also admitted to some intimidation at the prospect of playing Obama, who weathered situations no woman had ever faced before.

"I'm a little scared… I've met Michelle Obama and…exactly what you think she is, she is. She's awesome," Davis gushed. "She's awesome in every way. She's smart. She's confident. She's articulate. She believes in sisterhood." 

She added: "I think Michelle Obama really sacrificed a lot being in the White House, being the first lady, but being the first lady of color also, which is…who do you go to to learn that?"

Davis also shared that she doesn't intend to meet Obama again until she's done with the role, preferring to allow the show's writing team to craft the story and character.

"So, I will approach her when the show is over," she said. "Because we're still writing the scripts now. I wanna see what's on the page. How it develops. But here's the biggest thing: I wanna honor her. I wanna honor her with this portrayal because that's what drama is. That's what we do as actors, we want to honor the human being. We don't want to give a portrayal that isn't easy for people to swallow." 

She stated that part of the appeal of the project is the dual lives Obama was forced to lead as first lady, her public persona and her private life. 

"Absolutely it will help. All of it helps," Davis said of Obama's 2018 book, Becoming. "You know, as an actor, you arm yourself with information. That's what you do. So, even if it's not on the page, you have that in your internal life and it informs every word, every relationship you have. Because, let's face it, with the first lady, you gotta keep a lot down, right? You just do. …As any public figure, you have to sometimes manage your behavior in public." 

The sixth and final season of How to Get Away With Murder debuts on Sept. 26 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.


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