It's only fitting that
Washington's nomination took on historic proportions as well. She's the first African American to earn one in this category since
"Just landed. WOW! Im so grateful &humbled. THX 4 all your CONGRATS! YAY ..." the 36-year-old actress tweeted Thursday to her more than 971,000 Twitter followers.
An early morning flight from Northern California to Los Angeles had left the actress a bit disconnected, but clearly delighted at being one of seven nominees in the suddenly robust lead actress category for her portrayal as passionate crisis fixer Olivia Pope in the
Only four other African American actresses have been nominated in this category — Debbie Allen ("Fame"), Alfre Woodard (
"It is a small group of very accomplished women who I admire very deeply that I share this honor with," Washington said in a phone interview. "It's surreal to be in their company, historically."
"Scandal" creator Shonda Rhimes, who's made a career of color-blind casting with shows such as
"When you tell me it's historic I just go, 'It's really a shame that it's historic because it should not be a thing.' It's 2013," Rhimes said. "Kerry is an incredible actress, and the character of Olivia Pope appeals to everyone. If it means we're going to see more actresses of color being nominated in the future, that is wonderful. It will speak to something greater."
After premiering to lukewarm reviews and soft ratings as a mid-season replacement in 2012, the fast-paced drama became a hit after it generated strong word of mouth via social media, particularly Twitter — attracting celebrity admirers as wide-ranging as
The series, loosely based on the life of
Washington was active in forging a digital relationship with the show's legion of fans — who dub themselves "gladiators" in tribute to Olivia's nickname for her posse of employees.
"This role has been quite good to me," Washington said in something of an understatement. In recent months the actress has been on the cover of Vanity Fair, Elle and been the subject of countless TV and Web interviews.
"There is something new and exciting happening in the landscape right now," Washington said. "There are so many ways to watch television now. Like,
"Kerry is a really collaborative actor," Rhimes said. "She's very smart about even figuring out what I mean, because sometimes I feel I'm not the best communicator. Kerry is really smart about asking, 'What were you going for?' We've sort of found our own language together."
Rhimes drew special attention to the season's roller-coaster episode, "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," in which the president is shot and Olivia must pick out clothes for the first lady to wear as days in the hospital drag on.
"There was a moment where she just cried. But only for a brief moment. Then she pulled herself together and leaves," Rhimes said. "She's just very raw and honest. And she's versatile. She can be funny, and smart, and sexy and strong — yet, you can see hints of the cracks underneath without it seeming obvious."
"Kerry is just brilliant. She flawlessly brings the words of Shonda Rhimes to life in Olivia Pope every Thursday night on 'Scandal,' " Paul Lee, ABC's president of entertainment, said in a statement. "This show is on fire, we are so proud of it, and this is a historic and well-deserved recognition for both Kerry and Shonda."
And others want those flames to keep blazing. Under an unusual syndication deal,