San Antonio stars star in Showtime series “First Lady”

The new anthology TV series “The First Lady” combines drama, history, intimate moments and a flow of talent in San Antonio, bringing to life multiple periods of the White House from a fresh female perspective.

The first season will air at 8pm on Sunday on Showtime.

The 10 episodes explore three groundbreaking women of U.S. presidents: Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford and Michelle Obama. They are portrayed by a trio of dynamic actresses: Gillian Anderson (“The Crown”), Michelle Piper (“The Fantastic Baker Boys”) and Viola Davis (“Ma Rainei’s Black Bottom”).

The women’s stories span more than a century, from the youth who shaped them to their roles in public life. Moments that defined each of them – political and personal alike – are woven together within each hour.

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The network’s hope is to highlight other first women in the coming seasons.

“It’s a cool way to focus on history – to look at these important women, the forces behind the presidents who were forces in their own right,” said San Antonio resident Jackie Earl Haley, who shares the screen with Anderson in several episodes.

Haley, an Oscar nominee for “Little Kids,” plays Louis Howe, a former New York reporter who served as a consultant and member of the FDR (Kiefer Sutherland) and his wife for decades until his passing health took over. He died in 1936, before the end of Roosevelt’s first term, but was named by Eleanor Roosevelt as one of her most powerful influences throughout her life.

Derek Cecil (“House of Cards”), who grew up in San Antonio and graduated from Taft High School, is also prominent. He plays Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense under President Gerald Ford (Aaron Eckhart).

In the series, he is one of Mrs. Ford’s incessant critics, seeking to silence her or at least reduce her influence throughout her husband’s tenure.

“The first season is very much about voice and revealing voice,” said Kathy Schulman, the series’ lead producer and program director, in an online press conference that also included Anderson and Davis.

OT Fagbenle and Viola Davis share a moment as Barack and Michelle Obama in the movie “The First Lady.”

Jackson Lee Davis / Jackson Lee Davis / SHOWTIME

“Eleanor was, to me, the first modern first lady quite literally, she actually came in and said, ‘Can I have an office?’ – Everyone looked at her, like, ‘What would you do in the office?’

“It was the beginning of two really important social movements, one related to women’s rights and one related to the abolition of segregation.”

The series follows “Where these initial impulses took us years later.” Schulman added, “In terms of, to be honest, Betty’s open freedom … and then, of course, Michelle’s living example of what the abolition of segregation looks like.”

The three of them had a completely independent life and a strong presence before arriving at the White House, where they were suddenly told to choose porcelain patterns and stay in the background. No wonder they did not exactly jump for joy at the chance to be the first lady.

“Eleanor wanted to be there but only if she could be president,” Schulman said. “Betty came into the White House kicking and screaming, and Michelle was completely terrified of her and her family’s life.”

Despite their initial aversion, all women discovered ways to express their views, and their actions eventually enriched the lives of Americans. They spoke honestly about issues that they felt were not being properly addressed – from equal rights to diet to health services.

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The actresses who play the first ladies talked about the emotions and caring that went into their portrayal.

Anderson, who recently won an Emmy Award for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the film “The Crown,” said that it is impossible to treat real-life portrayal like other roles. “You take it a lot more seriously, and it feels like there’s a lot more pressure,” she said.

She absorbed as much research as possible, paying special attention to the way Eleanor spoke.

“It was like there was no ticking clock. She was going to say what she was going to say,” Anderson said. “Even though she was afraid of speaking in front of an audience, and even though she grew up being told she was an ugly duckling and had no value in the world, she knew her goals and what she had to say was far more important than the fear she felt.”

Davis has perhaps had the most daunting challenge of playing Michelle Obama since her time in the White House was so much later.

“Everyone claimed ownership of it,” she said. “Everyone has a time when they loved her hair or hated her hair or loved her eyebrows or hated her eyebrows, and they feel like they own her.

Jackie Earl Haley plays a consultant to Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson) in the film

Jackie Earl Haley plays an adviser to Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson) in the movie “The First Lady.”

Boris Martin / Boris Martin / SHOWTIME

“I felt there was a small window of realization of your creative investment. It’s too specific for that. Exactly how she uses her mouth is how you should use your mouth. Just how she touches her pearls is how you should touch your pearls. So I was scared.”

“The First Lady” makes it clear that although time has passed, Michelle Obama has faced many of the same challenges as Eleanor Roosevelt.

“Yes, our society has changed, but unfortunately it’s still a very world of men,” said Susan Biar, who directed the series.

Proof of this is Rumsfeld, who has been trying to dull Mrs Ford’s presence since the beginning of her husband’s tenure, and even offers her to cancel her first state dinner.

Rumsfeld later debates what he thinks is the bluntness and inappropriate behavior of the first lady, and takes out some of the memorable – and humorous – lines of the series.

One of Cecil’s concerns while playing “Remy,” as he called his character in a phone interview, was that his Texan accent would come out during filming.

This tends to happen when he is surrounded by southern voices when he was in Atlanta, where the “First Lady” was filmed, he said, though that would be wrong for Rumsfeld, who was born in Illinois.

Cecil said he could identify with Rumsfeld’s side who imagined he was developing words; He used colorful language similar to what the actor grew up around in the lone star country.

“He was not a blatantly verbal fellow,” he said. “He was known for about these corny phrases, like ‘I’ll be shocking’ and ‘My God’s.”

As Eleanor’s mentor, Hailey’s Howe tries to be more measured in his reviews of The First Lady, encouraging many of her ideas as well as coaching her in public speaking.

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“He knew there had to be a balance at this time,” Haley said. “Even though he was on the same page with the women’s movement, he urged Eleanor to go for it quickly that would get her farther than doing everything at once.”

Haley, who is known as a bad actor in TV shows and movies like the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” said he was glad this role was completely different. Hao “was a fascinating man,” he said. “I loved doing it.”

Both players also expressed admiration for the stars who worked alongside them.

“Michelle was completely committed and so present,” Cecil said. “Her characterization was so great to feed him. There is a certain fragility to Betty that she brought to the role.

Haley called Anderson “the perfect actress.”

“It’s very easy to work with and generous,” he said. “Playing, when things work out right, it really responds. It’s a privilege to work with people who are so good at what they do – getting the best out of you.”

Jean-Jacques is a freelance writer in San Antonio.

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