Viola Davis has responded to critics of her portrayal of Michelle Obama in Showtime’s “The First Lady,” admitting that “not everything is going to be an awards-worthy performance.”
In an interview with BBC News to promote her new memoir, “Finding Me,” the Oscar, Tony and Emmy-winning actor spoke candidly about her turn as the former First Lady, which drew barbs from audiences and critics for Davis’ take on Obama’s facial expressions and pursed lips.
Davis said it was “incredibly hurtful when people say negative things about your work.”
“How do you move on from the hurt, from failure?” she said. “But you have to. Not everything is going to be an awards-worthy performance.”
Davis also told the BBC: “Critics absolutely serve no purpose. And I’m not saying that to be nasty, either.
“They always feel like they’re telling you something that you don’t know,” she continued. “Somehow that you’re living a life that you’re surrounded by people who lie to you and ‘I’m going to be the person that leans in and tells you the truth,’ so it gives them an opportunity to be cruel to you. But ultimately I feel like it is my job as a leader to make bold choices. Win or fail it is my duty to do that.”
Davis, one can argue, had the toughest job of the three leads in the Susanne Bier-directed series, as Michelle Pfeiffer and Gillian Anderson were both portraying White House matriarchs from decades back. Pfeiffer played Betty Ford, who served as First Lady from 1974 to 1977 and who died in 2005, and Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt, who was First Lady between 1933 and 1945, and who died in 1962.
Davis, who said she hasn’t had any personal contact with Obama, noted that playing a globally recognized contemporary figure of Obama’s ilk was “almost possible”: “Either you’re doing too much, or not enough,” she said.
The actor won the best supporting actress Oscar in 2017 for her performance in Denzel Washington’s “Fences,” and has been nominated for turns in “Doubt,” “The Help” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Davis is also a two-time Tony winner for “King Hedley II” and “Fences” (the play upon which Washington’s movie was based). In 2015, she won an Emmy for “How to Get Away With Murder.”