TVLine’s Times Square office this week was paid a visit by no less than the President of the United States — or, at least, Tony Goldwyn of ABC’s Scandal, who previewed Season 1’s penultimate episode (airing tonight at 10/9c), in which we learn through much-anticipated flashbacks how White House hopeful Fitzgerald Grant’s path first crossed with that of Olivia Pope. (Let’s just say the young fixer’s opening line is a real winner.)
Goldwyn also weighs in on his chemistry with series lead Kerry Washington, hails his chief of staff and hints at a surprise or two still to come.
TVLINE | Was reading this week’s flashback script your first exposure to Fitz’s backstory?
As I’m sure you’ve heard, [series creator] Shonda [Rhimes] didn’t tell any of us much, so I created a whole biography for Fitz, and it was partially correct. For example, I decided that I had been the governor of Pennsylvania. [Laughs] But then there was the limousine scene where Mellie says, “I’ll take the kids back to Santa Barbara,” and that was the first time I went, “Whoa! California.” And in terms of the backstory with Olivia, in my original thinking I had us meeting before my campaign, but… Cyrus hiring her because the campaign was in terrible trouble came from reading the script.
TVLINE | How might the flashbacks shape people’s opinions of Fitz, whom some might be writing off as a philanderer?
Well, that’s the first judgment people make. I had friends come up to me after seeing the pilot – “Oh, you’re a sleazy president. You’re a bad guy, yuck.” And by the third or fourth they’re going, “Aww, he’s in love with her. We want them to find a way to be together!” So I think the flashback episode will [reveal] a man who is in what you could call a successful marriage, but a troubled marriage, someone who ends up by happenstance falling in love with a colleague, in a once-in-a-lifetime kind of way. The audience — unless someone has a profound moral judgment, and I respect that – will identify with Fitz and Olivia, understand the transgression they made and, more than that, want them to be together since they’re soulmates. And yet [their situation] is impossible.
TVLINE | Did you see any of the other twists coming – like, for example, what’s still to come with the blackmail tape?
No. In fact, when I read the script where Cyrus says, “Listen to this…,” I went to Mark Wilding, who is one of Shonda’s writing partners, and said, “Are you guys going to write me out? You’re going to kill Fitz off? Am I getting assassinated, impeached or what?” I said there’s no way you can paint me out of this corner. He said, “Don’t worry, it’s going to be really interesting.” So yeah, I didn’t see that coming at all.
TVLINE | The chemistry between you and Kerry Washington is significant. Did they read the two of you together before casting Fitz? Because if they got this wrong, the show doesn’t work.
No. Kerry was already cast at the time, and I was just offered the part. Shonda is brilliant at casting, as is Linda Lowy our casting director. Shonda has an ability to pair people up. And another thing, which is slightly unrelated, is Shonda gets people in a deep way. She sees things in actors that others don’t see. For example, Bellamy Young, who plays my wife Mellie, ends up being this fascinating, complicated, really kind of extreme character. When you saw the pilot, yeah, my wife seemed like a very typical First Lady. You could do something with her or not. And Bellamy has this look — a Southern girl, all sweet and nice and straight-laced — but Shonda saw something in her and went for it. And she did it with me. I’ve mostly been known for playing villainous characters, so just as the audience thinks, “Yeah, Fitz is scum — I’ve seen that actor in those parts before,” she goes in a whole other direction where Fitz is more like me as a person. She’s a genius that way.
TVLINE | Talk about working with Jeff Perry (Cyrus), King of the Three-Minute Monologue.
Jeff’s another perfect example of what I was saying. Yes, he was on Grey’s and Shonda is so loyal to her people, but Jeff started the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Jeff is someone who, for 25 years, those of us who worked in the theater have regarded as one of the greatest American actors. And he’s been in lots of television, but no one’s really given Jeff something that really challenged his abilities, unless there’s something I haven’t seen, in a big, mainstream way like this. But Shonda’s doing it. We were sitting at the table read and that monologue just goes on and on and on…. [Laughs] Jeff was like [Buries face in hands], “My god, what am I going to do?” But he just started jamming and sure enough, he got it in a couple of takes.
TVLINE | Think this turn as president will erase any bad juju leftover from Ghost?
Oh, I’ve moved beyond worrying about that sort of thing. I’ve had such a varied career, and I have learned that in this business… those things that come to you come to you when and where they want to. When I was younger I worried a lot about that, especially after Ghost when I went from obscurity to being kinda famous, as this villain – I thought, “No, I can’t play anymore villains!” But my job is to do good work, and I cannot control the universe. I just keep putting it out there until something interesting happens.