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Viola Davis has responded to online critics of her portrayal of Michelle Obama in Showtime’s The First Lady, stating that it can be “incredibly hurtful” to face negative feedback on her work, but that ultimately it is her job as an actor to “make bold choices,” regardless of how it might be received.
In a new interview with BBC News published Tuesday, Davis was asked about the swell of online and social media criticism she’s faced over certain creative choices in her starring role. Davis noted that she doesn’t “have any personal contact with Michelle Obama” and thus has no idea how the former first lady feels about her portrayal, but is aware of some online backlash over her choice to pout or push out her lips in order to appear more like Obama.
The SAG and Oscar winner called online criticism an “occupational hazard,” but also acknowledged that it can be “incredibly hurtful when people say negative things about your work.”
“How do you move on from the hurt, from failure?” she asked. “But you have to. Not everything is going to be an awards-worthy performance.”
Davis then went on to say that “critics absolutely serve no purpose,” while clarifying that she wasn’t “saying that to be nasty.” The actress, whose memoir Finding Me releases on April 26, points out that people who criticize a performer’s work can believe they’re calling out something about the performance the actor isn’t already fully aware of.
“They always feel like they’re telling you something that you don’t know. Somehow that you’re living a life that you’re surrounded by people who lie to you and ‘I’m going to be the person that leans in and tells you the truth,'” Davis said. “So it gives them an opportunity to be cruel to you.”
Davis said, though, that regardless of her performance choices or what those around her or online say, “ultimately, I feel like it is my job as a leader to make bold choices. Win or fail, it is my duty to do that.”
Davis concluded that she understood the pressure and high expectations around portraying one of the country’s most famous first ladies, and that playing someone who is so recognized by the public was going to be “almost impossible.”
“Either you’re doing too much or not enough.”
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