Michelle Pfeiffer Signed on to Star as Betty Ford in 'The First Lady' Before Reading the Script

"She really saved millions of lives,” Michelle Pfeiffer said of Betty Ford

Photo: Murray Close/SHOWTIME

Michelle Pfeiffer didn't need much convincing to star as Betty Ford.

During an interview with TODAY on Thursday, Pfeiffer revealed she signed on to star as Ford in the Showtime series The First Lady before ever reading a script for the show.

"I knew about — like most people — she's very famous for the Betty Ford clinic, which has, again, saved hundreds of thousands of people's lives," Pfeiffer said. "And, obviously, her issues with substance abuse. So that, in and of itself, was a really interesting story to tell. And I felt really important."

Pfeiffer said she also wanted to work with the show's director and seeing others like Viola Davis and Gillian Anderson involved made her confident in the role. "When Susanne Bier— the director that I was anxious to work with — called, all she said to me was 'I'm doing a project on the first ladies and I'd like you to play Betty Ford. And I said 'I'm in.'"

Pfeiffer continued to praise Ford's impact on American society.

"She really saved millions of lives," Pfeiffer said, acknowledging the former first lady's public struggles with addiction to pain medication and alcoholism, as well as her experience with breast cancer. "And I think because she was so honest, there was an honesty about her, and people trusted her."

Along with Pfeiffer, the series stars Davis as former first lady Michelle Obama and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt. The show is described as a "revelatory reframing of American leadership, told through the lens of the women at the heart of the White House."

"She was incredibly outspoken," Pfeiffer added of Ford. "She was a pro-choice Republican who became the first lady, who then took on a feminist agenda and was one of the few who were willing to disagree with their husband in public."

"She was really popular, and it was because of her candor and because she was so open and transparent about her struggles, first of all. She talked about — freely — subject matter that was very taboo at the time. She talked about breast cancer — her own breast cancer. Nobody was getting screenings at the time."

Ford's plotline follows tensions between her and her husband Gerald "Jerry" Ford, who became president upon Richard Nixon's resignation in August 1974.

A trailer for the series was released in February. In it, the trio appears separately in a collection of clips depicting the women's time in the White House as their husbands presided as commanders-in-chief.

Pfeiffer's character is told that she has a "chance to make history" but later cries to her husband, "I have done everything I was supposed to do!"

The First Lady premieres April 17 on Showtime.

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