There's a new President in "Scandal's" Oval Office, and Bellamy Young, the actress behind Mellie Grant, can't wait to start exercising some executive privilege.
As Shonda Rhimes' shock-a-minute Beltway potboiler launches its seventh and final season, the frequently beleaguered, always in-the-mix Mellie has finally had her greatest triumph, following her ex-husband Fitz Grant into the nation's highest office -– the first woman to do so. But just what kind of president will Mellie make?
Moviefone had the new President's ear and Young spilled a few juicy secrets from "Scandal's" swan song season.
Moviefone: How's life as President of the United States?
Bellamy Young: It's delicious! Mellie has wanted it for so long and eventually I did too, which is a luxury I have never afforded myself. I never have a dog in the hunt because our writers, they tell a far better story than I would ever conceive of, but Lordy, I really wanted it. Mellie being in her Oval Office –- her Oval is beautiful! They've built the most beautiful Oval Office.
Nicer than Fitz's?
I think so. It's specially made with all these quilts from feminine leaders over the years. And I get a little verklempt and overwhelmed to sit in there most days just because... I had two lines in the pilot, and I'll get very overwhelmed because I will sit behind a desk in the Oval and think about what a ride it's been and how lucky I feel.
Is it a unique opportunity for you to play a female president?
You know, I think about how much it meant to me to see 24." I'm behind on TV, but I know we have a female president on "Homeland" and "House of Cards" and "Veep," but I'm so honored to get to have the mind of Shonda Rimes sitting in that chair especially in this day and age. I am truly humbled by the opportunity.
Tony is a Goldwyn so he wears power effortlessly. That was not my experience in life, so I have been very consciously trying to rise to the occasion because it means a lot to me and I'm trying to do a good job.
Where is Mellie emotionally after the first 100 days?
I think Mellie feels like she knows what she's up against, but she feels invincible with Olivia by her side. She knows that whatever she does will also have the corollary commentary about what she wore or how her hair looked that day, but she knows that together they can change the world. No, I think that what's interesting is that she has no idea what's going on in Olivia's mind.
Do you know how the series is going to end yet?
No. We see the scripts just the day before we start shooting them, we really just see them at the table read. I think... this is not a weird thing to tell. Someone asked Shonda, "So is it going to end where you thought it was going to end?", because she said she knew this wasn't going to be like "Grey's Anatomy" that goes on forever. And she said, "No I thought it would end with the inauguration. But then the world changed and I felt like I had more stories to tell with this forum."
I am so curious. I was so proud of last season. I thought they did beautiful story work. Especially on the scramble, because we had to toss the whole second half. We did five episodes and took of time for Kerry [Washington] to have a baby and the world changed, And the season was supposed arc out that the Russians hacked the election but then the Russians hacked the election and Trump won so they threw out all the other scripts. So they were writing, responding to things last year, and I thought where they went was amazing.
Shonda's pulled back from "Grey's Anatomy" –- she's really with us this year, she wrote our first episode. Just to know that she has a fire in her belly about what she wants to say to the world right now, I'm very lucky to be a part of that.
How do you feel about saying goodbye to the show?
We cry like twice a day. And I don't see that stopping. I guess people will have grief fatigue, but I feel like we will pace ourselves. It makes everything so dear, so precious. That first table read was incredible -– we were all really verklempt afterwards.
And because Kerry is such a good leader and because it's not just the actors it's all the writers, all production, everybody's there, she just took a moment and was like, "I know I can't do this every table read, but this journey is so incredible and I can't believe we've gotten to be on it together for seven years, because so many people have been here since the beginning, and every moment is precious and we love you guys."
The show is called "Scandal" – can you give us a little hint of where the show gets dark and dangerous for her?
I think this is really a year for Olivia to make a real moral choice. She's really choosing an existential who she is choice. She has all the power for good because she's the chief of staff and she has all the power for evil because she has the 613. I think, it will be tumultuous and a cage fight till the end.
And I don't know where Shonda's heart is: if she sees this as a story of redemption or if she sees DC as a place that chews you up and spits you out and you lose your soul. I'm as invested, because I love this show, I love my job. I can't wait to see what it all means -– but keep your eyes on Olivia.
How much is your life changed during the show?
I mean, night and day! In as much as I've had a job for seven years, what actor can say that? It's the best, I love it so much. But also, because I couldn't be more different from Mellie, so playing her 17 hours a day has changed my molecules. I take a little more space in the world. I would never have done that without her.
And also, my therapist would like to say that I've been re-parented by my "Scandal" family: not just the cast but the crew and everybody and it's true – the constancy, the love, the support, there's never any drama, there's never any undermining. I can call them in the middle of the night. I'll be able to call them 14 years from now when something goes right and something goes wrong. This whole experience has been utterly transformative.
Has the show politicized you more?
Definitely. I always try to be an informed part of the democracy because democracy is like a verb, democracy is something we do -– we have to participate or it fails. But I've never felt like I owned it or like I've been part of things like I do now. And I wish everyone did because no one is more important than anyone else in democracy. But it's definitely made it real to me in a way that that was just academic before.
Were you always rooting for her to endure and survive? Did you think for a while Mellie was the bad guy?
What I love about Shonda is that she lets you be all things. You're the villain at one time, and the hero the next. It's just messy human behavior. And as much as I doubt myself constantly, I never doubted Mellie. She's got a thousand-yard stare, and as much as she fails she gets up. Every time.
And she doesn't worry what people think, she's willing to do whatever to get there. I always believed in her. I didn't necessarily think she'd win, because she's not a winner -– that's never been Mellie's thing, so I was shocked and thrilled and I think she's been planning her whole life what kind of president she will be. I know she feels very at home in that office. But I'm sure there's a lot of failure to come in that regard as well. But I like it because I know she's in the ring. My stepfather said, "As long as you're swinging, your dangerous."