The First Lady star Gillian Anderson reveals the physical inadequacy she thought could scupper her new role

Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt at the dinner table in The First Lady
Gillian hoped to hit the heights in her new role. (Image credit: Boris Martin/SHOWTIME)

The First Lady, which stars Gillian Anderson as US presidential wife Eleanor Roosevelt, airs on Showtime on Sunday 17 April in the US.

Gillian has past form on playing real-life figures, proven by her Emmy award win for her turn as UK president Margaret Thatcher in The Crown. However, the Sex Education star has revealed that she feared she wouldn’t be quite up to her role in this new series.

The award-winning actress stars alongside Viola Davis and Michelle Pfeiffer in the drama, which follows the lives of three of America’s first ladies.

The series profiles American political history through three women –  Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, who entered the White House in 1974 with husband Gerald, and Viola  as the more recent Michelle Obama, wife to Barack.

Viola Davis and OT as Michelle and Barack Obama in The First Lady.

Viola plays the history making First Lady (Image credit: Showtime)

Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford holding a drink at a bar in The First Lady

Michelle plays Betty Ford, whose work went on far beyond her time as First Lady (Image credit: Murray Close/SHOWTIME)

Gillian, meanwhile, plays opposite Designated Survivor star Kiefer Sutherland as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She admitted in a recent interview she had her doubts about the role when she first began considering it – and it was a matter of hitting the heights.

"I was initially stuck a little bit on the fact that she's so much taller than I am,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “She is notoriously tall. And I really wanted to know how production was going to deal with the fact that she had almost seven inches on me.

"I just didn't want audiences to watch and immediately dismiss the interpretation because of that. I had in my head that that was going to be a problem,” she added.

Franklin D Roosevelt and his First Lady Eleanor.

The real Mrs Roosevelt. (Image credit: Getty)

The First Lady sees Gillian Anderson playing Eleanor Roosevelt.

And Gillian as the famous First Lady. (Image credit: Showtime)

However, the actress – who is reported to measure in at 160cm (5 foot 3 inches) against Roosevelt’s 180cm (5 foot 11 inches) – decided the role was too good to pass up.

“One has to get over whatever hang ups one has, whatever fears, in order to be able to show up and do the best version that you have inside of you,” she said.

The First Lady will launch on Sunday, April 17, on Showtime in the US. In the UK it will arrive on Paramount Plus when the channel launches later this summer.


Steven Murphy

Steven is a writer, editor, and commentator with a passion for popular TV and soap operas. He spent 20 years as the editor of Inside Soap magazine, documenting every punch-up and pucker-up in the Street, the Square and the village. As a feature writer, he’s covered TV crime dramas, period dramas and even some real-life star dramas. He’s been seen as a talking head on more TV clip shows than he cares to remember, has a life-long passion for TV sci-fi – the older and creakier the better – and is a slight obsessive about any reality show featuring hotels.