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."

She focused on archery and three years of training got her to the 2000 Olympic trials. She failed to qualify, but the experience reshaped her attitude toward life and herself. "You can't shoot well if you're going to sit there and put yourself down," said Davis. "My coach clued me into this early on."

In 1989, Davis had won an Oscar for her role as a dog trainer in "The Accidental Tourist." Ten years later she would meet her fourth husband, Dr. Reza Jarrahy, thanks to her own badly-behaved dog.

"She bit him on the butt and that's how we met," said Davis. "And he found me later and … told me that and I was thinking, 'What, a cute guy is going to sue me now?' So, I married him instead. I had to."

Jarrahy is a specialist in craniofacial surgery and is 15 years younger than Davis. They married in 2001 and, for Davis, the fourth time seems to be the charm. "He's the least competitive and most supportive person I've ever met," said Davis.

"I wanted a relationship where I could stay myself, if you understand what I mean by that," said Davis. "Sometimes, you know, we get into relationships and we end up diminishing ourselves to fit the relationship."

Fabulous 40s Brings Family

Now happily married, Davis decided it was time to begin a family.

She gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter, in 2002 and two years later at the age of 48 she gave birth to twin boys.

"I'm so glad I waited. I can be such a better mother now," said Davis. "It's wonderful."

"I think kids learn their self-esteem from their parents," said Davis. "If their parents feel good about themselves, they can realize it's okay to feel good about themselves."

And she'll know they've learned the confidence she lacked as a young person by their chosen career. "If they don't decide to be actors my job will be done," said Davis.

For now, she's also focusing on her other job, as the president on "Commander In Chief."

When she first walked onto the Oval Office set, Davis said her initial excitement at playing America's first female president was heightened by the potential for her real-life counterpart.

"I really had chills because I was thinking, 'This will happen. Somebody will do this exact thing that I'm doing some day. Some woman … will do this and it will be history,'" said Davis.

And when it happens, Davis said she knows how she will respond: "I'll be thrilled, and it will be a big deal."