Kerry Washington on Her Role as Olivia Pope in Scandal

NEW YORK: Actress Kerry Washington speaks with TV Drama about her work on the series Scandal, which is one of the most chatted about shows on social media.

TV DRAMA: How did you hear about the show and what first appealed to you about the role of Olivia Pope?
WASHINGTON: I got a call from my agents. They had read the script and they really loved it. They said there is this script we want you to read. It’s almost as if Shonda wrote it for you. Of course she hadn’t. At the time, Shonda and I didn’t know each other at all. But I read it and I too just felt, Oh my God, this role is amazing. It’s me in some ways and in the ways it’s not me, these are things I want to explore as an actor. I just really, really, really wanted to be a part of it, as did lots of other actresses!

TV DRAMA: What research did you have to do into the world of Washington, D.C. and into your character?
WASHINGTON: I spend a lot of time with Judy Smith, who is the inspiration for the character Olivia Pope. She’s a real-life crisis-management expert who works out of Washington but is also in New York and L.A. I spent a lot of time with her, shadowed her and tried to absorb as much as I could about her world.

TV DRAMA: I understand she also serves as producer on the show. What kind of input does she have?
WASHINGTON: She does a lot of consulting with the scripts. A lot of times the writers will come up with the most scandalous situations they can think of and then they call Judy and ask, What would you do? It’s not that she pitches ideas based on her previous clients, because she’s not allowed to do that, obviously. And even with me often she will explain a story or a situation but she’ll never attach a name. But she is very helpful in getting us to understand the process of crisis management.

TV DRAMA: What do you like about Olivia? You said there are some things about her that are similar to you.
WASHINGTON: I think the thing I like most about playing her is her complexity. In some ways she is so together and strong and in control and empowered, and in other ways she is just a mess and so vulnerable. Basically in her professional life she is the most important person in any room and wields her power with intelligence and grace and real authority. But when it comes to the President, she is a different woman because of how much she loves him.

TV DRAMA: That must give you a wide range of emotions you have to pull out, doesn’t it?
WASHINGTON: Yes, it’s really fun to make sense of how somebody could embody both of those extremes in one person.