Viola Davis has heard the critics, but she’s not letting the memes or Twitter threads get her down.
Amid a slew of fan and critic responses to her starring role in Showtime’s biopic limited series The First Lady, Davis says that it’s impossible to please everyone with every role she takes on.
Davis portrayed First Lady Michelle Obama in the series, which recounted American history through the perspectives of three separate first ladies during their tenures in The White House.
Davis’ portrayal stood out to fans, who noted the emphasis the actress placed on Obama’s speech pattern while embodying the role.
But Davis sees no use for dwelling on what she describes as “cruel” responses to her work.
“[It’s] incredibly hurtful when people say negative things about your work,” Davis told BBC during an interview. “How do you move on from the hurt, from failure? But you have to. Not everything is going to be an awards-worthy performance.”
Davis acknowledged that though harsh criticism isn’t fun to hear, it’s an “occupational hazard” actors simply have to deal with.
“Critics absolutely serve no purpose. And I’m not saying that to be nasty either,” she continued.
“They always feel like they’re telling you something that you don’t know. Somehow that you’re living a life where 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’. So it gives them an opportunity to be cruel to you.”
Still, Davis stands by the creative choices she made in taking on the role of First Lady Obama.
“But 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.”
As for Obama’s personal opinion on her performance, Davis says she hasn’t spoken directly with her at all. But she acknowledges that playing such a prominent living public figure to everyone’s satisfaction was “almost impossible,” and was always going to illicit some form of response that she did not do the role its best justice, on one end of the spectrum or the other.
“Either you’re doing too much or not enough.”