Before tonight’s shocking return of Scandal on ABC, Entertainment Weekly talked to Kerry Washington, a.k.a. the indomitable Olivia Pope. But first, SPOILER ALERT! Do not read unless you’ve seen the episode.
How did it feel not being on in the fall?
It felt a little strange I guess. It’s always nice to be missed, but I think of television as being such a rapidly transforming platform. Shows are moving around all the time. The length of seasons is constantly changing. I hoped that our fans would stay with us.
Did it feel different during the shoot? Did it feel like you had more room to breathe knowing that these episodes you were shooting wouldn’t air until much later?
No. I mean, I literally had much less room to breathe because I had a foot in my lung, but no. I felt under the gun to sort of get what we had to get done, and not from the people I work for but just because I wanted to make sure that we could get what we needed to get done. Childbirth is such a mystery. You don’t know when a baby is coming. I just think I was more focused on getting done what we needed to get done in the time that we had.
What was your reaction to the assassination of Frankie (Ricardo Chavira)?
I was shocked. We have already had assassination attempts on our show. I did not see it coming at all.
Were you nervous about this episode airing the day before the inauguration? [Editor’s Note: This Q&A occurred before #TGIT was postponed to Jan. 26.]
I think it’s important that people know that the episode was written a long time before the outcome of this past November. I think that’s important. I don’t know. It doesn’t get lost on me every day that for years the culture of this show was that the things we say and do are outrageous and unfathomable, and now we’re having to change plot lines and reconsider air dates because it’s too close to what’s actually happening or could be misconstrued as such. That is a reality that I am consistently trying to wrap my head around.
Olivia Pope trended after the presidential election.
The next morning, yeah.
And you tweeted in response.
I did. Part of me was really honored and moved in a way that she’s become such a part of the social discourse around politics, that she was forefront in people’s imaginations. However, it also made me anxious because she’s not a real person. What’s happening to our country is … I just felt it was important for us to focus on reality and the truth.
After the election, did you reach out to Shonda Rhimes to ask whether anything needed to change in the Scandal premiere?
When I first talked to Shonda after the election it had nothing to do with the show. It just had to do with the country. It had to do with our feelings about what had transpired in the real election. It wasn’t until many texts and emails down the line that we talked about the ramifications for the show. I think initially my concern and response was much more with the political climate, with the policy changes, with the hate crimes that were on the rise. I wasn’t worried about our show. I was worried about our country.
What did you want to hear from Shonda when you guys came back together [earlier this month] for the first time?
I don’t know that there was anything specific that I wanted to hear from her. We had texted a bit about kind of the surreal nature of doing a political show in this political climate. She mentioned that she had talked about that a great deal with some of the other cast members when they had seen each other at events. She said that she thought it might be a good idea for us to all talk when we came back. I thought that that probably would be a good idea because I feel like everybody has a lot to process.
One question we were curious about asking after the election was, How will the results and Donald Trump’s presidency affect the way TV and film tell stories moving forward? Can you envision Shonda telling stories about the White House that she would like to see?
I think these things have ebbs and flows. When you think about The West Wing, it was in many ways the White House a lot of people wanted to see, and I think in some ways it was a response to what was going on in politics at the time. People feeling like their vision of the American dream didn’t fit into what was currently going on in politics. There was room to create the imaginary world of The West Wing. I think a similar thing happened during the Obama White House when, because people felt like they were happy and safe, there was room to create the imaginary world of this darker side of Washington in our show and in House of Cards and in Veep. I think it’s hard to tell what impact the current politics will have on people’s needs and desires in their escapism imaginary world.
With Frankie’s death does Olivia see opportunity for Mellie (Bellamy Young)?
I think she sees another opportunity to change and fix and help her country in the light of this tragedy. It may be that that serving and helping and fixing is also aligned with some of her agenda, but I think she really is trying to think about what’s best for the country.
You’re rocking a lovely cape in the first episode. Do you rock a lot of capes this season?
I do. Capes are more forgiving for hiding bellies that have babies in them.
How does it feel being back on the air?
I missed our fans. I missed our gladiators as much as they missed us, that’s for sure. It’s weird to not live-tweet on Thursday night and to not be on that rollercoaster with everybody. It was very strange. It’s really exciting and wonderful to be back.
What do you think the chances are of Donald Trump tweeting after your premiere?
I don’t know. Kellyanne Conway said she was a fan of the show.
When did she say that?
When I was on Bill Maher [before the election]. She tweeted that she was a fan of the show and that she would see Shonda and I in the oval office.
So she was basically implying that you two were going to come visit her?
I think she was for sure implying that she would be in the White House. I don’t know. I don’t really want to interpret what her tweets mean. So far it seems like his tweets are an orchestrated distraction from other more dangerous things that are happening at the time, so if he tweets about the show I would say we should all comb through the newspaper to see what else is happening in the real world.
Scandal airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.