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Dallasite Featured in Showtime’s The First Lady

The First Lady
Showtime’s “The First Lady” featuring Dallas’ Regina Taylor, second from right

For more than 40 years, a picture of Hollywood actress Regina Taylor hung in the Oak Cliff beauty salon of her cousin, Vera English.

There, at The Pink Palace salon, English proudly dropped gems to her clients about Taylor’s childhood and, later, how she held her own starring alongside leading men Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. Then, there was the time in the mid-1980s, that English couldn’t hold back sharing the news that Taylor had become the first Black woman to play Juliet Capulet in Romeo and Juliet on Broadway.

Sunday, English, now in her late 80s, will get a chance anew to brag on Taylor, a Southern Methodist University graduate, who will portray Marian Shields Robinson, the mother of former First Lady Michelle Obama, in the new Showtime limited series, The First Lady.

“I am so proud of my niece,” Mrs. English said. “She always takes care of home and she is such a beautifull, multi-talented person.”

For her part, Taylor, reached in New York where she is working on several projects, said taking on the role of the former “First Mother” was sobering.

“It was humbling playing this woman because I remember when she stepped onto the world stage and walked into the White House,” Taylor said.

“(I said to myself,) ‘You know what Michelle, you brought your mama with you to keep things stable, to bring continuity, lineage, legacy and stability.’ You want that stability up in there!”

Regina Taylor and Cheryl Smith
Regina Taylor and Cheryl Smith during recent interview

The First Lady chronicles Obama and former First Ladies Betty Ford and Eleanorn Roosevelt in Season One. Celebrated Hollywood veterans Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Gillian Anderson play the first ladies, respectively.

“Viola Davis does a smash up job playing Michelle Obama and I am very happy to be playing Marian Robinson,” Taylor said.

The series offers viewers a peek at very distinguished women in very different times, how they became who they are and the people who shaped and supported them, Taylor said.

The ensemble cast also includes Saniyya Sidney as Sasha Obama; Julian DeNiro, as a young Barack Obama; and Evan Parke as Michelle Obama’s longtime security agent, Allen Taylor. Lexi Underwood (Little Fires Everywhere, Will Vs. The Future) portrays Malia Obama, the former First Family’s eldest daughter.

“I’m so honored to be in this series with so many actors who are doing what they love to do and they are excellent,” said Taylor, a graduate of Dallas’ L.G. Pinkston High School.

Taylor grew up in West Dallas with her mother, an educator who later worked as a social worker, and she was very close to her first cousin, who she calls Aunt Vera.

It was Taylor’s mother who introduced her daughter to the arts. Taylor said she often thinks of her mother, who is now deceased, and the influence she had on her life.

“My strength and focus come from my mother,” she said.

Her mother loved gardening and Taylor would often visit her mother’s garden because she enjoyed viewing “those plants that she (her mother) planted with her own hands; searching for my roots, my stability, my heartbeat, which began with hers.”

She said, “I think Michelle (Obama) is always saying that source of strength for her was her parents.”

There’s also that special cousin, Aunt Vera, whom Taylor said took a more prominent role in her life after her mother’s passing.

A self-described “chocolate girl with pigtails,” Taylor also loved to write.

She thought of becoming a journalist and landed in the classroom of celebrated D/FW journalist Bob Ray Sanders, who at the time, worked as a television commentator, newspaper writer and frequent guest on Dallas area radio shows.

He also taught a class at Texas Christian University.

Sanders remembered a young Taylor, who grew up on Dallas’ West side, as “talented, intelligent, motivated and ready to work to do her thing.”

“She represented herself well,” he said in an interview this week with Texas Metro News. “That is who she was and I am honored to have been a little part of her life. I’m just proud of her.”

Instead of journalism, Taylor found her niche, however, in theater.

She and her mother visited museums and community centers, became familiar with Ann Williams of Dallas Black Dance Theatre and she recalled cultivating many of her talents at the Jr. Black Academy of Arts and Letters with founder Curtis King.

DISD Board

Barbara Steele, former chair of the Academy’s board, remembers when Taylor first came through. The budding actress was talented and humble, Steele said.

“I always knew Regina was going to be a star,” said Steele, who is also a close friend of “Aunt Vera.” “What strikes me is how unpretentious she has always been. She has a heart of gold and she is so generous with her time and resources.”

Taylor will return to Dallas soon when the new Fine Arts Department at Pinkston High School will be named in her honor.

Taylor said her first film was the made-for-TV movie Crisis at Central High, starring Joanne Woodward, in which she portrayed Minnijean, one of the first Black students to integrate the Arkansas school system.

According to her bio, Taylor next garnered praise for her role as Mrs. Carter, a drug-addicted mother in 1989’s Lean on Me, alongside Morgan Freeman.

Other film roles include Spike Lee’s Clockers, Saturday Church and Losing Isaiah.

More recently, Taylor was seen in the mind-bending Love-craft Country (Jordan Peele, J. J. Abrams, Mischa Greene); The Wonder Years (Saladin K. Patterson, Lee Daniels, Marc Valez, Fred Savage); Red Line (Ava DuVernay); All Day and a Night (Joe Robert Cole, Jeffrey Wright, Ashton Sanders); Blue Bloods (Tom Selleck); Black List; and Dig.

The winner of numerous honors, including two NAACP Image Awards and a Golden Globe for the TV series I’ll Fly Away (with Sam Waterston), Taylor said she is honored and humbled by the recognition and opportunities coming her way.

Taylor, like Obama, has had the undergirding and support from women, much like Marian Robinson, and both women have reached unimaginable heights while also remaining true to their roots.

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