People behaving badly in Washington, D.C., and a crisis management firm that protects the public image of politicians and other VIPs — that’s what ABC’s new drama Scandal is all about.
The series is based on a real woman who is the go-to gal for putting the lid on the embarrassing scandals of the rich and famous. So creator-producer Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy) had to get a strong actress to play the lead. That’s Kerry Washington, who has had a flourishing career since playing Ray Charles’ wife in the Oscar-winning movie Ray. She was also very sexy in Eddie Murphy’s new film A Thousand Words. Her other film roles were in The Last King of Scotland, Lakeview Terrace, and For Colored Girls.
Now Kerry has the job of playing Olivia Pope, who is in charge of a crisis management office in Washington, D.C., protecting and defending and keeping the secrets of the nation’s elite under wraps. Also starring are Henry Ian Cusick, Katie Lowes, Guillermo Diaz, Columbus Short, Darby Stanchfield, Jeff Perry, and Tony Goldwyn as the President.
When she first read the script Kerry admits she said, “Who do I have to kill to play this role?” She loved it because it’s a different type of character for her. “I really try not to do the same thing twice. I’m drawn to diversity in my work, so I like the challenge of doing something I haven’t done before.”
The idea that the stories are based in D.C. also appealed to her. She said, “People know that I’m a very politically active person and so in that way I was fascinated and intrigued to do a show that takes place in this world.”
Being very honest, Kerry admitted that the series is “the hardest I’ve ever worked without a doubt. And it’s the most challenging and fulfilling job I’ve ever had, artistically and emotionally. It’s very exciting and the scripts keep getting better and better and more complicated.”
Kerry likes the way that “Shonda writes flawed people,” meaning that she writes real people. “These are people who are three-dimensional, fully realized human beings. And that is a joy for any actor, because so often we have to create the three-dimensionality of a character. But when it’s given to you, it’s such a treat. I really love playing a complicated woman.”
The character of Olivia Pope may not always do the right thing, and that gets complicated in Kerry’s portrayal. “I am always looking for the good in the character. As actors, we have to have compassion and understanding for our characters. We have to look for the good. We can’t demonize our characters. I think Olivia behaves professionally. And I think that theoretically I always do the right thing. But you might think, ‘Really, she’s taking on a madam as a client? Is that the right thing to do?’”
Where is the line for her? Kerry said, “I don’t think that Olivia believes that the law is always an accurate reflection of good and bad, and that justice is more complicated than the law. At Olivia Pope & Associates they are really all about trying to make sure that people deserve a second chance. People make mistakes and to the best of their ability they try to even the playing field. They try to be helpful to people who don’t have anywhere else to go, if they feel like that help is deserved and justifiable.”
The backdrop of Scandal is politics, and yet it’s not really about politics. Kerry explained, “There are things that are uniquely politically oriented about this show, but it’s not about politics. It’s about people who are in desperate circumstances, both in and out of the political sphere. One of the things that’s so cool about crisis management is that you never know what’s going to walk in your door. So setting the show in D.C. is exciting because it’s the nexus of power for so many different industries and so many different fields.”
There will be unpredictable clients who show up at Pope’s office, whether it’s somebody in the military, a politician, somebody in the corporate world, somebody in the labor movement, or a celebrity or sports figure. They all have secrets to keep. That should keep the show interesting.