How Parker Sawyers Found Barack Obama's Swagger in Southside with You


Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers from Southside with You
Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers from Southside with You

How Parker Sawyers Found Barack Obama’s Swagger in Southside with You

Yes, it’s another pair of actors playing Barack and Michelle. But don’t go to “Southside with You,” about the First Couple’s first date in 1989, expecting an extended “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

“We wanted to stay away from a caricature, like a parody, an impersonation, then strip that back, and just play a 28-year-old guy trying to get a girl,” Parkers Sawyers, who channels Barack Obama, tells Made in Hollywood reporter Julie Harkness Arnold. “He’s super confident, he’s very capable –as well as Michelle.”

And even then, Obama had that little something, Sawyers found from his research. “I watched video of him when he was younger and recent video, just to get the mannerisms down, so I knew who he was,” says the actor. “He played basketball. He walked like a ballplayer. He’s got a certain swag to him.”

Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter Felt No Pressure Playing the Future First Couple in Southside with You

In the end, neither Sawyers nor Tika Sumpter, who plays the then-Michelle Robinson, felt overwhelmed by taking on two of the most famous people on the planet. “I think it was exciting, to be honest,” says Sumpter. “A good origin story is always fun to do. The writing was so complex and smart. It wasn’t one note. I think we were both excited and honored to do it.”

Co-produced by Sumpter, the film pulls some details from public record and imagines the rest, following these two lawyer colleagues to an art exhibit and then a community center, where Barack gives a speech, followed by drinks, a movie (“Do the Right Thing”), ice cream and a first kiss.

“I was in on it from the synopsis; it wasn’t even a script,” says Sumpter. “Once it became a script, I was like whoa: The complexity of it. I was intrigued. And then the perspective. Actually, when you see it you feel like a fly on the wall.”

A key to the film’s success, she says, was casting Sawyers. “I’m happy we found our Barack,” she says. “Without him the story wouldn’t be here.”