On ABC’s Scandal (Thursday, 10/9c), First Lady Mellie Grant made the ultimate sacrifice by inviting arch rival Olivia Pope to stand at Fitz’s side for the foreseeable future, running his reelection campaign. And while Liv has yet to accept the assignment, the overture crystallized the lengths to which Bellamy Young‘s Machiavellian magnolia will go to get what she wants — especially if, someday, maybe, that includes her husband’s affections.
TVLine invited Young to preview Mellie’s imminent foray into “fixing” a First Lady problem, reveal who’s about to “wig” out and ruminate on whether the First Marriage might possibly last.
TVLINE | This week, it sounds like Mellie has some “image-improvement plan” in her head.
Well, it’s more thrust upon her. It’s Mellie trying to win back America’s hearts after they blamed her for Fitz’s adultery. So, she’s doing a documentary in the style of Jackie O, trying to curry favor by giving the public a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House.
TVLINE | And is Cyrus (played by Jeff Perry) on board with this?
Cyrus is happy that Mellie is busy, because idle hands and Mellie…. It’s not a good combination. Cyrus has his own game running on the sidelines, so he’s very, very happy that Mellie has got a ball of twine to be batting around.
TVLINE | Speaking of Cyrus, in flashbacks we’re going to learn how he, Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) and Mellie came to be this “team.” Will that include Cyrus realizing he’s got a handful in the prospective First Lady?
Cyrus is more focused on Fitz, sizing him up as a candidate and deciding whether or not to hitch his wagon to Fitz’s future. But what you will get is Jeff Perry in a spectacular bit of wiggage. If people just tuned in to see that, it would almost be worth it.
TVLINE | What are we going to do about Sally Langston’s handsy husband? He seems sweet on the First Lady….
I can assure you that knowledge is power, and that Mellie and Cyrus will capitalize on that bit of knowledge. They know that Sally has a weakness, and you do not want to show a weakness to Mellie or to Cyrus.
TVLINE | I can’t imagine that you hire Jack Coleman to just play a flirty rube. He probably has some sort of game of his own in play, right?
Yeah, he’s no joke. He’s formidable, you’ll see. The storyline is worth the wait. You find out a lot this week.
TVLINE | It was rather magnanimous of Mellie to court Olivia (Kerry Washington) to run Fitz’s campaign. Do you think that’s because, above all else, Mellie’s a pragmatist?
It’s as if Mellie is chewing razor blades to have to ask anything of Olivia, much less that, but sometimes when you love someone, you have to do things that absolutely kill you. Mellie has a thousand-yard stare. Mellie’s playing the long game. Short-term casualties, herself included, don’t factor in her algorithm at all. She wants Fitz to love her yet sees how miserable he is without Olivia. She is, I think, hopeful that this Olivia thing will run its course, and when he comes to the other end of it, he will remember who was by him, who had his back, who was steadfast — and that’s Mellie.
TVLINE | Even this many years into it, how much hurt do you think Mellie feels each time she looks at Olivia, each time she looks at Fitz looking at Olivia? As we saw in the bunker, she’s not numb to it.
No, no, no, not at all — every time is like a needle in the eye. Every time he gives Olivia a look that Mellie’s never seen… that’s a horrible, horrible thing to see happening in a man that you’re married to. It’s the greatest pain.
TVLINE | She can probably almost hear the “Olitz” musical cue whenever they look at each other.
[Laughs] Exactly, exactly.
TVLINE | Do you ever have trouble getting the word “whore” out?
[Joking] No, it seems to roll right off the tongue, Matt.
TVLINE | You manage to turn it into a multi-syllable word.
I’m Southern, so we like to add a whole symphony of vowels into even a monosyllabic word. We have a lot of emotions we need to get out, so we need more vowels!
TVLINE | Do you think that Mellie, deep down, craves the proper love of a better man? Does she harbor no illusions about her and Fitz finding “happily ever after” with each other?
No, I think she hopes, in that regard. As pragmatic as Mellie is, she is the eternal optimist when it comes to Fitz. She loves him to her own detriment. Someone asked me the other day, “If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” I said, “Bending other people’s will to my own” – and I think that’s really where she is with Fitz. She thinks if she is loyal and stoic and committed and sort of selfless, in a really embarrassing way, he will eventually love her. But you can’t make anyone’s heart do anything it doesn’t want to.
TVLINE | [Series creator] Shonda [Rhimes] was recently quoted as saying she has a specific, finite run in mind for Scandal. At the end of the day, when that final episode rolls around, what’s more important to you — that Mellie ends up with Fitz or that Mellie ends up happy?
Oh, what a good question….
TVLINE | Or that Mellie ends up triumphant, in case that and happy are not the same thing?
Right. And it’s interesting to parse that alone. I’m greedy, so I want both. I want her happy. In my perfect world, I’m president and Fitz is the First Gentleman and he loves me.
TVLINE | I think you’ve got Political Animals at that point.
[Laughs] As we said on our show, life is not a fairy tale. So, golly, I don’t know. But knowing Mellie, she’s a born survivor. She’s born to fight. I think she would choose Fitz, because he is a harder get and she’s always going to try for the brass ring.
TVLINE | You, Kerry and Tony have this fun, infectious rapport when working press events together. Does that obvious affection help you get through the gnarlier confrontational scenes?
It’s a cast of not-children, so we all are pretty grounded and pretty grateful. Everyone harbors no illusions that this moment that we’re in, which is so extraordinary, will be going on for the rest of our lives. Because of the quality of this material and the way that the Gladiators have found the love, we’re very, very, very blessed. On top of all of that, we genuinely love each other, because this whole bunch of people — writers, cast, crew, producers, everyone — is lovely. That makes for the greatest foundation, because you feel so safe. You never feel like you’ll be judged. You never think any risk is too risky. So when you’re on set, all you’ve got to do is live in the other person’s eyes, because they are there for you 1,000 percent, the same way you’re there for them. That makes everything be able to take flight.
TVLINE | If you and Kerry were each a diva, and you did not like each other at all off camera, I feel like your scenes would almost ring hollow, because there’s not that underpinning of warmth.
That’s interesting, and that’s awesome, and I’ve never thought about that. Thank you. I’m also going to say, from a pragmatic point of view, that because we talk that fast and because our scripts are really long, and because we go nine and 10 days-an-episode as it is, if anyone were pulling any attitude on set, it genuinely wouldn’t make our day. There’s just not time for it. You’ve got to work hard, and you’ve got to have fun, because we are lucky people.