#Movies & TV
7 Talented Actresses Who Owned Their Roles As Leading First Ladies
by Jennifer Lafferty
Portraying these powerful women comes with a lot of responsibility.
Every First Lady of the United States brings something different to the role, from attorney and nutrition advocate Michelle Obama to incoming First Lady Melania Trump, a former Slovenian model, working for anti-bullying.
Natalie Portman’s critically acclaimed portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in the new film Jackie, reminds us of some very memorable depictions of first ladies over the years. These characters are often fascinating in their own right and a great opportunity for actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow or Elizabeth Banks to show off their range.
1. Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie
Many actresses have played Jacqueline Kennedy, the most iconic first lady of all time. While each of these portrayals is interesting in its own way, Natalie Portman’s stunning performance as John F. Kennedy’s widow in 2016’s Jackie focuses on the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination, and it is possibly the most memorable and well received to date. Besides the pressure of playing such a unique and well-known figure, Portman had the added challenge of depicting Mrs. Kennedy during what had to be the most traumatic time of her life.
Portman was nominated for the Golden Globe for her role, and signs are pointing to her getting an Oscar nod as well.
2. Gwyneth Paltrow as Martha Jefferson Randolph in Jefferson in Paris
A first lady isn’t necessarily the wife of a president. Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph was Thomas Jefferson’s daughter. Being a widower when he took office, Jefferson relied on Randolph to act as the nation’s hostess from 1801 to 1809. Gwyneth Paltrow made Randolph famous all over again with her intense portrayal of the de facto first lady in 1995’s Jefferson in Paris. Paltrow even learned to play harpsichord for the movie, which shows some serious dedication.
3. Emma Thompson as Hillary Clinton in Primary Colors
Emma Thompson had the extra struggle of portraying a first lady who was very much still alive and active in politics: Hillary Clinton. In 1998’s Primary Colors, she teamed up with John Travolta to play a couple very closely based on (but not specifically named) Bill and Hillary Clinton. Her performance was responsible for much of the film’s critical acclaim.
4. Felicity Huffman as Lady Bird Johnson in Path to War
Claudia Alta Johnson, better known as Lady Bird, was an elusive figure, usually overshadowed by her formidable husband, President Lyndon B. Johnson. In the 2002 TV movie Path to War, Felicity Huffman’s behind-the-scenes portrayal of the genteel, soft-spoken first lady provided important insight relating to the character and her unusual marriage. With Huffman’s poise and quiet strength, she was an excellent choice for the role.
5. Katie Holmes as Jacqueline Kennedy in The Kennedys
The first thing you notice seeing Katie Holmes play Jacqueline Kennedy in the controversial 2011 TV mini-series The Kennedys, is the uncanny physical resemblance between the actress and former first lady. Holmes reprised the character for the new mini-series The Kennedys After Camelot, which the actress executive produced and helped direct. Playing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis clearly inspired her on a creative level. She told The New York Times, “There’s a freedom to taking on a character like that because no one really knows how she felt behind closed doors.”
6. Joan Allen as Pat Nixon in Nixon
She wasn’t one of the most popular first ladies, but “Plastic Pat,” as she was dubbed, had all the strength and dignity a political spouse needs. The regal and assertive actress Joan Allen was the natural choice to play her opposite, Anthony Hopkins, in Oliver Stone’s 1996 biopic Nixon. Allen earned rave reviews and an Oscar nomination for her unforgettable performance.
7. Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush in W
When the comedic actress Elizabeth Banks was cast as modest First Lady Laura Bush in 2008’s W., another of Oliver Stone’s political biopics, there were plenty of skeptics. Although she was cast against type, Banks admired Mrs. Bush and related to her, which came through in the performance. Stone, who didn’t hesitate to hire Banks, said, “I felt right away that she connected in some way to Laura Bush.”