"It's just a compliment to Shonda's ability to write messy, complicated people," she tells PEOPLE

By Michele Corriston
Updated May 15, 2015 05:30 PM
Nicole Wilder/ABC

For a while, it seemed like everything was coming up Mellie on Scandal.

Played to steely perfection by Bellamy Young, the first lady overcame the tragic loss of her son, ditching her bathrobe and Uggs for her usual power skirt. She put her ambitions ahead of her husband’s and said out loud what we’ve been thinking for four seasons: She should run for president. She and Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) shared tender moments as he threw his support behind her. She won her election for senator.

But it all came crashing down in Thursday night’s finale: Rowan (Joe Morton) blackmailed her into facilitating the slaughter of an entire grand jury. Fitz, disgusted, kicked her out of the White House. He reunited with Olivia (Kerry Washington), sealing their renewed romance with a steamy kiss.

In an interview with PEOPLE, Young, 45, admits that the Olitz moment was “sexy” but calls Fitz icing Mellie out “horribly hypocritical.” Plus, she gives the scoop on that Huckleberry Quinn cliffhanger – and what’s next for everyone’s favorite first lady.

After all, hell hath no fury like a Southern belle scorned.

We’ve seen Mellie evolve into such a well-rounded character. In season 1, the audience saw her as a barrier to Fitz and Olivia, but now she’s someone everyone roots for. What have been some of your favorite Mellie moments?
Oh gosh! My first favorite moment was the scene with Kerry at the end of season 1, when I finally had that big, one-act, “Do your job” scene with her. That was the first sort of way in, and followed quickly in the second season with “Get over her!” – when I screamed that at Fitz. Those were two sort of boom boom, great anchoring moments because I didn’t know I was going to get to play this long, so I didn’t know I’d get to anchor that deep. But maybe high point of all high points with Mellie for me personally is that first Drunk Mellie monologue about Olivia being up on the cross. Oh, that was a delight! I loved that monologue so much, it was just so well-written, so you’re leaning into it like you were floating on molasses and let it happen. Oh, it was a joy.

The two hardest for me were doing the rape scene. Sweet Barry Bostwick took such great care of us both, but those scenes are so hard to shoot. Between the subject matter and then the fact that we were in a really narrow room so we had to do it all twice because they had to shoot it all from one extreme side angle and then all from another extreme side angle, it was just sort of relentless. And I’d fasted all day because I wanted to be really hollow.

And losing little Jerry (Dylan Minnette), that was the other big one. From the table read through the shooting through watching it when it was finally cut together, that just, ooh!

The last one I can sort of think of was a slight redemption from that pain, the scene with Karen (Mary Mouser) after she’s just acted abominably, and I’m like, “This is your one path.” Getting to be Mother Mellie in that moment.

And then absolutely all things Smelly Mellie, Fried Chicken on the Balcony Mellie. There’ve been a lot of fun Mellies!

Speaking of Mom Mellie, where is baby Teddy?
He’s with Nanny Jen. He’s played by these adorable twin girls, and it’s starting to become an issue because now they look like girls and we want to cut their hair. But hopefully we see more!

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In the finale, do you think Mellie made the right choice in handing the list of grand jurors to Rowan, given the circumstances? She’s one of the few characters who didn’t know who he really was or what he was capable of doing with those names.

I know she wishes she didn’t, but she had no idea. She thought he was just some wealthy man who wanted to make sure the vote went his way, which happens every day in D.C. I mean, I have to imagine – I don’t want to sound too paranoid or too jaded, but I think money talks, and it’s a power town. I think she felt bad enough about playing the outcome of something but could never, ever have conceived that people’s lives were in the balance. I think that was a horrible fork in the road.

Now, how much has she made her peace with it when she finally wins the election? That was something I struggled with, because I felt like that scene with the champagne started in a rather giddy place, if not glib. No real human being’s emotional life is so seamless and clear. We’re all allowed these abhorrent moments: “I feel like I shouldn’t be happy right now but I’m so happy!” It’s just a compliment to Shonda [Rhimes’] ability to write messy, complicated people. I think [Mellie’s] life was completely altered by what’s gone on.

Was Mellie wrong to trust Liz (Portia de Rossi)?
Well, now I think she would know that she was, sure. But it’s D.C., you know? Trust is sort of a fool’s game there, so I think more than blaming Liz for that, she’d blame herself. “How could I have been so naïve to think that anyone was on my side, much less that on my side.” I think Mellie would think she should have seen it coming.

It was so nice seeing Fitz finally appreciate and respect Mellie in the scene before election night, but then he totally turned on her. It’s not like he hasn’t done unconscionable things, or even killed people. Do you think it was hypocritical of him to kick her out of the White House?
Oh, horribly, horribly hypocritical and rash and vindictive. Mellie likes to hum a refrain of “I did this for us,” and I’m sure Fitz – you’re in a marriage, and you hear the same thing they always say, and it just drives you crazy. So I’m sure when Mellie starts down that road, Fitz just goes from one to a thousand in an instant. But throwing her out of the White House, it’s preposterous! It’s monstrous.

What I was thinking, as I’m walking down that hall, is, “I bet he has already called Olivia.” Mellie knows it’s the first phone call he made, and this is what he’s always wanted. Even shooting that last little bit of walking out of the White House, it was the worst.

Do you know if Mellie is going to be getting any new love interests? She deserves it: I was really rooting for her and Andrew (Jon Tenney) before we found out how bad he was.
[Laughs] I know! Wasn’t it so sweet? Again, it’s a tribute to Shonda’s ability to write complicated situations where we can be like “Oh, wasn’t it cute when Mellie had a boyfriend!” But really, to see her blossom in the light of someone’s actual, ardent attention was really heartwarming to me. I definitely want Mellie to be loved. I know Mellie wishes that were with Fitz, and you can let a whole lifetime slip away by wanting something unattainable. So I’m interested to see what Shonda and our writers cook up next season. I really love those moments when Mellie’s not fighting against the world, when something is going her way. She’s very dear when she lets those claws, those venomous talons relax at her sides a little while. It’s very, very dear to see her in a gentle moment.

Do you think Mellie will be a good senator and would make a good president?
I actually think she’ll be a fantastic leader. I really, really do. She’s so smart, so capable, so adaptive. I think she’s able to juxtapose Fitz governing with his heart, he’s such an emotional leader, in some ways what you would usually assign to the female gender, right? And Mellie definitely is much more from the neck up, making decisions pragmatically about what’s best and worst and where to go next, and at what price, what compromise can I make in order to do this? I’m so interested to see her, because now that her heart is crushed but now that’s she’s sort of on a stronger path professionally, I’m really excited to watch her flourish. I really think she’ll do a phenomenal job.

It was amazing to watch her take a stand in that Navy rape case two episodes ago.
Yeah! And the episode that Cyrus got married in, Liv came and gave her the whole push to have the wedding, but by the end, she really was able to evolve. She’s proven herself to be, time and time again, able to evolve. Fitz has remained very in his heart and on his path, but Mellie is much more in the real world and able to cope, adapt, grow. Those are marks of a great leader, so I really do think she will be a terrific senator, and I think she’d be fantastic in the White House.

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Let’s talk about that Huck (Guillermo Déaz) and Quinn (Katie Lowes) cliffhanger. What do you think will happen – does she shoot?

[ Screams] I know! My gosh. Well, hmm, how do I answer that particular question? I’m going to say this much, which is saying nothing but saying everything: That was a change. That was what Shonda changed, and so that was what was new to us last night. So we may or may not have ideas about other things that may or may not have happened, but even if we did, the only truth is what airs. So I have no idea where Shonda will take it from there, I just know when we found out, we were like, “Nuh uh!” That’s storytelling, right? It was exactly the right point to stop it, and they were both so beautiful in that scene. Huck is like, “Yes, yes, yes, you’re right, I can’t help myself.” And she’s like, “I love you so much, I’m going to kill you because you can’t go on like this.” It absolutely just tortured me. They were both so good in it.

At the end, Olivia finally chose Fitz! As an actor and as a fan, are you on Team Fitz or Team Jake (Scott Foley)?
I’m on Team Olivia! I mean, she doesn’t even know. But just as a fan, I have to say, seeing them together in the White House, that was major. That was epic, historic, amazing. That balcony is such a beautiful set, it’s just so sexy to begin with, and to see them all sexy, it was just pretty major and pretty satisfying. I don’t know where we go from here, how they are going to manage even waking up tomorrow, get her out of there, what do you tell the Secret Service, what do you tell America, but I don’t have to worry about all that stuff. That’s for Miss Shonda Rhimes and all our beautiful writers, but I kind of loved it. But, how heartbreaking was Jake’s speech? It was really heartbreaking. Like, “Full disclosure, nobody gets hurt, I love you, you’re in love with somebody else” – which is also a pretty major move. That leaves a girl thinking. That’s a very, “I’m a man, I’m holding my ground, figure yourself out if you ever have any interest with me” kind of move, which is sexy in its own way.

Obviously I want the show to go on forever and ever, but if you could have Shonda write the perfect ending for Mellie, where would you want her to be in the series finale?
Well, I hope it’s like nine years from now, and I hope she’s had two full, fabulous terms in the White House, and I hope that through their – very enjoyable for all these seasons of television – trials and tribulations between Fitz and Mellie, that in the end, they recommit their love. They’re just going to move to Georgetown, they’re never going to get that far away, they’re both going to be emeritus professors or something, but they sort of get to watch the sun set holding hands, taking it in like battle partners. We made it through the war, we’re standing here watching the sun set together, thinking about our legacies, and we may not have done it pretty, but we did it.