In 2012, Bellamy Young only booked three episodes of Scandal. Fast forward to the present, and she’s playing the first single, female president as a full-time cast member in the seventh and final season.
“It’s like winning the lottery. It’s a blessing of a lifetime. It really is,” Young tells PEOPLE. ”Still seven seasons in, [creator Shonda Rhimes] cares enough to make it the best it can be.”
Young portrays Mellie Grant, a first-lady-turned-commander-in-chief who has had an illustrious political rise and an even more noteworthy private life.
“I get to be Mellie: a fully realized, complicated, empowered woman. I get to be flawed, and I get to be aspirational and inspirational. It’s absolutely a gift of a lifetime,” says Young, who recently became a spokesperson for Restasis MultiDose, the first FDA-approved preservative-free, prescription eye drop in the U.S. to be available in a multidose bottle.
As for the most eye-opening moment thus far, Young admits the perk of her job isn’t playing a female head of state.
“To get to have a seat at the table where everyone’s humanity is fully realized … I feel so proud to be a part of the show that isn’t just entertaining because it’s news from the headlines that are written every week, but because it’s really trying to make a difference and contribute to the conversation,” she says.
“While the character’s morality may be ever-changing, its morality isn’t at its very core. I really do feel Scandal has always tried to move forward the ball of inclusion and love and empowerment,” Young continues. “That’s been eye-opening, because I’ve jobbed around a lot in this town, and having that perspective is not always high on everyone’s list. And it can be. I just always thought it couldn’t be. There are deadlines, and it maybe couldn’t be done, but that’s not true. You can make beautiful television or any kind of entertainment and also have a heart and a moral center.”
As fans begin to count down to the series finale, Young is looking for opportunities post-Scandal.
“I have my eye on what comes next. You know, as this journey comes to a close, what comes next, and how I felt being a part of things, and how I can continue to be of service,” she says. “To continue to be a part of the conversation as we all move forward in the nation. It’s a crucial time in our country.”
Going from Shondaland’s Oval to Capitol Hill or even 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. may be a reach for the immediate future, but Young emphasizes the importance of civil service.
“I personally think that’s the only way to stay sane, much less humble and grateful. To be of service. It can be on a very small level, it can be on a grander level as you’re able but there’s a spectrum every day,” she says.
“I’m really loving being president,” Young admits of her position of power on the ABC drama. “It’s so extra fun because in a White House that’s coming out of the brain of Shonda Rhimes, to be the first single female president, it just adds a whole other layer, because we get to really talk about men being comfortable with women in power.”
Scandal airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.