When mega producer Shonda Rhimes— such a proponent of saying “yes” to new experiences that she wrote a book on it — asks if you want to direct one of the final episodes of a groundbreaking TV series, there’s really only one suitable answer.
So Kerry Washington, who plays the strong as hell female lead Olivia Pope in ABC’s ‘Scandal,” went for it.
“I was really honored that she brought it up,” Washington says the day after wrapping production on the episode, which aired last month. “To be honest, I didn’t necessarily feel ready, but I also felt like I would never forgive myself if I hadn’t done it before the end of the show. I didn’t have another year to feel ready. It was now or never. And I’m glad I did it.”
To prepare, Washington participated in a session for first-time directors provided by the Directors Guild of America. She also shadowed directors on the set of “Scandal” and observed director Melina Matsoukas, who is working with Washington on another project, during production on the second season of HBO”s “Insecure.” On set, she armed herself with a Minnie Mouse pen that her 4-year-old daughter gifted her.
“She gave it to me when I told her I had a big week at work,” Washington says. “It’s this gigantically awkward thing. I had it every single day. It helped me.”
For Washington, who took the plunge into producing two years ago under a deal with ABC Studios, developing a director’s eye was aided by seven seasons of watching herself — and her cast mates — on screen while live-tweeting episodes.
I used to never watch anything that I was in. But I’ve had to build the muscle of being able to watch myself — and see where improvements could be made.
“I used to never watch anything that I was in,” Washington says. “I could barely watch through my fingers. But I’ve had to build the muscle of being able to watch myself — and see where improvements could be made.” (For extra measure, Washington said she leaned on the show’s cinematographer, Oliver Bokelberg, and — on days when she was acting in a lot of scenes — her acting coach.)
But inevitably, the most useful method was approaching it as a role.
“There was a little part of me the whole time that was like, ‘I am playing the role of director.’ Like, ‘I am in a little short film called ‘Directing’ and I’m starring as the director. I remember [director] Paris Barclay saying: you just have to step into the role of leadership and know that people are looking to you. I remember the very first scene on the very first day, I felt like I was trying to jump onto the Acela train. I didn’t know how to get on the train, how to get off the train. I was like, ‘What is happening right now?’ But it happened.”
This story is part of our package on women directors. For more stories from the series see here