Even Kerry Washington Fangirls over Shonda Rhimes and Olivia Pope

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It’s impossible to escape the ShondaLand spell, even if you live in it.

Kerry Washington is paving her own way in Hollywood beyond her acting career on Scandal as she stars as Anita Hill in the HBO biopic Confirmationwhich she also executive produced. Hill was a 35-year-old law professor at the University of Oklahoma who testified that she experienced sexual harassment while working for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing.

Washington explained the cultural impact of Hill’s story in the April issue of ELLE magazine, out on newsstands nationwide on March 22.

“This moment was so important because it created a language around women being able to protect themselves,” said Washington. “The behavior that Anita Hill described was going on in a lot of offices throughout the country, and most people didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. But this created awareness around that and around the need for women’s voices to be heard in our public spaces, both testifying before Congress and sitting on the committee. It really was such a huge cultural shift.”

Washington says that her most recognizable role on Scandal influenced her personally and just as powerfully, specifically when it comes to motherhood. (Spoilers ahead.)

“Even though Olivia Pope has obviously made the decision that she is not a mom,” Washington says, in reference to the show’s midseason finale, in which Pope gets an abortion, “playing her made me feel like I could be a mom. Because she knows there’s always another way—there’s always a way to fix it, there’s always a way to solve it, to win. And I feel like playing her made me feel like, All right, I can do it. I will figure out how to juggle it all.”

Beyond her on-screen character, the actress’s real-life boss and friend, Shonda Rhimes, has inspired her with her almighty female power. “I am on one show and I have one kid, and she has three shows and three kids,” marvels Washington.

Her husband Nnamdi Asomugha even listens to the audiobook version of Rhimes’ self-help book, “Year of Yes”. “We bought it for a bunch of people for Christmas because I feel like it’s a little bit of required reading,” adds Washington.

ELLE_April_Kerry Washington Cover
CREDIT: Dan Martensen for ELLE

Launch the gallery at the top of the page to view more photos from Washington’s beachy spread in ELLE’s April issue.