Washington is set to star as Hill in HBO's upcoming Confirmation

By Danielle Garlock and Aurelie Corinthios
Updated April 11, 2016 02:25 PM
Todd Williamson/Getty

There’s an important reason Kerry Washington was drawn to her upcoming project Confirmation.

Speaking at a Super Soul Session with Oprah Winfrey Sunday in Los Angeles, the Scandal star opened up why she decided to step into the shoes of Anita Hill in the HBO film about the 1991 Clarence Thomas sexual harassment scandal that rocked the United States.

Of what made her want to play Hill, an attorney and university professor who publicly testified that then-Supreme Court nominee Thomas sexually harassed her, Washington, 39, explained it was because the hearing had a profound impact on her and her family.

“I lived in a very academic home, we were always talking about things: women taking affirmative action, or whatever. … There were lots of important issues to talk about all the time,” Washington told Winfrey, 62. “I was 14 when the hearing happened. My memories of the hearings are also through the eyes of my parents, and in my home we were always on the same page. My parents were always on the same page ideologically.”

In regards to Hill/Thomas, though, Washington said a divide was wedged in her household for the first time.

“When the hearings came on that was the first time I saw my parents at odds,” she revealed. “Because my dad was very pulled compassionately toward this black man that was having his job and his reputation stripped from him publicly by this panel of white men, and he was horrified that this was happening on this international stage. And my mother was very compassionately pulled towards Anita Hill. She was this academic woman, this African-American woman being re-victimized when she was brave enough to come forward.”

“So I think it was the first time that I actually became aware of inter-sexuality, this idea that I am both black and a woman and that at times those two things may be at odds with one another and that stuck with me,” added the actress.

Plus, the star made it no secret Hill has long been “a hero” of hers – and in fact, the first they met, Washington “totally fan-girl’ed.”

“You know sometimes when you go up to someone they say: ‘I can’t tell you how much I admire you,’ and or they’ll say: ‘I’m a fan of yours, too,’ ?” Washington said. “That’s kind of the ideal to happen, right, so you don’t totally embarrass yourself … not with Anita Hill! Blank stare.”

According to Washington, Hill “wanted nothing to do” with her at first.

“She didn’t want to talk to me, she didn’t want to go through this experience with me and was not interested,” Washington said.

As for how the two eventually found their connection? They bonded over their mutual feelings towards the loss of privacy that comes with being in the public eye.

“She didn’t want anybody to know who she was and that was one of the ways we actually connected,” Washington said. “One of the ways that I was able to convince her that I was not out to exploit her, that I had a lot of compassion on what she had gone through, was that I said to her … ‘I [also] struggle with the loss of privacy and I know what it’s like to show up for your purpose in life and have the unfortunate result [be] that you’ve lost a big part of what belonged to you.’ ”

“She did it for very courageous reasons because she changed the world,” added the actress. “But that idea of losing your identity is one that I deeply identify with – I fight to maintain mine, as you know.”

Confirmation premieres April 16 at 8 p.m ET on HBO.