Geena Davis Summons Her Inner Leader for Presidential Role

From the red carpet at the Oscars to the open road of "Thelma and Louise," Geena Davis has already made some big impressions.

She's found a new place to do so -- inside the White House starring as the first female president on ABC's hit TV series, "Commander in Chief."

"It's probably the most fun I've had since 'Thelma and Louise' because that was a very kind of, explosive reaction and a strong reaction," Davis told "20/20." "It's starting to be like that a bit."

As leader of the free world, her character Mackenzie Allen pays a price with her family on the home front. Her character must meet the needs of her three children and her spouse's bruised ego, and deal with Washington backstabbers, as her detractors try to derail her presidency.

"Mackenzie Allen really calls on me to find the very confident, self-assured, straightforward parts of myself," said Davis. "Which … are not my dominant characteristics."

And that performance may influence some real politics. A recent Marist/WNBC poll found 28 percent of Americans would not vote for a woman as president, but Davis thinks this series may be changing those beliefs.

"A lot of people have said that they think the show could pave the way … that really will sort of ease the American consciousness into the idea of being more comfortable with accepting a female president," said Davis.

And why not? It turns out television viewers are already accepting a president who used to model lingerie. Davis started her career as a model, even appearing in the Victoria's Secret catalog in the 1980s. She noted, however, the advertisements were a "bit more subdued" at that time.

Athletic Impulse Changed Her Life

Davis made her big screen debut in the Dustin Hoffman comedy, "Tootsie," but even that success couldn't quiet her nagging self-doubt.

A certain lack of confidence had plagued Davis since her Wareham, Mass., childhood.

"I think you could scratch the surface of most actors and find insecurity played a big part in their ...drive to become successful," said Davis. "You could try to get millions of people to approve of you. You think then you'll feel better. And then it doesn't work."

Davis grew up in an era when there was a cultural divide between beauty and intelligence -- women could not be both in society's eyes. "I was pretty sure that I was smart. The only person that I can remember in my childhood telling me she thought I was pretty was my best friend's mother but I thought, 'What good does it do me that … one adult thinks I'm pretty?,'" said Davis.

And her initial modeling career didn't make a difference. "I could be getting $200 an hour to pose in "Cosmopolitan" magazine or something and [thought] it's lighting, it's a trick," said Davis.

She turned from modeling to acting and by the end of the 1980s her onscreen magic had made her a movie star.

A decade later, Davis remained among Hollywood's top actresses. But lasting relationships proved more difficult. In that same decade, she had been divorced three times following marriages to actor Jeff Goldblum and director Renny Harlin. Yet as the 1990s drew to a close there was a striking turn in Davis's search for self-worth.

"One incredibly important aspect of it was taking up sports … I sort of became an athlete … in my 40s."

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