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Kerry Washington recalls being 'immersed' in Anita Hill investigation at center of HBO's 'Confirmation'

Kerry Washington was just 14 when the groundbreaking Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas investigation riveted a nation.

Now the woman best known for bringing Washington to its knees each week as the go-to Beltway fixer in the ABC hit "Scandal" finds herself playing the woman who shook up the political class in HBO's "Confirmation."

Washington portrays Hill in the film that covers the 1991 monumental sexual harassment allegations that changed the way we talk about victims rights and race relations. Hill, a young African American law professor, was thrust into the spotlight after she accused her former boss and Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce) of sexual harassment.

Washington, appearing Thursday afternoon at the Television Critics Assn. media tour in Pasadena, downplayed the idea that playing two women embroiled in the politics of the U.S. capital has yielded a cynical view on D.C.

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“I think I’m really inspired by the difference that a person can make in Washington and the kind of cultural shift that happened after the events that take place in our film,” said Washington, who met with Hill in preparing for the role. “I think it’s really inspiring to think about how much changed, how we were all transformed by these events in terms of our language changing around sexual harassment, around victims rights, around how we think about the workplace, how we think about women, how we think about race, how we think about power.”

Premiering in April, the film was directed by Rick Famuyiwa ("Dope")  from a script by Susannah Grantand. In addition to Pierce as Thomas, the film also stars Greg Kinnear as Joe Biden, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and presided over the Thomas confirmation hearings.

Despite her age at the time of the proceedings, Washington said she understood there was significance to what was unfolding.

“It was one of the first times that we all stood still and began to partake in what we now think of as a 24-hour news cycle,” Washington said. “My mother was an academic who had very passionate feelings about it as a woman of color. My dad had very passionate feelings about it as a black man. And I was immersed in how complicated and how complex the issues were from a very young age.”

Washington said that ahead of production on the film, the cast and crew had to sit through a sexual harassment orientation, which she referred to as a “surreal” moment.

“Some of the issues are still rearing their head in terms of gender and in terms of race and how we understand those things,” she said. “So I think, really, the outcome of what happened was that the conversation began and we want to make sure that that conversation continues.”

I tweet about TV (and other things) here: @villarrealy

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