We put everything on display. Viola Davis doesn’t have time for criticism, especially when it comes to her portrayal of Michelle Obama on the Showtime series “First Lady.”
The 56-year-old actress told BBC News in an interview published on Monday, April 25, that “it’s incredibly insulting when people say negative things about your work.”
While the “How to Get Away with Murder” alum acknowledged that a harsh reaction to her performances is an “occupational hazard” for the actress, she noted that criticism is not necessarily important for this craft.
“They feel like they’re telling you things you don’t know, like, ‘Oh, you’re surrounded by people who lie to you, and I’ll be the person who bends over and tells you the truth.’ Davis explained. “It gives them the opportunity to be violent.”
She added: “The point of critics is that they serve absolutely no purpose.”
After the premiere of “The First Lady” earlier this month, the South Carolina native was criticized on social media for the way she directed the 58-year-old Obama, with some viewers calling her dramatic facial expressions and physical mannerisms.
“I assume Viola Davis watched a lot of videos of Michelle Obama’s speech,” one person tweeted. “Where she got the idea to make a strange, exaggerated pursed lip, I don’t understand. It’s distracting and unnecessary.”
Another Twitter user wrote: “They framed Viola Davis, allowing her to keep her mouth shut throughout the filming process. It’s so ugly and distracting.”
Davis’ portrayal of the former First Lady is unlike any other in the cast, as the author of “Becoming” is the only living character portrayed in the series. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Betty Ford, who died in 2011, and Gillian Anderson portrays Eleanor Roosevelt, who died in 1962.
O-T Fagbenle, for his part, took on the task of embodying former President Barack Obama, who married Michelle in 1992. The real couple has two daughters: 23-year-old Malia and 20-year-old Sasha.
Despite the negative reviews from critics and viewers, Davis said that over decades of working in the industry, she has developed a thick skin.
“How do you get away from pain, from failure?” she asked during her interview with BBC News. “But you have to. Not everything will be worthy of awards.”
The star of “Help” admitted: “In the end, I feel that my job as a leader is to make bold choices. Win or lose, it’s my duty.”
The Oscar winner further explained that it’s “almost impossible” to play someone as recognizable as Michelle, noting, “Either you do too much or not enough.”
Earlier this month, Davis expressed concern about how difficult it would be to accurately portray Michelle, who lived in the White House from 2009 to 2017, while 60-year-old Barack was the 44th president of the United States.
“Every time you start working, you’re terrified because you’re afraid of being recognized—it’s a big impostor syndrome,” she told Entertainment Tonight in April. “But with Michelle Obama, it seems like everyone owns Michelle Obama. … Everyone knows how she looks, how she sounds, what kind of hair she has.”