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Tika Sumpter, seen with co-star Parker Sawyers, says she developed her characterization of Michelle Obama by studying Ms. Obama’s appearances and working with a dialect coach.Matt Sayles/The Associated Press

It is a tricky business making a film about a sitting U.S. president – so much so that only three filmmakers have ever tried it before. Back in 1963, director Leslie Martinson helmed PT 109, which starred Cliff Robertson as a young JFK, learning the ropes as an officer of the United States Navy – it was mostly forgotten, perhaps because it opened just five months before Kennedy's assassination. In 1998, Mike Nichols adapted Joe Klein's Bill Clinton satire Primary Colors, though the POTUS at the centre of that story wasn't actually Clinton, but a Bubba-like facsimile. And then in 2008, Oliver Stone made the Bush-skewering W., but hey, he's Oliver Stone, so who's going to stop him?

Now, to add to this thin genre comes Richard Tanne's Southside with You, which puts a romcom spin on Barack Obama's legacy. It chronicles the first date between the President (lookalike Parker Sawyers) and the first lady (Tika Sumpter, also the film's producer) back in 1989. Ahead of the film's release on Friday, The Globe and Mail spoke with Sumpter about the imitation game, Chicago and reaction from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Was there any trepidation making a film about the sitting president? Few have tried it before with much success.

No, actually when I read the synopsis, I thought it came from a really smart perspective – and when I met Richard, I was blown away by his vision. I also knew there was enough time between 1989 and now to have some perspective and to have something of value to say. It had a universal message without being political. Plus, you don't get to see two African-Americans as leads that often.

Yes, there's a distinct lack of African-American stories, let alone African-American romances on the big screen.

That's why it was really important. When an eight-year-old girl can watch this movie, say, and ask about the relationship of her mom and dad, that's important to me – these images can start conversations. It's important to show all the different facets of various people's lives, especially African-Americans – to show the complexities.

The script is mostly based on information available in the public domain, but how much additional research into Michelle Obama did you end up doing?

We never wanted to make an SNL skit, because that could have been a really bad movie really fast. But I did want to get a sense of the character. Richard thought it would be a good idea to throw in her distinct dialect, so you could hear the essence of Michelle. So I saw bits and pieces of her, but knowing I didn't want to make her a caricature. I had an amazing dialect coach and we were on the phone and Skype every week, going over every single line. Then I would watch Michelle at graduation speeches and see how loose she was – I felt, oh, that's the South Side [of Chicago]. And certain mannerisms I would intertwine in my performance. So I watched her, but then I was able to make her my own.

How, then, did you and Richard go about finding the perfect Barack?

There were some guys who came in – the kind who were on the top of the list of well-known black actors in Hollywood – but me and Rich just said from the beginning that we don't care about names. It has to be the right person. If not, the movie could fail completely. We're not talking even a box-office fail, just fail as in the second day of shooting you'd realize this isn't right, shut it down, we're not spending any more money. We knew the chemistry had to be there, the back and forth. So Parker comes in, and after the second take, everybody knew it was him. Then, when we did the screen test, no one spoke. When he left the room, we all said, 'It's him.' We had chemistry from the get-go. We just jelled.

Which would be critical, as the movie is almost like a theatrical play, a two-hander …

It was instantaneous, the connection. Parker is so calm and he's so okay with being himself. He's tall and lanky, but funny and sweet and just has a demeanour of, "Life's good." And as we worked together, our relationship grew tighter. We started bickering back and forth like a couple, we had this banter. He's one of my dear friends now.

How important was it for you to capture the environment of the South Side? It's almost like the third character of the film.

Sometimes the South Side of Chicago is not viewed well in the public – people hear about people getting shot. But when we were there, it was all love and beauty and warmth. And everyone has an Obama story, especially the older women. When you go into someone else's community, you want them to feel part of this film, and we welcomed them with open arms and they did the same.

The movie-long date makes it comparable to Richard Linklater's Before series. Have you discussed revisiting these characters 10, 20 years down the road?

Well, Richard and I did what we wanted to do. There are going to be a million Obama movies after this, depending on what part of his life that they want to focus on. But we did what we wanted to, a slice of life, so we have no intention of doing another one. But a lot of people keep asking.

Have you heard of any reaction from the Obamas themselves?

I don't know about that. John Legend is an executive producer on this, and he's told them about it. But hopefully they are just really excited to see it. It's something I can stand behind, and hopefully they love it and get a good laugh out of it – that it brings them back to a time in the beginning.

This interview has been condensed and edited.