Kerry Washington Talks ‘Scandal’: No One Is Who They Seem (EXCLUSIVE)

Those who caught the premiere of ABC’s ‘Scandal’ last Thursday were treated to a roller coaster ride of events, filled with powerhouse performances, fast-paced dialogue and one of the most shocking first-episode twists in years.

To recap (SPOILER ALERT): In the pilot, a woman threatens to expose an affair she had with the President (Tony Goldwyn). In walks political fixer Olivia Pope (played by the beautiful Kerry Washington), who does her best to cover it up before Washington, D.C., is hit with Monica Lewinsky 2.0. Little do viewers know, however, that Olivia herself has a past with the President — and it’s a steamy one.

Celebuzz recently caught up with Washington, the star of such hit movies as Ray, The Last King of Scotland and Lakeview Terrace, to get the scoop on how that twist will play out in the rest of the season.

We also talked about how she handled Shonda Rhimes’ hyper-speed dialogue, and what it’s been like to work with another famous writer — Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino — on his new movie, Django Unchained. Check out the full interview below!

In the pilot, we find out that Olivia hooked up with, of all people, the President of the United States; how is that going to play out in the rest of the season?
I know this is going to sound like I’m trying to be vague, but I have to be honest with you: By the end of the season, you will realize that nobody is who you thought they were in the pilot episode, that things continue to unfold and reveal themselves. I can’t even begin to prep you for what lies ahead. I say that with a compassionate heart, because we were in your position. When you start working for Shonda, you don’t get an outline of the season. Each week was exciting and thrilling and shocking for us.

Given all of the twists and turns, it must have been very easy for you to say “yes” to this show.
Yeah. I wasn’t looking to do a network TV show, but I read the script and I was just floored; I just fell in love with the world of the show, which I feel like we’ve never seen before, and the character of Olivia Pope, who so complicated — the idea that, in her professional life, she’s so smart, sophisticated, powerful, totally together and in charge, and that, in her personal life, she’s so conflicted and vulnerable and torn in different directions. The idea of working as an actor, to embody both of those realities — which feels so human; we know so many people like that, who are able to be one way in one area of their lives, but in another area of their lives, they’re not able to empower themselves in the same way — is pretty incredible.

I was very impressed by your acting during the big scene inside the Oval Office. As an actor, how difficult was it to film such an emotional scene?
Actors, we’re very funny people. We’re like the only human beings who sit around waiting for a reason to someone to make us cry. So, when you get an opportunity to do a scene like that, you think, “Wow, this is a joy.” But then you get on set and you’re like, “This is painful!” [Laughs] So it was hard. But it was hard in the ways that are most fulfilling as an artist, to be able to kind of courageously go into those areas that challenge you emotionally, psychologically, and artistically.

At the end of the pilot, Olivia seemed very determined to take down the President, but I’m wondering if her feelings for him will get in the way as the season goes on.
Well, one of the things I love about the show is, the audience kind of enters the world through the Quinn character (Katie Lowes); they enter the world through the innocence and surprise of Quinn. They feel kind of impressed by Olivia Pope, the same way that Quinn does. But by the end of the episode, Olivia is shocked in the same ways that the audience is shocked — almost at the same time — so you begin to realize that even the person who’s supposed to have it all figured out is just as confused as you are. It’s one of the things I really like about the way the audience interacts with the first episode, because you begin seeing the world through Quinn’s eyes. You move to see the world through Olivia’s eyes and still Quinn’s eyes and other people’s.

You’re known primarily for your movie roles; were you at all nervous about transitioning into a full-time TV gig?
I mean, it wasn’t something I was looking for, but I guess I’m just so committed to being a person who works in lots of different mediums. The women whose careers I admire most are women who have made a life of working on the stage, and on film and on television, and just sort of in a fluid way doing the work in whatever the context. I think it’s really about the material — and that’s what happened. I fell in love with the material and I thought, “Well, that’s what matters.” I also think there’s so much quality stuff on television right now, and partly I think that’s because, in TV, the writer is King — or in our case, Queen — and that doesn’t always happen in film; the writer is not as important, or they are as important but they are not as respected or valued, always. So you tend to get really strong material on TV, because the people who are in charge of story are in charge.

Shonda Rhimes’ dialogue tends to be very fast-paced; have you forgotten any of your lines yet?
Oh, are you kidding? I’ve forgotten most of my lines. It’s a lot; I had full page, two page speeches at times, so, yeah, I definitely don’t still have the season memorized. It was hard, because sometimes we’d be holding two episodes in our brains at once, because we’d be finishing up one while starting to work on the next one.

I have to close with a nerdy fan question: How has it been working on Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, Django Unchained?
Oh it’s pretty amazing; I’d never worked with Quentin before. It’s tremendous to work with a true auteur, and somebody who is such an inspired filmmaker. It’s a phenomenal process. It’s great to be reunited with Jamie [Foxx] again, and shooting in New Orleans with Jamie again. It’s great.