There are only a handful of stories about what goes on in the White House and in the country from the point of view of the U.S. President’s spouse. The premiere season of creator Aaron Cooley’s new series offers three that are ripped straight from the history books and performed by some of the most renowned actresses of their generation. Take a look at who is playing whom in Showtime’s The First Lady cast, starting with one of the most powerful and beloved women in Hollywood as one of the most powerful and beloved women in the world.
Viola Davis (Michelle Obama)
The 44th First Lady, Michelle Obama, is the most recent real-life person Viola Davis has portrayed after playing James Brown’s mother, Susie, in Get On Up and the title role of Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom - both music biopics also starring late Marvel star Chadwick Boseman. Speaking of superhero movies, the actress has also appeared in three DCEU installments so far (both Suicide Squad movies and Peacemaker) as Amanda Waller - a character who bears a few similarities to Annalise Keating, her Emmy-winning role from How to Get Away with Murder. Davis also has an Oscar for giving, arguably, her all-time best performance in 2016’s Fences after previously being nominated for Doubt in 2009, The Help in 2012, and later receiving a nod for the aforementioned Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Michelle Pfeiffer (Betty Ford)
Before playing Betty Ford, who served as First Lady from 1974 to 1977, the last real person Michelle Pfieffer played was Bernie Madoff’s wife, Ruth, in the HBO movie, The Wizard of Lies - which earned her her sole Emmy nomination. The actress (also known for the 1999 thriller What Lies Beneath, the 1996 rom-com One Fine Day, 2007’s Hairspray, and more) also starred in 1993's politically inspired drama, Love Field, which earned her her third Oscar nomination after 1989’s Dangerous Liaisons and The Fabulous Baker Boys from 1990. Like Viola Davis, Pfeiffer is a DC movies veteran, haven given one of the greatest Catwoman portrayals ever in 1992’s Batman Returns, and would also join the MCU as Janet Van Dyne in Ant-Man and the Wasp in 2018.
Gillian Anderson (Eleanor Roosevelt)
Before playing Eleanor Roosevelt - the United States’ longest serving First Lady (1933-1945) - Gillian Anderson played royalty (Catherine the Great’s mother, Joanna, with Hulu’s The Great cast for Season 2) and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Season 4 of Netflix’s The Crown - for which she received her second Emmy. The Chicago native won her first Emmy for her most iconic role, FBI agent Dana Scully, on one of greatest sci-fi shows ever, The X-Files. Anderson has also starred on NBC’s Hannibal as the title character’s psychiatrist, the personification of all media on Starz’s American Gods, and a sex therapist and mother in the Sex Education cast for Netflix.
O-T Fagbenle (Barack Obama)
As Michelle Obama’s husband and the 44th U.S. President, Barack Obama, we have O-T Fagbenle, who - like his on-screen wife on The First Lady - is also known for superhero movies, having appeared in the Black Widow cast in 2021. The British-born actor of Nigerian descent is even better known as Luke Bankole from Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale cast, for his recurring role on HBO’s short-lived queer dramedy, Looking, and appearing alongside the WeCrashed cast for Apple TV+ more recently. Fagbenle also works behind the scenes, most notably on his satirical comedy series Maxxx, which he created, produces, composes, occasionally directs, and stars on in the title role.
Aaron Eckhart (Gerald Ford)
As Betty Ford’s husband and the 38th U.S. President, Gerald Ford, we have Aaron Eckhart, who last played a (fictional) U.S. president in Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen (but not the third installment, Angel Has Fallen). The Thank You For Smoking star - like his on-screen wife on The First Lady - also has a history of comic book movies, having played Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight and a modern interpretation of Mary Shelley’s “The Creature” in I, Frankenstein. More of Eckhart’s more notable credits include 1999’s Oscar-winning Erin Brockovich, the 2003 sci-fi adventure The Core, the dreary family drama Rabbit Hole from 2010, and the 2016 biopic, Sully, opposite Tom Hanks.
Kiefer Sutherland (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
As Eleanor Roosevelt’s husband and the 32nd (and longest-sitting) U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, we have Kiefer Sutherland, who last played a (fictional) U.S. president on Designated Survivor after years of defending the country by more aggressive means as Jack Bauer on 24. After debuting alongside his father, Donald Sutherland, in 1983’s Max Dugan Returns, he went on to become one of the biggest stars of the decade (and the next) with roles in Stand By Me, the star-studded Western Young Guns and its sequel, and his multiple collaborations with Joel Schumacher (such as The Lost Boys, Flatliners, and A Time to Kill). His additional, notable 21st Century credits include Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, and a few video game series - namely Call of Duty and Metal Gear Solid.
Jayme Lawson (Young Michelle Obama)
Playing Michelle Obama’s younger self (when her last name was Robinson) is Jayme Lawson, who was last seen holding a political position in The Batman cast as Gotham City mayoral candidate Bella Reál in 2022. She made her feature film debut two years earlier in Farewell Amor and will next share the screen with her The First Lady co-star, Viola Davis, in the historical epic, The Woman King, in 2022. Also, later this year, she will play another historical figure - civil rights activist Myrlie Evers, widow of Medgar Evers - in an upcoming biopic about Emmett Till.
Regina Taylor (Marian Shields Robinson)
Playing Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Shields Robinson, is Regina Taylor, who made her feature film debut opposite Morgan Freeman in 1989’s Lean on Me and went on to be cast on the Emmy-winning series I’ll Fly Away from 1991 to 1993. This led to a career in more classic films - such as director Spike Lee’s Clockers from 1995, 1996’s Courage Under Fire (opposite Denzel Washington), and 1998’s The Negotiator (opposite Samuel L. Jackson). These days, Taylor is best known for making notable guest appearances on TV shows like NBC’s The Blacklist, The Good Fight on Paramount+, and two episodes of Lovecraft Country on HBO.
Dakota Fanning (Susan Elizabeth Ford)
Playing Gerald and Betty Ford’s daughter, Susan, is Dakota Fanning, who debuted in an ER episode before becoming one of her generation’s most renowned child stars with movies like 2004’s Man on Fire, War of the Worlds the following year, or Coraline as the title role. Playing Cherie Curie in The Runaways (opposite fellow Twilight movies cast member Kristen Stewart) led to more adult roles like Squeaky Fromme in the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood cast or Sara Howard on TNT’s period crime drama, The Alienist. Fanning’s upcoming film, The Nightingale, will be her third collaboration with her sister, Elle, after I Am Sam and the Syfy miniseries, Taken, and their first time not playing the same character at different ages.
Judy Greer (Nancy Howe)
Playing Betty Ford’s friend and secretary Nancy Howe is Judy Greer, who recently portrayed a highly exaggerated version of the very first First Lady, Martha Washington, in Netflix’s America: The Motion Picture voice cast and actually has another fact-based political drama in the works called The White House Plumbers. The actress has well over 100 other acting credits, but is best known as Cheryl Tunt in the Archer cast and for multiple blockbuster franchises - namely the MCU as Ant-Man’s ex-wife, Jurassic World as Bryce Dallas Howard’s sister, or the new Halloween movies as Laurie Strode’s daughter. You may likely recognize her from countless other films, like 13 Going on 30, and TV shows, like Arrested Development, just to name a few.
Ellen Burstyn (Sara Delano Roosevelt)
Playing Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt, is Ellen Burstyn, who previously played a U.S. president’s mother twice (Barbara Bush in W. and Elizabeth Hale in Netflix’s House of Cards cast), as well as mother of a former First Lady on USA’s 2012 miniseries, Political Animals, for which she won her second Emmy. The screen legend is even better known for her Oscar-nominated roles in movies like The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist (one of the best horror movies), and Requiem for a Dream, and her Oscar-winning performance as the title character of Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Burstyn also played an older Jessica Chastain in Interstellar, Blake Lively’s daughter in The Age of Adaline, and recently reprised her Emmy-winning role as Bernadette Stabler on Law & Order: Organized Crime.
Lily Rabe (Lorena “Hick” Hickok)
Playing Lorena Hicock - a journalist and close friend (or, allegedly, more than a friend) of Eleanor Roosevelt is Lily Rabe, whose last major role in a fact-based political drama was Liz Cheney in Vice from 2018. Ten years after making her screen debut in the 2001 rom-com, Never Again, opposite her mother, Jill Clayburgh, the actress made her first appearance on the show she is best known for: American Horror Story. Some of Rabe’s other notable acting credits include HBO’s six-part drama The Undoing, a couple of episodes of The Underground Railroad on Amazon Prime, and the streaming platform’s acclaimed period drama, The Tender Bar, from director George Clooney.
Jackie Earle Haley (Louis McHenry Howe)
Playing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advisor Louis McHenry Howe (with no relation to Nancy Howe) is Jackie Earle Haley, who last played a real-life political official (Confederacy VP Alexander Stephens) in 2012’s Lincoln. Like some other The First Lady cast members, he was once a popular child star (best known for the classic sports movie The Bad News Bears), has an Oscar nomination (for 2006’s Little Children), and has starred in a number of comic book adaptations (2009’s Watchmen, the short-lived Human Target series, AMC’s Preacher, Amazon Prime’s The Tick, and Alita: Battle Angel).
Kate Mulgrew (Susan Sher)
Playing Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff, Susan Sher, is Kate Mulgrew, who is a bit of a legend on the small screen. She is best known as the first woman to play a Star Trek captain (Kathryn Janeway, whom she debuted as on Star Trek: Voyager and most recently reprised on Star Trek: Prodigy) and for her Emmy nominated role in the Orange is the New Black cast as iron-mitted prison cook Galina “Red” Reznikov. She is also no stranger to comic book adaptations (she voiced Red Claw on Batman: The Animated Series) and still dabbles in sci-fi, such as Showtime’s upcoming series remake of The Man Who Fell to Earth.
See how well Showtime’s The First Lady cast portrays these historical and modern political figures when the series premieres on Sunday, April 17, 2022, at 9 p.m. ET.
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.