For once, the President of the United States is speechless. No, we didn’t ask an outrageous question. It’s just that Geena Davis, who plays the first woman to run the White House in the new US hit series Commander in Chief (due to start screening this month on the Seven Network), has a node, or growth, on a vocal cord. Her doctor has advised her not even to whisper for two weeks or risk permanent damage to her voice. But the show – and the interview – must go on. So we ask questions, and she pecks out answers on a laptop.
Davis slides into a booth at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. When the waiter asks what she’d like, she pulls out a white marking board with a blue erasable pen and writes, “Hot water with honey and lemon.”
For the next two-and-a-half hours, we carry on a strange conversation – the questioner speaking and laughing aloud as Davis types her responses and silently giggles. The Hollywood regulars in the surrounding booths gawk and wonder.
Surprising onlookers is nothing new for Davis. Growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, she was the first in her family to enter show business. At 26, she made a splashy big-screen debut in Tootsie, with Dustin Hoffman. She went on to play some quirky characters, including a ghost in Beetle Juice and a reporter in The Fly. Her ability to portray strong women won her roles such as Thelma in Thelma & Louise, and the dog trainer in The Accidental Tourist, for which she received an Oscar.
Last year, Davis, 50, leapt at the chance to play President Mackenzie Allen, in part because she knew the role would provoke conversation and debate. And she senses that the show, which attracted nearly 17 million viewers when it debuted in the US, is triggering a powerful response. “Today, a couple of women I met in the store said, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing,’” says Davis. “That’s different than, ‘I liked you in Beetle Juice.’”
RD: I’ve heard that your character was modelled on Hillary Clinton, or Condoleezza Rice, or former ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne, who now runs Martha Stewart’s company. Any of that true?
Davis: The creator of the show, Rod Lurie, did have Susan Lyne in mind when he thought of the character. There is really nothing drawn from anyone else, including Senator Clinton or Ms Rice. This is a unique individual. First and foremost, she is an Independent, which neither of them are.
RD: She’s a fantasy, then.
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