Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Kerry Washington On Being Olivia Pope And Some ‘Scandal’ Season 3 Secrets

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Kerry Washington, on the set of the upcoming season of Scandal, recently spoke with New York Post‘s Mary Murphy and in their chat, she talks about herself, and shares some of the secrets of the first two episodes of the show. Below are some excerpts from the interview. There are spoilers :)

Even in its third season, which premieres Thursday at 10 p.m., the Shonda Rhimes series still has the campy cojones to shock a cast that has seen their characters commit crime after crime, all while holding the highest political offices. Tony Goldwyn, the embattled President Grant, is chief among them — last season he killed a Supreme Court justice. As Washington and the other actors go to the set to start shooting, he heads for his car, telling me, “This episode is a perfect storm of twists and turns.”

Inside the huge soundstage, a very serious scene in the Pope & Associates boardroom is under way. Washington has transformed herself into Olivia Pope, who intimidates nearly everyone else on the show. She’s also a fashion plate — today she’s wearing a navy suit by Alexander McQueen.

As usual, Olivia is plagued by problems, the biggest of which is what to do now that she has been outed as the president’s mistress. How is she going to get out of this very public jam?

The answer appears to come in the scene being filmed. A pretty blonde has been hired to confess on live television that she is sleeping with the commander in chief.

Olivia Pope stops the TV interview, rushing into her office to call the president. Goldwyn isn’t really on the other line, so he can’t hear Washington when she yells, “You mother-#!*#@!”

The crew cracks up.

Kerry Washington has a sense of humor! Who knew?

You just don’t expect it from one of the most respected TV actresses of the year.

“She’s a goofball,” says Darby Stanchfield (Abby Whelan), sitting in a director’s chair eating a bag of pretzels.

In between lighting changes, Washington sits next to me for a few moments and tells me a story about how her playful side shocked Quentin Tarrantino, who directed her in “Django Unchained.”

“He pulled me aside during shooting and told me he had no idea I was so silly,” she says. Then she smiles. “I got my sense of humor from my dad.”

Speaking of dads, nothing could have been more startling than the final moments of last season when we learned that the mysterious character known as Rowan, the leader of a black ops CIA team operating without our borders, was Olivia’s father.
“When I read that script I was shocked,” says Washington, calling a few days after my set visit. Since she was in almost every scene, there wasn’t much time to talk.

“I almost couldn’t get the word ‘dad’ out of my mouth,” she says. “It was the last thing that I expected that a character like Rowan (Joe Morton) would be my dad. I had no idea.”

This season, the story of their relationship will be play out in depth. “Olivia has a very complicated relationship with Rowan,” Washington says.

Her own childhood is an uncomplicated, all-American story. Born in The Bronx to Earl, a real estate broker and Valerie, a professor and educational consultant, Washington learned that hard work and education were the most important things in life.
“I come froma family with a really strong work ethic — not just my parents, but my aunts, uncles and cousins,” she says. “It rubbed off on me. I have a cousin in The Bronx who says I’m like the longshoreman of actors. I am a worker.”

Washington’s mother, who studied for her doctorate after teaching during the day, was her role model. “She was a hard-working intellectual, and she modeled that for me,” Washington says. This example guided Washington when she attended New York’s Spence School. “There is a real commitment there to working hard to achieve and to create success however you define it,” she says. This summer, Washington gave the commencement speech at her alma mater, George Washington University, and chose to honor her mother in her typically low-key way, by wearing her doctoral robes.

The hard work has paid off, in films like “Ray,” where she played Ray Charles’ wife; “The Last King of Scotland,” as Idi Amin’s wife; and “Django Unchained,” as Django’s wife. As good as films have been to Washington, it’s her role as Olivia Pope that put her on magazine covers from Essence and Glamour to Vanity Fair.

“She is totally in her prime,” says Betsy Beers,” “Scandal” co-executive producer. “She is in such a sweet spot. First of all, because she is the hardest-working person I have ever met, she takes advantage of opportunities that others don’t see, and it doesn’t hurt that she is literally one of the nicest, kindest people in any field.”

That doesn’t mean that she is a pushover. Like Olivia Pope, Washington is not afraid to show her displeasure. When I asked her if she thought “Scandal” was colorblind, a position that has been lauded by critics and fans, she bristles.

“There is absolutely a racial element,” she says. “There’s the moment Olivia says to Fitz that she is feeling a little like Sally Hemmings, that is about race. (Hemmings is the mixed-race slave who reportedly had an affair with President Thomas Jefferson.) There is a moment when a woman has called for Olivia Pope’s services, but when Olivia walks into her house accompanied by red-haired Abby, the woman assumes that Abby is the boss because she is white.

“The series addresses the issue in the same way as economics, culture, gender and religion,” she says. “It puts race in the spectrum of identity, as opposed to making it the issue of the show.”

And Washington is as outraged as her Twitter fans, who were angry this summer that Olivia had been shamed as the president’s mistress.

“When people say this show celebrates infidelity, I say, ‘No.’ It is a show that celebrates real love,” she says. “Is it wrong to be with the person you love, or is it worse to marry someone for other reasons? I think the show is really about that question. How important is being in love with someone?”


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