Walking into the after-party for her Saturday Night Live hosting gig in the wee hours of Nov. 3, Kerry Washington did something shocking: She grabbed the hand of her husband, former 49ers cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, and held it in public.
For the very private star, who wed in secret this past June after a three-year courtship she’d kept quiet even from friends, it may be out of character. But then again, she has a lot to be happy about at the moment: her loving marriage, her popular TV series, Scandal, and a baby on the way.
“Kerry’s in it to win it, and she’s winning,” her friend Joe Reinstein, who worked with her during Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns, tells PEOPLE in its new issue, on stands Friday. “She deserves everything.”
She certainly worked hard to get it. The 36-year-old Washington – whose acclaimed turn in Scandal has made her arguably the most powerful African-American actress in Hollywood – has confessed she struggled with an eating disorder in college, bingeing and then exercising for hours.
“I used food as a way to cope,” she told Essence in 2007. “There was a lot of guilt and a lot of shame.”
In 2007, a public breakup with fiancé David Moscow taught her a hard lesson about keeping her personal life to herself. It wasn’t until she met Asomugha in 2010 that she found her match – and decided their relationship wasn’t for public consumption.
“They’re the same person,” a Washington pal says of their connection. “They have the same values, and are very close to their families.”
That’s one thing friends say will serve her well as she prepares to become a mom. “Kerry’s got her values straight,” adds Reinstein. “This is going to be one lucky kid.”
For much more on Kerry Washington’s bumpy road to fame and her life now, pick up PEOPLE magazine’s newest issue, on newsstands Friday.
• With reporting by JANINE RAYFORD RUBENSTEIN, EMILY STROHM and AILI NAHAS