Becoming the first lady has got to be a strange experience. One day, you’re married to a lawyer or politician, and the next you find yourself thrust onto the national stage because your husband is now in charge of the free world. Hopefully, a man will fill that role as the supporting player someday soon, but until that day comes, there’s plenty to learn from fictional portrayals of the first lady.


  • Sally Field, Lincoln
  • Sigourney Weaver, Dave
  • Stockard Channing, The West Wing
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
  • Emma Thompson, Primary Colors
  • Joan Allen, Nixon
  • Mary McDonnell, Independence Day
  • Laura Linney, John Adams
  • Elizabeth Banks, W.
    Show 4 more items

With the recent release of The First Lady, a Showtime series that stars Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Gillian Anderson as some of the most famous first ladies in history, it’s time to look back at some of the greatest first ladies to ever grace screens both small and large.

Sally Field, Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln was famously a little strange, but as played by Sally Field, she was also deeply human. Field’s performance may not feel all that important to Lincoln, a movie that is obviously focused more on her husband, but Mary Todd is a crucial lifeline into who the 16th president was when he was not pontificating in public.

Given the tragedy she faced in her own life, Lincoln seems to argue that Mary Todd’s oddities and depression are totally understandable. Mary Todd Lincoln was a person who lost so much, and Sally Field plays her as a woman who refused to put on a brave face even when one was expected of her.

Sigourney Weaver, Dave

A lovely, small comedy about a regular guy who is asked to stand in for the president, Dave is thoroughly winsome, especially as we see Dave’s relationship with Sigourney Weaver’s First Lady Ellen Mitchell evolve. Ellen’s real husband is clearly pompous and self-centered, and Dave wrings plenty of comedy out of her surprise when her husband starts behaving totally differently.

Ultimately, though, Dave is about a decent guy who is trying to make the government he’s gotten mixed up in more effective. It’s a sweet, full-hearted movie, and watching Sigourney Weaver let Ellen’s heart slowly melt is one of its chief joys.

Stockard Channing, The West Wing

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When you think of the fictional or fictionalized First Lady, Stockard Channing’s Abbey Bartlet is probably who you think of. Abbey didn’t show up in every episode, but when she did, all of the power dynamics that usually existed within The West Wing were completely upended. Jed Bartlet was the president and a brilliant mind, but even he knew that his wife was smarter, and that’s what made her such an important presence on the show.

In a roster of incredible performers, Channing was often a standout, and Abbey was the kind of brilliant woman that Aaron Sorkin has only managed a few times over the course of his long career.

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Playing one of the most famous women in history is never easy, but Natalie Portman pulls it off with aplomb in Jackie. The movie follows the first lady in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination and is, at its core, about how she cemented JFK’s legacy.

Portman wears all the iconic outfits and puts on Jackie’s accent, but what makes her performance so startlingly great is the way she is able to find the humanity buried underneath a woman who was so frequently asked to put on a show for the cameras. Jackie Kennedy was a person worth considering, and Portman made sure that we all did.

Emma Thompson, Primary Colors

Primary Colors is widely believed to be cribbed from the real lives of Bill and Hillary Clinton, but that only makes Emma Thompson’s performance as the first lady feel all the more impressive. Set against the backdrop of a campaign for president, Thompson plays her would-be first lady as an ambitious woman in her own right, unwilling to take a back seat just because her husband is also successful.

Thompson’s Susan comes off as the most wholly sympathetic part of Primary Colors, in large part because she’s a woman incapable of being the full, brilliant person that she so clearly is.

Joan Allen, Nixon

There are two types of first ladies in popular fiction. Some, who are represented well on this list, are fiercely independent women who are forced to subsume themselves to the men who are leading the free world. Others are, at least on the surface, much more willing to play the role of the housewife, even if that’s not who they really are.

As portrayed by Joan Allen in Nixon, Pat Nixon falls squarely into that second category, even as we see the ways that Pat managed to subtly shape her husband and his perspective throughout her life. Pat Nixon wasn’t Jackie Kennedy, but she knew how to wield the power she had over her husband effectively.

Mary McDonnell, Independence Day

In diesem Ensemble -Actionfilm im wahrsten Sinne erhält Mary McDonnells First Lady Marilyn Whitmore eine Handlung, die weitgehend von ihrem Ehemann getrennt ist. Nachdem sie während der anfänglichen Anstieg von außerirdischen Angriffen verletzt wurde, verbringt sie den größten Teil ihrer Bildschirmzeit mit einer Gruppe von Überlebenden, bevor sie kurz danach gerettet und stirbt.

Während ihr Tod sicherlich als Motivation für die legendäre Rede dient, die Bill Pullman kurz vor dem Ende des Films liefert.

Laura Linney, john adams

_John adams nimmt eine umfassende Sicht auf das Leben des zweiten Präsidenten und befasst sich hauptsächlich mit der unangekündigten Rolle, die der Titel historischer Charakter bei der Schaffung der USA heute spielte. Die Miniserie hat jedoch auch ein Interesse an John Adams, dem Mann und insbesondere an seiner Beziehung zu seiner Frau Abigail.

Abigail, gespielt von Laura Linney, wird als jemand dargestellt, den John als gleichwertig angesehen hat, obwohl die damaligen Gesetze diese Gleichheit unmöglich gemacht haben. Linney hat eine ruhige, lebendige Wildheit in der Rolle, und es ist klar, warum diese fiktive Version von Adams seiner Frau im Laufe von Jahrzehnten so treu war.

Elizabeth Banks, W.

Obwohl es nicht allgemein gelobt wurde, war eines der besten Elemente von Oliver Stones Senden von George W. Bush zweifellos Elizabeth Banks ‚Darstellung von First Lady Laura Bush, die während der gesamten Amtszeit ihres Mannes sehr uninteressiert war.

Bei der Vorbereitung auf die Rolle sagte Banks, dass sie keine Lust hatte, Busch auszubilden, und wollte sie stattdessen hervorrufen. Banken gelang es, genau das zu tun, und gaben uns ein Porträt einer First Lady, die oft von den fehlerhaften Handlungen ihres Mannes überschattet wurde.