Eye on Emmy: For Kerry Washington, Scandal's 'Level of Excellence' Astounds on a Daily Basis

Kerry Washington Scandal Emmys 2013Looking for a female TV character who’s as fierce in her work life as she is in her (messy) love life? It’s been handled. As D.C. “fixer” Olivia Pope on ABC’s Scandal, Kerry Washington — building on a career that has included Oscar-winning films such as Ray and Django Unchained — stands in the eye of a pop culture storm, fronting a show that drops jaws with astounding frequency, makes Twitter all atwitter and offers, at long last, a chance for a black woman to win a lead drama actress Emmy.

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TVLINE | You’ve said that your decision was not so much to do TV, but to do a Shonda Rhimes show.
Even more so, my decision was to do this show. When I read the script, I was so blown away. And knowing that this [was a Rhimes production] reinforced the idea that this could be a really amazing opportunity.

TVLINE | With your first full season behind you, how has the product met the promise?
Gosh…. I will just say that the level of excellence that the people around me produce on a daily basis continues to astound me — the writing that I’m able to hold in my hands week after week, the level of acting I’m surrounded by. Every member of crew, the cinematographers, the costume design…. All of it feels like a magical product to be a part of.

TVLINE | What do you think Shonda is doing that activates viewers so much?
One of the reasons we [on the cast] like to live-tweet the show is because when we are online with our “gladiators,” the viewers, we get to see from them exactly what we went through at our table reads. We have gasps and screams and cries of shock and awe, and weeks later the audience is having the same reactions. People are responding to how unpredictable this show is. [Also,] Shonda is not writing the typical archetype of good guy/bad guy; that is part of why you never know whom to trust.

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TVLINE | After the election-rigging was revealed to President Grant, Olivia succumbed to multiple and varying degrees of breakdowns. Is it somewhat of an actor’s dream to tear a character down and build them up again?scandal_0207_olitz_dw
That duality, being able to figure out how to play a character who can be so fierce in one setting and so vulnerable in another, is a challenge. But it’s an exciting one.

TVLINE | Did you by chance take issue with the message the show put out there this season, that love should be “painful, difficult and devastating”?
I struggled with that line. I remember asking Shonda, “Are all of those words exactly what we want to be saying?” I was sort of on board with some of them, but not sure about others. She was like, “Yep,” so I just had to wrap my head around that.

TVLINE | Some choose to view your success through the lens of being among the first African-American actresses to star in a hit TV drama. Do you lament there is still that distinction to be made, in 2013? Or do you welcome the opportunity to flag it?
It’s a balance. Like I said in [a New York Times] interview, I feel very proud that we live in a world where this show can be a success, so I think it’s worth noting the progress of that, for all of us to claim and all of us to take responsibility for. We’ve created a place where a black woman can be at the front of the show, but a lot of our success is in how strong of an ensemble show it is, that so many people can see themselves in it. We have a lead male who’s Latin. We have two black men. There’s older people, there’s younger people. There’s a strong gay character. I look forward to the day when a show like Scandal is a success and it’s not newsworthy. We’re not there yet, but we’ll get there.

TVLINE | Do you think about the significance of possibly earning an Emmy for this role?
I’ve been on the award campaign train several times in my career, with the success of The Last King of Scotland and Ray and Django [Unchained]…. Jamie Foxx and I joke about it, what happens to people when they’re “chasing Oscar.” So, I try not to think about my work leaning toward that goal. But it’s interesting that television and the Emmys have been around this long, and [a black woman winning Lead Actress in a Drama] has never happened. I mean, I was just beginning to have a career when Halle Berry [won an Oscar for Best Actress] — and not just [as the first] black woman, but a woman of color.

TVLINE | Over the past year, you’ve been out there significantly engaging in the real world’s political conversation….
What’s funny is that I’ve always done that kind of work. Tony Goldwyn and I used to trek through the Hall of Congress asking for or defending funding for National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities, with organizations like Americans for the Arts and the Creative Coalition….

TVLINE | But now you’re speaking at the Democratic National Convention and being cut to for reaction shots at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Right. Right. I just think it’s important for me to be clear that I don’t engage politically because I’m in the public eye. I actually made a promise to myself early on that I would not stop because I was in the public eye, because I feel like it’s my responsibility as an American to be engaged. If my participation encourages other people to participate, no matter what party, I’m glad. America works when all of us have a seat at the table.

RELATED | What Happens Next: On Scandal, Will Olivia’s Pop Get Quizzed? And Who Tattled?

TVLINE | Your college major combined theater with anthropology and sociology. How did that inform your skill set?Scandal_Olivia_Cyrus
My mother’s a professor, so the idea of research is something that I grew up around. One of the things I love most about acting are those moments, that don’t happen every day, when you really, truly do something raw in a moment and you forget who you are. When you in the moment disconnect to the extent that you go into an alternate reality. When that happens, it’s bliss. The other thing that I really love is the research — pulling articles, learning things, interviewing people and then you study, study, study, from an anthropological perspective. [In] preparation for [Season 1’s] “The Trail,” Tony, Jeff [Perry] and I watched The War Room, that documentary with George Stephanopolous. I mean, we studied that. That’s the kind of stuff that I love.

TVLINE | Is there an actor you looked up to as you embarked on your career?
The actors I that I loved — not even “looked up to,” because I didn’t think I was going to be an actor in any way — were the ones who did comedy and drama, people who worked on the stage and film and television. People like Julie Andrews, Rita Moreno, Diahann Carroll, Barbra Streisand, women who were never limited by just doing movies or just being actors. That’s been a part of their longevity.

TVLINE | And if you could give Olivia Pope one piece of advice, what would it be?
I might refer her to a couple great therapists. [Laughs] I think Olivia does really well, but I wonder how things would be different if she had a really great shrink in her life. It would probably be a lot less interesting!

This story first appeared in the pages of TVLine’s print sibling Awards|Line. The specialty Awards|Line editions canvass various facets of the Emmy and motion pictures awards season including deep coverage, analysis and interviews with the leading contenders and industry players.

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  1. Plum says:

    I’ll be rooting for Kerry. After years of reality shows making women look like brainless twits it’s rewarding to see shows like the Good Wife, Game of Thrones and Scandal celebrating smart women again.

  2. bigby_wolf says:

    The fact that this gorgeous and enormously talented actress hasn’t been in more projects is mind boggling. Love her!

  3. Kelly says:

    Loved her on Psych

  4. brycealexander says:

    I love Scandal and I love Kerry, but I’ll be rooting for Tatiana Maslany from here on out. Best actress on television.

    • Chester says:

      Seriously. There is really no contest for the Emmy for Best Actress. Tatiana is in a whole other stratosphere.

  5. Tinemi says:

    I want her to be my (platonic) celebrity BFF!! She’s inteligent, beautiful, serious, commited. The kind of woman that should be an example for girls.

  6. Lauren says:

    I like her and I keep hearing good things about this show, but I am reluctant to get into it. I fear that Shonda Rhimes will just ruin it as time goes by, and start killing off characters left and right like she did on Grey’s and Private Practice.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      SCANDAL could not be more different from GA and PPP. I’m surprised that all the coverage this past season has not made that clear to anyone on the fence.

      • Tara says:

        Not all that different IMO Matt. One has a political background and one has a medical background. The theme is strong, tough women in their professional lives and quivering mess’ in their personal lives that allow men, or significant others, to treat them like dirt. Loud music on both shows and both have the break up make up theme running strong with personal relationship between friends and colleagues a big part of it. Scandal has more violence and a faster pace which I suspect is to attract a larger male audience. Both shows have the creator’s social and political messages running through them and both like to kill off characters for shock value.

  7. The Beach says:

    My favorite Olivia Pope scenes are not the ones with the Prez but the ones with Cyrus. They are so electric they crackle!

  8. Louise says:

    Omg I really want her and the cast to be nominated, they deserve it :)
    Also it’s so cool that she looks up to Julie Andrews and Barbra Streisand just like me :)

  9. Leslie says:

    I can’t stand this show! I loved “Off the Map” so I gave it a try but it is terrible!

  10. Cathy says:

    I’d really like her wardrobe and apartment.

  11. ABC says:

    Sorry, no it’s not gonna happen. Not even if sure if she can get nominated. There’s a lot of competition.

  12. Rachel says:

    I know the field is really competitive, but Kerry Washington should win the Emmy, she’s just unbelievable!

  13. Leslie Rider says:

    I am surprised that Kerry Washington is even being considered. Scandal is a soap opera and a bad one at that. Can you seriously compare her acting to that of the other possible nominees? The material isn’t there. The show is popular and the finale received big ratings, but that does not make it a quality show. ABC PR is working overtime to keep her face and name out there. I have read several articles regarding Black actresses and their lack of nominations. In all of these articles talent was never mentioned. She shouldn’t be a charity, token or sympathy nominee. The Emmy and SAG awards are for talent. Outstanding performance. Do you think any performance she has given is outstanding? How can she seriously be compared to Claire Danes, Tatiana Maslany or Kerri Russell?

    • Nelly Were says:

      you are sad Leslie…just sad. If can honestly DONT see the talent in Kerry, then you belong to another planet perhaps. I suggest you sort out your issues. Why don’t you like her acting again?????