The Secret to Kerry Washington’s Balancing Act
How the Scandal star stays cool, calm and totally in control.
Kerry Washington wakes up early. I learn this when her publicist emails to ask if I’d like to do pilates with the actress at 6:30 a.m. before we sit down for our interview. A cursory Google search of Washington suggests I’m in trouble: This is, after all, a woman who moved to India after college and became certified as a yoga instructor. But my fear of pilates-induced humiliation is outweighed by my desire to watch Olivia Pope work out.
Washington, 38, arrives in sweats, with no makeup and no entourage, looking infinitely more relaxed than the character she plays on television. She’s a new mother with a hit show, but her face betrays none of the stress that must entail. Instead, her skin glows, her smile is bright, her eyes somehow managing to convey warmth, strength and vulnerability all at once.
“Hi, I’m Kerry,” she says, extending her hand to meet mine. We are on the Scandal set in Hollywood, standing in a dressing room that has been converted into a small gym for the actress. The space houses a pilates machine, blocks, resistance bands and a smattering of free weights. Washington’s trainer, Julie Turner, arrives, and they begin a quick exchange about the day’s workout; their shorthand has been honed by two to six pilates sessions a week for the past five years.
Though she and the other Scandal actresses have made regular hikes around Los Angeles a group ritual, pilates is Washington’s anchor. “There are a lot of forms of exercise where you have to leave yourself out of the room while you force yourself to do this thing,” she explains. “With pilates, I get to bring my true self. I cry, I laugh. I get to go: Where is my body today? What do I need today? How can I take care of myself and push myself past my comfort zone? How can I be both loving and challenging?”
Washington lies down on the reformer, then begins to bounce off its jump board, pushing against the weighted springs and softly landing on the balls of her feet, her eyes fixed firmly on the wall in front of her. She is working tiny muscles in her legs and core that most of us don’t realize exist, and as they begin to wake up, sweat glistens on her brow. She asks if I’d like to try it. I lie down, wondering what I’ve gotten myself into. After 10 or so jumps off the board, my legs begin to shake. I look for something to distract me. Staring at the spot in the room that held Washington’s gaze, I see a message she’s written: “Be truthful, gentle and fearless. —Gandhi.”
The main reason Washington likes to work out before most of Los Angeles wakes up is that she wants to get home to her husband, former pro football player Nnamdi Asomugha, and their 17-month-old daughter, Isabelle. “I try to get it in so I can be back with my kid early,” she says. Truth be told, she’d prefer to be cuddled up with her two loves and their shih tzu–Yorkie mix, Josie, who is undoubtedly asleep at the foot of their bed. But Washington never misses a workout. “I have to take care of myself in order to live life the way I want to,” she says. “It’s important to have rest days. But in the long run, if I don’t work out for, like, three days, I feel worse, not better.”