By Tribune Staff

NASHVILLE, TN — Viola Davis has played many challenging and ambitious roles in her award-winning career, but she acknowledges that her latest is probably her most challenging. She’s playing former first lady Michelle Obama in the anthology series “The First Lady,” which debuted last Sunday on Showtime. It interweaves the stories of three former first ladies and their experiences in the White House.

Aside from Davis, who also has an executive producer credit for the series, the cast features other prominent actors, including Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt.

But unlike Pfeiffer and Anderson, Davis is playing a first lady who can actually watch the show, and she admitted in various interviews that the pressure got to her. During the show’s CTAM panel in February, Davis said the idea of Obama watching her portrayal of her in the series made her nervous. “It keeps me up at night,” she said. “You don’t want to insult them by your portrayal.”

Then speaking to Entertainment Tonight in April she said that she felt the pressure to make Obama “look good” through her portrayal. “There’s a sort of sister bond there for me, you know that girl code like, ‘I gotta make the sister look good,’” Davis said.

According to Deadline, Davis was reportedly able to speak with Obama to prepare for the role — although she is reluctant to share the details of the conversation. “It’s more important for me that I protect the privacy of [Michelle] than to promote a TV show,” she said. Co-star O-T Fagbenle, who played Barack Obama, wasn’t able to speak to the former president, per an interview with Variety.

While Davis has access to information about Obama, like through her documentary, recent memoir, and private conversations, she also had to take creative liberties with the part as an actor.

“As much as we feel like we know Michelle Obama — and I did everything I could to research — there are those private moments where there’s some level of creative decision-making that you have to take. I don’t know how she lays in bed with Barack or how she disciplines her children. There are small minutiae that I can just take creative license with and hope that I’m not insulting her with it,” she said during the CTAM panel.

Based on the former first lady’s comments on Davis’s casting, though, Davis shouldn’t worry about Obama calling her and “cussing (her) out.” Obama told Entertainment Tonight that she thinks that Davis is “the greatest.”

“I feel that I’m not worthy,” the former first lady told ET. “I wish I could be better to live up to the character that Viola has to play, but it’s exciting. Anything Viola does, she does it with passion and vigor, and I know she will do no less for this role,” she added.

“The First Lady” is now airing on Showtime.