“The First Lady”, a collection of three women who are influential, starring three highly-acclaimed actors, presents a century’s worth of American history, including wars, presidential scandals, and America’s stubborn gender and racial divisions.
Susanne Bier, the Oscar-winning actress, and director were unable to resist the challenge of this ambitious Showtime drama series. Although the subjects — Eleanor Roosevelt (Betty Ford) and Michelle Obama — have compelling stories, the sum of them all is more, Bier explained about her first biographical series.
Bier explained that it was “interesting to me that there wasn’t one biopic”. He said that the film focused on first women of different experiences and eras, “in a manner it puts women’s situation in this world very much in perspective.”
Gillian Anderson plays Eleanor Roosevelt while Michelle Pfeiffer portrays Betty Ford. Michelle Obama is portrayed by Viola Davis. Davis and Bier were executive producers for the series.
Jayme Lawson and Kristine Froseth (Ford), respectively, play the future first ladies in their younger forms. Kiefer Sutherland plays Franklin D. Roosevelt and Aaron Eckhart plays Gerald Ford. O-T Fagbenle is Barack Obama.
Schulman explained that while the series covers both political and personal chapters, it is historical fiction. During a panel discussion, she said, “We had to think about what happened between the events and those that have been written about.”
Bier claimed that the first-lady role is not available in Denmark. Although she was familiarized with the roles of the women in the series, she found new respect and admiration for them.
“What struck me was the fact that they learned how to navigate within the White House without actually being in a political position and became far more influential than one would believe,” she stated. They managed to do this while still fulfilling the role of America’s “beautiful, successful” first hostess.
Bier said Betty Ford opened up about her breast cancer, “at a time it was so stigmatized that nobody talked about.” “She saved a lot of people’s lives” as well as changing attitudes in the U.S., and other countries.
“The First Lady,” approaches the stories like a tapestry. She weaves together moments that sometimes show how similar their experience was, despite the many decades that separated them.
After having spent a significant portion of their adult lives supporting the husband’s ambitions, they all fought to be taken seriously and considered first wives. Obama and Ford were shown to be deeply reluctant to make the White House their temporary home. Obama because Obama was the first Black president, Ford because she had spent so much time in the political trenches.
Bier noted that there are striking similarities between the walls “that three women banged against” despite decades passing. “Yes, society has changed. History has changed. However, it’s still a man-made world that we live in. This is why I believe it is important to perform (such) a performance.”
Because their lives are not overlapping in history and the series, the parallels that involve the women are strictly thematic. Bier joined the crew after the approach was established. Bier felt that the script did not fully reflect the arc of each woman’s stories.
Bier suggested that each first lady should have a separate scene. As Ford, Obama, Roosevelt, and then Obama were filmed one after another, there were always changes.
“As we were filming Betty, the scripts to Michelle Obama were being redone,” she explained. “There was never a clear roadmap on how to interweave these stories.”
Bier said that the editing took place in London. He won the Oscar for best foreign-language Oscar for “Heaven”, and “In a Better World” in 2011. Bier also received a directing Emmy nomination for “The Night Manager,” 2016. His other credits include the “The Undoing,” and the “Birdbox” films.
Bier, who is known as a master filmmaker in different genres, was perfect for Showtime’s show that “moves in the middle of comedy, tragedy, or everything in between,” said producer Schulman. Susanne is an actor-director, which was essential in bringing these first ladies to life.
“The First Lady,” a series of anthologies, is being planned with new presidential spouses. Schulman and Bier found Dolley Madison and Jacqueline Kennedy intriguing.
Schulman admitted that “I am currently obsessing Over Martha Washington” during the panel discussion. Schulman also mentioned her interest in the origins of the first lady’s position. “But, I’d also love to find a way to do Jackie Kennedy without telling the same old story.” Each of them is so fascinating and becomes more interested when they combine.