As die-hard fans of "Scandal" know, there's not much that Kerry Washington can or will say about the upcoming, always-jaw-dropping twists and turns that the show's become beloved for -– and she admits that usually even she doesn't what's about to be thrown at her. But that doesn't mean she doesn't have a lot to talk about when it comes to Olivia Pope and the perilous world she inhabits created by Shonda Rhimes.
As the show prepares to launch its fourth season, there's one conclusion about her character that she's come to, no matter how emotionally invested she or the show's admirers are in Olivia. "I've always thought it was really misguided when women tell me that Olivia Pope is their role model," says Washington, "because she's having an affair with a married man who is the President of the United States. And a murderer. And they stole an election together -– well, she stole it for him."
But her weakness for Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), who she grows even closer to as the new season launches, doesn't mean there aren't qualities the actress believes are worth praise. "There are things about her that are very admirable," Washington says. "She is an entrepreneur; she is very smart; she has an amazing closet. And those are all things that I think are worthy of admiration -– but she is nobody's role model... All of these characters are complicated characters. There are no good guys and bad guys in ShondaLand. You have three‑dimensional, messy human beings."
Washington recently gathered with a small group of reporters to expound -– as much as she could -– on Olivia's latest path, as well as offer some behind the scenes insight on the show and a few choice tidbits about her upcoming role as the groundbreaking political fgure Anita Hill in the upcoming HBO telepic "Confirmation."
How much time do you spend thinking about Olivia Pope when you're not on set? Does she dominate a certain portion of your brain?
Kerry Washington: Yeah, I think about her a lot. Mostly because the pace is so intense that when I'm not at work, I'm still trying to break down the episode and analyze the episode and arc out the episode and discover what the themes are for my character. Discover what this trajectory is. Figure out what's the underbelly emotionally. So I'm processing a lot of the time. But I do. I mean, it's important also that I turn it off. I spend time with my loved ones. I have other things that I do in my life.
Is a happy ending possible for Olivia and Fitz?
I don't know. But I will say that when we came back, Tony and I were really surprised by the episode when we came back -– so it wasn't what we expected.
Has it been a challenging season for you to start, as far as getting that meaty, unexpected stuff to play?
Yeah, I mean, we're only in Episode Two [laughs], but yeah. It's already been a bit of a ride.
Two episodes on a Shondaland show is like half a season on another show.
It's very true!
How does affect you guys in the cast, the speed of the plot and how fast every card gets turned over?
I think it adds to what we were talking about in terms of pace and just really taking care of yourself and taking care of yourself physically and also creatively so you really stay on your Ps & Qs and you're bringing all of what you have as an artist to the table and not giving in to fatigue.
Is that hard after a hiatus?
For me, I worked most of the hiatus. I was filming "Confirmation" for HBO, which I also produced. Because I was a producer, and then acting, I was pretty busy. so I didn't really come out of gear too much. I just had to switch identity.
How was it doing that story?
It was great. The film is not as much the Anita Hill story. It's about the hearings and about all the players. But it's a story that's really close to me and important to me. And we had a great time. The cast is spectacular.
Have you met Ms. Hill?
I have met her, yeah.
What was that experience like?
Pretty tremendous. She's a pretty tremendous person.
What was the most interesting discovery about that particular role?
Well, being a part of it from the very beginning as a producer -- and ["Erin Brockovich" screenwriter] Susannah Grant is our screenwriter and also a producer – so being part of the development from beginning to end was really interesting, because it was like "What story are we telling? How do we kind of bring life to all of these people?"
That's why I say it's not really "The Anita Hill Story." It's about all the players. It's a peek behind the curtain into a time in history that we all remember, many of us. And some of us our younger people don't know, exactly. But it's a real peek behind the curtain to see what was going on – what was really at stake and what was really going on.
With the election ahead, you've been part of the Obama administration--
I have. I still am.
Will you continue to work with the new election coming up?
Yeah, I will. I always have my whole life. I mean, I campaigned for John Kerry. That was the year that "Ray" came out. So I've always been a very involved person politically and socially. And I have every intention to continue doing that.
With all that's on your plate, what do you do with your hours that you spend each day in hair and makeup?
A lot of times I run lines, because our show is very language-intensive. So a lot of times, I run lines – not for that day, but maybe the next day because I always try to be at least a day ahead, or that day and the next day. Or I'm recording lines, because I work on my lines a lot by listening to them. So sometimes I'm recording my lines in the makeup chair. And then I try to make some phone calls and occasionally have a conversation.
Are you good at compartmentalizing?
I think so. I'm not as good as Olivia. She's really good at compartmentalizing.
You've said that some days you're just ready to pack it in and let the ensemble take over. What brings you back every day?
I'm not sure that I said that specifically. I said more that I try to quit acting all the time. Not necessarily the show. It's not that I would ever want to walk away from "Scandal." But sometimes I just think, "Eh, I think I'm done with this acting thing."
What does bring you back to acting?
The story. Just being able to tell story that matters.
What do you love most about Olivia Pope's style?
The Prada bags! We keep a closet for Olivia Pope because we try to reuse at least one item of clothing for every episode, so it feels like a real closet. So I don't keep anything. And also, her style is really different from mine.
I play a lot more with fashion. She's D.C. conservative, in a way. Even when I'm in Washington, I don't wear suits the way she does. But I love her wardrobe. I think the other thing I love about it is that Lyn Paolo, our brilliant costume designer, she and I work very closely to make sure that it's not just fashion for fashion's stake, but that it's telling a story. That the palette and the silhouettes are giving you clues about what's going on for these characters.
How much do you know about what's happening this season?
Nothing. All I know is what I'm working on.
Shonda never sits you down to prep you on what's ahead?
Not a thing!
Do you prefer to play in the moment like that?
It was very hard for me in the first couple of seasons because I am a Type A student and I like to use all my post-its and my tabs. And I come from film, where I'm used to kind of the dramaturgical approach, of a beginning, middle, and an end. And I can only do that per episode. But now, with a little bit of time, I just learned to trust our writers and say, "You guys know what you're doing." And I'll just take it one episode at a time.
Do you ever raise your hand and say, "You know, I've been playing Olivia a while. This note doesn't seem quite right..." and work with them, or do you take it on faith?
I think our writers are really open to feedback. We have such a great deal of respect for every word that they write, and they also have a great deal of respect for our understanding of the characters. So we don't really come to head. Oftentimes, we might say, "I don't know about this." And they say, "Well, let's look at it." And then, every once in a while, we're right.
Has playing Olivia taught you something?
Yes, playing Olivia has taught me a lot. It's taught the importance of a tailor. Tailoring is very important! I think the other thing, for me, is I've learned a lot from Olivia about courage. She's somebody who...it's not that she never gets scared, but when she's afraid, she still moves forward. And I feel like that's something that I really try to take home with me, that idea that there's always another way. There's always another solution. And you can seek a solution, even when you're afraid.