Much attention was paid to the A-list men assuming the roles of the Commanders-in-Chief in Lee Daniels’ The Butler (among them, Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan), but the actresses who signed on showed similarly impressive pedigrees. Oscar winner Jane Fonda stepped into Nancy Reagan’s designer shoes, and Friday Night Lights favorite Minka Kelly tried on Jackie Kennedy’s Chanel suit and pillbox hat for size.
Oscar winner Sally Field took on Abraham Lincoln’s mercurial wife Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s prestige project Lincoln. Lisa Schwarzbaum noted in her review, ”Field’s performance is shattering — in a few furious scenes, she redefines this First Lady as a woman whose supposed madness reflected a humane fervor as sterling as her husband’s.”
Political Animals wassn’t the first time Sigourney Weaver has played a First Wife. In 1993, she was Kevin Kline’s partner in crime, Ellen Mitchell, in the comedy Dave.
Laura Linney donned period garb to play John Adams’ main squeeze, Abigail, in the 2008 HBO miniseries John Adams.
Before Minka Kelly in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Katie Holmes (in 2010’s The Kennedys), Blair Brown donned the pillbox hats as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in the 1983 miniseries Kennedy.
Nicolas Cage had the privilege of squiring Shirley MacLaine, a.k.a. First Lady Tess Carlisle, in the 1994 movie Guarding Tess.
Elizabeth Banks got the challenge of a lifetime playing Dubya’s wife, Laura, in the Oliver Stone flick W in 2008.
Mary McDonnell got separated from her First Man and First Kid — and endured memory loss — as First Lady Marilyn Whitmore in 1995’s Independence Day.
In 1976, Jane Alexander embodied Eleanor Roosevelt at many ages in the TV miniseries Eleanor and Franklin. (Cynthia Nixon later portrayed the pioneering feminist First Lady in the 2005 miniseries Warm Springs.)
In 1986, Patty Duke got to play the mother of our country, Martha Washington, in George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation. (It must have felt like a demotion, since the year before she played the president in a short-lived series called Hail to the Chief.)
Stockard Channing was nominated for six Emmys — winning once — for playing Abbey Bartlet in the NBC series The West Wing.
Joan Allen was the Pat to Anthony Hopkins’ Richard in the 1995 movie Nixon, another Oliver Stone production.
Gwyneth Paltrow played the wife of a cheatin’ prez (played by Nick Nolte) in 1995’s Jefferson in Paris.
Ginger Rogers didn’t always trip the light fantastic. In 1946, she got to inhabit the role of Dolly Madison in the black-and-white flick Magnificent Doll.
In the 2002 miniseries Path to War, Felicity Huffman was Lady Bird Johnson, whose husband had to decide whether to escalate the war in Vietnam.
Most of Primary Colors featured Emma Thompson playing the constantly frustrated wife of a philandering presidential candidate with a striking resemblance to Bill Clinton. She eventually became First Wife Susan to John Travolta’s Jack in the 1998 comedy.
Gena Rowlands played Gerald Ford’s beloved wife who went on to become a beacon of hope for millions of addicts in the 1987 miniseries The Betty Ford Story.
Penny Johnson Jerald’s breakout role came on Fox’s 24, when she played the president’s evil wife, Sherry.