As Olivia Pope on ABC's "Scandal," Kerry Washington is the most powerful fixer in Washington, a town that needs a lot of fixing. Trouble is, she's also in love with the most powerful man in D.C.: President Fitzgerald "Fitz" Grant (Tony Goldwyn). She met the married Republican commander in chief when she helped him win the election but hit a rough patch when he found out she helped rig the election in his favor.
That is far from the worst crime the show's characters have committed. Yet through every hairpin turn of the plot, they're all, still, bizarrely lovable. It's complicated.
Washington's had a plot-filled few seasons herself, playing opposite Jamie Foxx in "Django Unchained," speaking at the Democratic National Convention and starring in the recent romantic comedy "Peeples." She hadn't pictured herself starring on a network drama, but then she read show runner Shonda Rhimes' pilot, "and I was done."
The love audiences have for the show is as addictive as the romance between Olivia and Fitz. Washington includes herself in their number, about 9.1 million viewers at last count. Meeting in the "Scandal" offices a week before the finale aired, she's as impeccably turned out as her character, with black and white nails that match her top. She couldn't yet comment on the finale specifically, except to say she is considering extreme measures to learn what happens next.
The cliffhangers are so astonishing every week, Fitz getting shot wasn't even the season finale. Do you always know what's coming?
We have no clue. Sometimes we don't get the scripts until the day of the table read or at the table read, and it's shocking for us.
Do you ever get a script that makes you think, 'We can't paint our way out of this one'?
At this point, we really trust the writers, but it gets scary. I remember I was terrified in the episode where it was a flashback to the point where we learned that Olivia really was responsible for rigging the election. That was devastating for me. I cried all the way to work. But that's how invested we all are in these characters. I don't know if it was that episode or the next one, but I was really upset at the table read, and Shonda came up to me and said, 'It's going to be OK,' and like a 6-year-old, I screamed at her, 'I don't believe you!' She was laughing.
That was such an alarming revelation.
I was concerned about the show ... can Olivia come back from this? What will that mean for the show if she can't? I think it's so courageous that Shonda and the writers are truly committed to these characters being flawed and human.
Very flawed. There's Fitz, who killed a Supreme Court justice, or Cyrus, who had someone killed …
… or Huck, who's an assassin, but he's the most beloved character on the show. The show really messes with your brain and with your heart. And I love it because life is complicated, so these characters are reflecting that truth, sometimes at operatic levels, but still it's born out of the truth of the complexity of the human spirit.
As a person who's politically active, were you concerned about portraying this world as so cynical?
I'm in the administration; I'm on the President's Committee for the Arts and Humanities. So when I met with Shonda the first time, I said to her that I wanted to make sure that my work on the show would not be misinterpreted as commentary on the current state of politics. I wanted to make sure it felt like an alternate universe. When she told me the president on the show was going to be a Republican and would be white, I was like OK, I can consider this possibility.
Readers who haven't seen the finale should stop here, because I have to ask you about that finale where it's revealed that the man who's been trying to destroy Olivia is her father.
You suddenly walk away being like, whoa, you can't possibly end there, because that wasn't even in the discussion before. Now you're really messing with me. The actors kept threatening the writers that we were going to do a Watergate-type break-in to the writers' room in two months so that we can find out what the ideas are for next season.
The Watergate plan sounds good. It's very much life imitates art.
It very much honors the culture of the show. I think it's really appropriate for us to do it.