Viola Davis has responded to widespread criticism of her latest performance by stating that critics “serve no purpose”.
The Oscar-winning actor has received negative feedback from both critics and on social media for playing Michelle Obama in the Showtime series The First Lady. In an interview with the BBC, Davis called the response “incredibly hurtful”.
“Critics absolutely serve no purpose,” she said. “And I’m not saying that to be nasty, either. 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’. So it gives them an opportunity to be cruel to you.”
She said that playing someone as widely familiar as the former first lady was “almost impossible” and that “you’re doing too much or not enough”.
The First Lady, which also stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Gillian Anderson, was seen by many as an awards play, released in the last period of Emmy contention, with the Washington Post’s Inkoo Kang criticising “Emmy-baiting performances”.
Davis previously won an Emmy for her performance in the ABC thriller series How to Get Away with Murder.
The First Lady has received a 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the Guardian’s Adrian Horton noting “cringeworthy dialogue, scrambled pacing and parody-level performances” and Variety’s Caroline Framke writing that the actors “struggle to bring their characters to believable life”.
“How do you move on from the hurt, from failure?” she said of the bad reviews. “But you have to. Not everything is going to be an awards-worthy performance.”
Davis won a best supporting actor Oscar for her performance in August Wilson adaptation Fences and was nominated for roles in Doubt, The Help and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. She will next be seen in action biopic The Woman King, a film she has referred to as her “magnum opus”.
“Ultimately I feel like it is my job as a leader to make bold choices,” she said. “Win or fail, it is my duty to do that.”