Interview by Lesley Goldberg @Snoodit
The actor tells THR that “Fitz is never going to give up on Olivia,” despite the president’s commitment to winning the election and attempting to keep his family facade intact.
The Grant family is rapidly imploding. How is Fitz keeping the family together through the election?
It’s going to be rough. Since the last of season two, Fitz has been committed to trying to get back to the truth and living in reality in terms of his relationship with Mellie, trying to get straight with Olivia and trying to run a clean election, which has blown up in his face. Now he’s found out Mellie was carrying on with Andrew this entire time and was using him as a tool for her ambitions. Fitz’s goal is to get through the election and try and hold his family together in an honest way. It doesn’t diminish his feelings for Olivia or his intentions to marry Olivia and move forward with her. But there’s been a permanent wound opened up even further between Mellie and Fitz.
Fitz now knows about Mellie and Andrew, and gave him a black eye. How can he continue to have Andrew as his running mate?
It’s very tricky. Fitz isn’t going to be happy about that. He fought very hard to select Andrew in the first place. With very little time before the election, to switch horses will be a political liability. He’s going to have to make a decision.
Fitz rips Mellie for ruining their marriage, but she doesn’t tell him that her father-in-law raped her and their son, Jerry, may really be his brother. Why?
There’s nothing conclusive about Jerry’s paternity. Fitz doesn’t know what happened to Mellie. She had the opportunity to tell him all those years ago and she missed it. She made a choice. She made a deal with the devil to essentially sacrifice herself and use the truth and Big Jerry as a tool to support Fitz. That’s the tragedy of it. People can be justifiably angry with Fitz for coming down on Mellie, though as the actor playing him, I identify with Fitz’s perspective. The evidence that Fitz has is that Mellie was a political marriage and she used him. One of the weapons Mellie constantly used against Fitz was not only the guilt but she withheld any physical contact with him for 10 years. As soon as she was pregnant with a son, they didn’t have sex for 10 years. I mean, they clearly had sex once or twice because Karen and Teddy came around, but she wouldn’t let him touch her. What impact does that have on a marriage? That’s pretty extreme. But Mellie made a decision, so for her to tell him now is just a very difficult thing for her. You’ll have to see if that comes out.
How much would that destroy him considering he’s always lived in the shadow of his father?
It would be catastrophic; I don’t know how he would deal with it. He’s got this posthumous war with his father and it’s like he can’t get rid of the guy.
Andrew doesn’t back down from Olivia when she tells him to stay clear of Mellie. How will those two clashing hurt the campaign?
Andrew is really in love with Mellie and is willing to fight for her but he does not have all the facts. Andrew knows that Fitz does not understand Mellie and he’s kept her secret so I don’t know how much of a political liability he is. But Andrew is a professional politician who is a very dangerous and formidable person as a politician. He looks at Olivia when he says, “Glass houses” and what he’s saying is: “Don’t f— with me.” He sees Olivia as the help and thinks she’s talented and smart, but she’s no match for him in his mind.
Andrew also has no idea what Mellie has done to protect Fitz and his position as president — Defiance, her role in covering up Daniel’s death. Is that something that could come up?
I can’t really say anything about that. When you put all that Mellie did to protect Fitz together, that falls into the question of if Mellie did it to ensure power for herself. She says it’s all for Fitz and, in some sense, it is. Sally’s (Kate Burton) cover-up was something she and Cyrus (Jeff Perry) put together that was as much for her own ambition as it was to protect Fitz. Mellie, like all of us, is a character of extreme duality. I don’t think Andrew has any concept of Mellie’s love for power. I think he’s lying to us.
Will Fitz knowing about Andrew and Mellie deter them from seeing each other going forward?
You’ll have to wait and see. I can’t give that away.
Adnan and Marie Wallace played OPA to gain access to Fitz’s campaign plans and security detail. Are we looking at another assassination attempt?
It’s certainly heading in that direction, isn’t it? They’re certainly up to something extreme because they have all of the president’s movements for the entire campaign. And that guy, Ivan? He’s not messing around. You can only assume that’s going to be the case; that plotline isn’t going to cool down.
Is this a politically fueled story, or is it personal for Marie and Adnan? Adnan has a vendetta with Harrison and Marie warned Olivia to stay clear of someone who considers her “the help.”
We haven’t been told and I don’t know if we’ll fully understand that by the end of the season. But there seem to be real personal connections. Taking them at face value, Marie says she’s in it for the money and tells Olivia that she’s at least honest with herself. Adnan (Nazanin Boniadi) says the same thing — she’s in it for the money — but I don’t know if she has some deeper agenda or if she seems to be trying to cash out.
Olivia feels like “the help” — especially after Fitz snaps at her. How will Fitz balance his relationship with her while still maintaining his perfect family facade?
Olivia is his No. 1 advocate when it comes to maintaining that facade and enforcing it; she’s the one who hands Mellie the baby in that final blow before the family interview. I don’t know how he’ll balance it, but rest assured, Fitz is never going to give up on Olivia. Olivia is always — much to Fitz’s frustration — the person that closes the walls up so the job is never going to be easy.
There’s a lot of hatred for Fitz this season. Do you think he’s a bad guy?
No, I don’t think so at all. I’m the character’s advocate. I think it’s really interesting that people reacted so violently against him; I didn’t actually anticipate that because I’m paid to take his point of view. But [showrunner] Shonda Rhimes likes to push these things to the extreme and test those waters of how much the audience can take before she flips it back on you. It’ll be interesting to see if Fitz becomes utterly irredeemable in the audience’s eyes. I’ll always fight to make Fitz human and real, but I don’t really have an interest in how much people like or dislike Fitz. It’s nice when people are like, “Oh, we love Fitz, what a great guy!” But let’s be honest, he’s murdered a Supreme Court justice and he’s been a terrible and negligent father. I think Fitz is a guy who, at the end of the day, is desperately trying to find his way back toward the light. From his perspective, the circumstances of his life — that in many ways have been forced upon him — are conspiring against him. He sees himself as the guy who built that house for Olivia and wants to help people and be a great man. He’s just been failing at that miserably, sometimes honestly through no fault of his own.
Shonda said something to me when we were preparing for this episode and the scene where Cyrus tells Fitz that Jake killed James (Dan Bucatinsky), but at the end of the day Jake was just doing his job serving at the pleasure of the president like the rest of us. Cyrus looks at Fitz with some condemnation and Shonda said to me that that was the moment when Fitz realizes he’s the devil. I asked, “In what sense is Fitz the devil?” He did not order that. The devil to me is someone who with whole consciousness is carrying out evil and destruction. And that’s not Fitz. Shonda said it was almost like the de facto devil. I said Fitz is sort of likeLord of the Rings: He’s been given the ring of power and this thing he’s holding is attracting evil his way. That’s how I see it: Fitz has inadvertently become the devil and I find that really compelling. From an early age, he’s been in positions of power that have reaped extraordinary destruction from the time he had an impulse to do something meaningful with his life to be a pilot and serve his country. He became a fighter pilot to break away from his father and ended up shooting down an airplane with 329 innocent civilians on it. He became governor and then president of the United States to surpass his father, and yet his father rigged the election. He has been the hand of destruction, evil and, in a certain sense, he does bear some culpability and responsibility for James’ death. Jake took out James so Fitz bears responsibility for all of it. Maybe he’s worthy of people’s hatred because of it and Mellie’s rape falls into that same category.
How would you describe the season finale?
It just gets more intense from here. You aren’t going to believe the next three episodes; it’s really outrageous. Shonda keeps building off of what she has done. I didn’t know how she would top the death of James Novak, and yet she has with this one. The stakes keep getting higher and she just does not back down. All boundaries are removed and truly anything can happen. None of us are safe.
Could we see some major characters killed off?
I can’t say that, but major characters are certainly impacted in irreversible ways by this momentum that is building.