In one of the first scenes of The First Ladythe new miniseries from Paramount+ that chronicles the lives of Michelle Obama, Betty Ford and Eleonor Roosevelt, three first ladies of fundamental influence in the history of the United States, a woman dances nonchalantly while drinking a cocktail and scattering magazines around the room; the sequence is, without the need for a word, one of the most captivating of the cycle already available on the platform. That’s partly because of the character portrayed, Betty Fordwife of Gerald Ford, the president of the United States who took over the White House after the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974, and especially by who plays her: michelle pfeiffer.
The actress, one of the most talented and beautiful stars in Hollywood who in the eighties and nineties appeared in great films such as Scarface, Dangerous relationships, married to the mob, The Age of Innocence, batman returns, among others, she decided to assume the commitment to embody Ford, who fascinated her to the point of sneaking into the limited list of projects she faces these days. The public figure, as famous as he is full of nuances unknown even to Americans, has many points in common with the 63-year-old actress, especially with regard to their link to fame and public opinion..
“I am an ordinary woman who had to get on stage at an extraordinary time. When I became first lady I was still the same as before. But by accidents of history I became an interesting person”. This is how Ford described himself in the prologue of his autobiography, a journey through a life full of ups and downs, many of them crossed in full view of the world. And something of that spirit is also discerned in Pfeiffer who, beyond having three Oscar nominations and an extraordinary career for someone who used to be selected to appear on screen for her beauty and not precisely for her acting skills, usually refers to herself as a fraud, always afraid of being discovered as such.
“It is what I usually think in relation to my interpretations, that this will be the one that unmasks me as the fraud that I always knew I was. That comes from not having studied formally. I didn’t go to Juilliard. I did workshops and that kind of thing but I don’t come from the theater. When I started working there was a lot of snobbery. In fact, one of my first jobs was on a TV show where I played a seductive blonde. She had fake breasts and very short and tight pants, the character didn’t even have a name. There were a lot of New York actors in the cast and I felt like an outcast. That feeling never leaves you,” the actress said last year in an interview with The New Yorker magazine. An impostor syndrome that her character in The First Lady He suffered throughout his public life.
Of Ford, who died in 2011 at the age of 93, it is known that after leaving the White House she had a highly publicized hospitalization to treat her alcoholism and opiate addiction, and that her recovery inspired her to found a rehabilitation clinic and be a spokesperson for the fight against these diseases. Less is known about her life before she was the wife of a prominent politician who was close to finishing his term as a congressman when he became president of his country.
“I was terrified. She had no idea what she had to do, so I decided to be myself, ”explained Ford when she recalled her time as first lady. Born in Chicago in 1918, Betty’s dream was to be a professional dancer and the truth is that she got to work with the company of the legendary choreographer Martha Graham, but she could not become a dance star and her lack of a university degree – as she succeeds Pfeiffer – enlarged his inferiority complex. As she recounted in her biography, she felt “smaller and smaller” as her husband rose to political prominence.
Beyond the fact that the history books usually reserve little space for the tasks of the first ladies and their influence in politics, it must be said that in the case of Betty Ford that bad habit was also especially insidious by focusing her years of service under the prism of alcoholism. Little is known about his attempts to modernize the institution, his open defense of the rights to gender equality, homosexuality and abortion, during an era in which talking about these issues was considered taboo even in private, especially if , like her and her husband, represented the Republican Party.
That lesser known and admirable side was the one that attracted Pfeiffer to the project in which Viola Davis plays Michelle Obama and Gillian Anderson plays Eleonor Roosevelt, two other women who, even from the margins of power, managed to impose themselves.
“I didn’t know half of the contributions Betty Ford made to the country. Of course, like most, I knew about her problems with alcohol and drugs and that she founded the Betty Ford Clinic, but there is much more to tell about her and I am honored that I was given the opportunity to do so.”, Said the actress a few days ago in full promotion of the ten-episode miniseries that will be available weekly on Paramount +. In those same interviews, Pfeiffer explained that she accepted the role even before she had the definitive script, but that once she had it, she arrived at the recordings with three copies full of marks and annotations, obsessed with the responsibility of doing justice to the person most beyond the character.
“She saved millions of lives, she spoke her mind, she adopted an agenda of feminist issues and her candor when talking about difficult issues such as her own experience with breast cancer, exposed issues of great importance, especially for women, usually silenced. Her transparency and naturalness made her very popular”, detailed the actress who in the miniseries manages to convey all the facets of the historical character and honor the woman who was much more than the limited memory that many have of her.
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Michelle Pfeiffer, the “imposter” chosen to play Betty Ford, the most controversial first lady in the United States