This week on ABC’s Scandal, the answer to “Who got shot?” came swiftly, and startlingly. For Jake did not merely fire a warning shot in the direction of David and James, nor did he shoot at some unseen party.
No, his target was in fact one of the two familiar faces standing before him, and soon enough the truth became evident: journalist-turned-White House press secretary James Novak, aka the Chief of Staff’s husband, had been fatally wounded.
The hour thus teed up a tour de force by Jeff Perry, who over the course of three seasons regularly has regaled viewers with his delivery of words, but here communicated so much with silences, glazed eyes, and then with guttural sobs. TVLine spoke with the actor immediately after Thursday’s episode, about tackling the emotionally draining material, and how rage will play into Cyrus’ grieving process.
TVLINE | That was quite an episode….
I marvel at the writers. They just keep taking it organically and crazy to the next cliff, with every storyline, every character.
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TVLINE | When you got to end of the previous script, did you have your own theory about “Who got shot?” Or did you know?
For some days, we had exactly what you had last week, which was, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, is this a misdirect? Is it David? James? Is it neither of them…?”
TVLINE | So there is a moment where Jeff Perry fears for the fate of his TV husband?
Oh yeah. Yeah. Actors, we all know that we’re servants to a bigger story, that a fiery car crash could come at any time. But yeah, it’s amazing how a rabid audience and actors are alike, how personally you take story. So I was really scared. I was silently thinking, “No, no, no, they wouldn’t do this.” And once we kind of internally knew, then there was a real “mourning” period.
TVLINE | And then you get the script for an episode like tonight’s. Is such material intimidating for an actor, or slightly intoxicating?
Honestly, I love the stuff that scares me. You pray that you can do justice to something and get at it as authentically as possible. It’s a conflicted, multiple-feelings-at-the-same-time kind of thing, because part of me dreaded going there, because you know that for 10 or 14 days some part of your heart’s going to be in a really bad place. So I was like, “Wow, I love the difficult challenges, but I don’t think I like this.” I was deflated.
TVLINE | In prepping for this interview, I was thinking back to Season 1, where Cyrus wasn’t without his flaws, but he was at the top of his game. And now… well, he’s fallen. How he has fallen over these three seasons.
It’s true. Little by little. There’s been the unending pressure of trying to caregive and head off problems at the pass. It makes you think of how every president in our lifetime, whether it be for one term or two, ages like 30 years. This show is getting at that, how these problems don’t cease, they only get bigger. And in Season 3, [Scandal creator] Shonda [Rhimes] threw a beautiful mess at Cyrus – now, the professional caregiver’s DNA is going to take him to a place where he makes a grave miscalculation and he causes the problems. The desperate attempt to keep Sally in the fold and deciding clearly misguidedly that pimping out his husband will be a blip on the radar screen…. He sacrificed his own marriage and, as far as he knows, it looks like he has made reelection impossible. What always drives Cyrus is the belief that, “Dammit, we can be a great presidency if we can get past our own horses–t.” But oh man, life and self-perpetuated mess keeps rearing its head.
TVLINE | It’s got to eat at him, how he could have left Sally to twist in the wind for Daniel Douglas’ murder, but instead his choices lost him the love of his life.
Yeah, that was a big miscalculation, assuming that he would cement some loyalty from her. Instead, it just emboldened her to take on a different trajectory and cause this giant mess for Cyrus to cover up. It’s kind of a beautiful, Greek fatal flaw in the character, not knowing when too much is too much.
TVLINE | How do you get to the place you need to go to for something like the press conference breakdown scene?
[Sighs heavily] It’s a combo platter of emotion…. Part of it is the pretend world has become real enough, the amount of time that James and I have had, and the script evokes that. And part of it is a kind of substitution of real-life stuff that hurts like crazy. Working with those images and feelings.
TVLINE | As sad as it must be to lose Dan Bucatinsky as a scene partner, you must be happy that you two got to flesh out James and Cy’s early days and courtship.
It was beautifully done by the writers. That first kiss, all the way to the end. What I love about the relationship is that the reason Cyrus loves James so is that he got Cyrus to see himself, to reveal himself, to be honest with himself. To come out and be his true self, and get over a lifelong fear, for a guy his age. It was beautiful character writing to make that happen in a single episode. Somebody was tweeting tonight, and it’s so touchingly true, that you don’t get these crystallized hits of what you value sometimes until it’s slipping away or it’s gone.
TVLINE | Safe to say that Fitz knew what Cyrus was trying to share, about his new romance?
Yeah, I thought so. And I just loved Tony [Goldwyn]’s work in that scene. Fitz is such a lovely man there. He does know, and he’s just trying to let him know, “It’s OK, Cyrus, you can say it. I won’t hate you.” Because that’s always the fear, that there’ll be a wall that wasn’t there before.
TVLINE | The promo for next week suggests a heated confrontation between Cyrus and Jake. What can you say about that?
What Shonda has Cyrus going through now is different aspects of grief. There’s rage, and depression, and reflection…. But with Jake, there’s a somewhat understandable — simultaneously misplaced, in a way, but understandable — rage. In simple-minded terms, it’s like, “I asked you to kill Sally….” [Laughs]
TVLINE | So there’s some acting out ahead? Reverberations through to the end of the season?
Yeah. Yeah. This is going to definitely gong to reverberate through the rest of the season for Cyrus. This is the largest thing he’s had to deal with, and as you said, so much of it is bitterly hard to take because he knows how much of it he caused.
What did you think of this week’s Scandal episode, and Jeff Perry’s performance?