Elle: Kerry Washington Interview on Season 4 of Scandal


Photo: ABC

At the end of last season of Scandal, Olivia Pope got on a plane to go… well, we’re not sure. The action-packed finale left us with a lot of lingering questions and the cast of the show is not allowed to answer them. Yet. Kerry Washington, who plays Pope, the fashionable, powerhouse D.C. fixer, is sworn to secrecy on what is coming in Scandal‘s season premiere tonight. But when we spoke to the actress, who’s currently promoting the release of season three on DVD, out now, we managed to convince her to give us a few hints of what’s to come (Okay, really, where did she go? And WHAT is happening with Jake?!?!).

I have so many questions about the new season of Scandal that I imagine you’re not allowed to answer.

Exactly! We just know that we’re going to get in trouble.

How did you feel about where we left Olivia at the end of last season?

I was a little bit scared and a little bit excited because there was so much left unknown. I just really had no clue where Shonda [Rhimes] was going to go with it. I kept calling her like, ‘Okay, where is the plane going? Am I wearing a bathing suit? Am I wearing a burka? What’s happening when we get back?’ And when I found out I was pretty shocked and excited. And a little bit nervous. But it’s great.

Photo: ABC

Is the plane’s destination going to surprise viewers?

I think so. I don’t think it’s what you expect. And what happens there is not what you expect.

Things got pretty dark for Olivia last season. Are things going to turn around for her?

It’s hard to say because it’s so early in the season. And we don’t get any kind of outline. Right now, all I can say is that the stakes are still very high. But in terms of looking back, at the end of season three I was thinking, ‘Wow, this was a dark season.’

What was the hardest part of playing Olivia in such a dark place?

It was such a breakdown. It really was. The unraveling of Olivia Pope. To do that with a character that I think of in such a specific way, with such strength and fearlessness and capability. To watch her be undone in the face of her parents and her history was really tremendous for me.

It’s hard to watch such a strong character break down.

Yeah. And I kept reminding myself that a lot of times people break down to break through, and I think that’s a lot of what last season’s finale was about for her. But we’ll see! We’ll see at the start of this season what that breakthrough really means.

Is there anything you’re allowed to tease about this upcoming season?

You’ll find out where the plane went. You’ll find out how the loss of Harrison is dealt with. I can now wear coats where I can tie my belt again, so that will be fun for the fashion. I’m not sure what else I can say.

It was pretty funny seeing how they hid your pregnancy last season.

It wasn’t terrible, but it was a challenge for me. I was going through something beautiful and wonderful and exciting that my character was not. I had to really be responsible to myself and also be responsible to the character, and balance those needs. Those kinds of problems are extraordinarily wonderful problems to have.

This is your fourth season as Olivia Pope. What is the most important thing you’ve learned from playing her?

I’ve learned to trust the writers more than ever before. It’s not like with a film where you have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Your story is ongoing so the fate of your character is in the hands of multiple people. You don’t really have a say in what they decide. I’ve really learned to surrender to those writers and trust them. There’s that beautiful logo at the end of Shonda’s shows with a rollercoaster and that’s what it feels like to be an actor in ShondaLand. You go on this wonderful ride and you strap yourself in and surrender to it. It’s a blessing.

It seems like you’ve been given a lot of credit for helping get more strong, diverse female characters on TV. Do you feel any sense of responsibility for that?

No. I can’t take credit. There were women doing really strong work on cable television like Jada Pinkett Smith and Anika Noni Rose and Maggie Q. There are women of color who’ve been doing great work on cable television for a while. The circle just continues to get bigger and hopefully will continue to expand. It’s not enough for there to be just one or two.