Kerry Washington: Everyone on ‘Scandal’ Has Secrets — Even the President

by | April 4, 2012 at 10:27 AM | Interviews, Scandal

Kerry Washington in Scandal (ABC)

Scandal” premieres Thursday, April 5 on ABC (10/9c). The drama stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, the woman politicians call when dirty photos of them appear online or a crusading journalist uncovers a little bit too much information. “Scandal’s” portrayal of a dirty, cynical Washington D.C.  is the polar opposite of the last great political drama, the idealistic “The West Wing.” It’s a timely series, perfect for an era where there is seemingly a new political sex scandal every week and journalists chronicle candidates gaffes rather than their proposed policies. (Click on the video below to watch the first seven minutes of the first episode now.)

Washington explains the premise, “Olivia Pope has a crisis management firm and what that means is that when you find yourself in a crisis, something that is more complicated than anything that the police can handle, bigger than the justice system, more challenging than anything you want the media to know about, when you have a problem that seems like it can’t be fixed, you come to us and we fix it.”

Olivia rose to the top of her secretive profession because of her unique attributes. “She’s so smart. She’s always able to think like five steps ahead of the police and six steps ahead of the media and seven steps ahead of the justice system. She’s just a real strategic thinker and a very profound intellect. Also, her compassion. She really, really cares about people.” Washington acknowledges, “I think that can often be her weakness, too. She really, really cares about other people and she gets caught up in trying to make sure that everyone is okay and everybody’s taken care of. I think the bigness of her heart serves her well and can also be a challenge for her.”

The show boasts a prestigious pedigree. Says Washington, “Shonda Rhimes is, of course, the genius producer/writer behind ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Private Practice,’ and this is her new baby.” Like “Grey’s,” the show is about a group of young, attractive workaholics. There is even some of Rhimes trademark snappy dialogue. But “Scandal” is far darker, focusing on moral ambiguity and cover ups. “Everybody on this show has a lot of secrets. Nobody is who they appear to be in the pilot…Everybody that Olivia hires is somebody that she knows is going to be able to excel in the field of crisis management because they know how difficult life can be. They’ve been in horrible situations and they’ve had to find their way. She respects people who have had to find their way through challenging situations.” Over he course of the season, their secrets will be exposed. “You learn more about each person, as you see them in the White House and the Attorney General’s office.”

Speaking of the White House, the President is a major part of the show — though Obama does not have to worry that he is being portrayed inaccurately. “Olivia lives in an alternate universe where there’s actually a Republican President in office at the moment.” Though he is a member of the GOP, President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) seems to be inspired by Bill Clinton. He has an eye for the ladies, especially his former adviser Olivia. Though Washington is as secretive as her alter ego about whether the duo will have the ultimate forbidden romance, she allows, “Olivia does have her secrets, as does the President, as does everybody at Pope and Associates. It’s part of what’s fun about the show, that every week you get to see that we are really good about our jobs. We are able to fix crisis. When crisis walks in the door, we can solve the problem. But in our own personal lives, each of us has some challenges.”

The character of Olivia was inspired by real-life crisis public relations expert, Judy Smith who is one of the show’s producers. “She’s been very hands on and very generous with her time and helping all of us who work at Pope and Associates understand that this is a life or death situation often. When somebody walks into our office, everything’s on the line. She helped us really understand the intensity of it all.”