Emmy Hopeful: Kerry Washington - 'Scandal'

by Jarett Wieselman 1:29 PM PDT, June 11, 2012
Photo: ABC

In its all-too-short first season, ABC's Scandal not only emerged as an unpredictably daring drama, but a splendid showcase for star Kerry Washington's dangerous yet delicate mix of venom and vulnerability. Now, with the 7-episode series hitting DVD, there is no better time to see what all the fuss is about.

Especially since Kerry Washington's name is in the mix for a Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Emmy Nomination. ETOnline caught up with the actress while she was in NYC to find out how she snagged the role, the lessons she learned about working on a TV show steered by creator Shonda Rhimes and -- spoiler alert -- what she knows about Quinn's true identity!

ETOnline: The Scandal DVD (out 6/12) includes your audition tape. Is that a process you enjoy?
Kerry Washington: On a good day, I really enjoy auditioning because it's an excuse to do what I love for 15 minutes. But it requires me to be at a level of passionate detachment, where I'm not fearful of the result. I think it's fun to include on a DVD. I mean, it's crazy and embarrassing for us, but fun for viewers.

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ETOnline: What was the audition process like for Scandal?
Washington: This was a highly coveted role and I wanted this ... but I had to beat out a lot of other actresses. Shonda and I had never met before, so I really didn't know if I got it. I knew that I loved this character and this show was obviously a tremendous opportunity. I just didn't know how it was going to go until I got the call.

ETOnline: What is it about Olivia Pope that you were drawn to?
Washington: She is such a complex, multifaceted person. And that she performs her identity in different ways, in different contexts. I think we all do that. We all have a version of ourselves that we take to Christmas dinner, versus who we are on a first date. She has that in a very extreme way because she is privately is so different than who she has to be publicly. Playing her requires every tool in my toolbox, and that's the greatest joy for any actor.

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ETOnline: Olivia's affair with Fitz has become one of the show's most talked about relationships. What kinds of reactions have you gotten from fans?
Washington: It's interesting -- people's response to the show is says so much about who they are. I love that some people feel like Fitz doesn't love her at all, while others feel that they're soulmates. I love that people are not only so invested, but invested in opposite ends of the spectrum. Our crew would get so heated talking about these characters and I remember thinking, if we can get fans to be half as passionate, we'll be in good shape.

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ETOnline: Is that the thing people most want to talk to you about? Fitz & Olivia?
Washington: Not any more. I was in the airport a few days after the finale and had these two women walk up to me, and demand, "Who is Quinn Perkins?" [laughs] That's been the big question on everybody's mind since the season finale.

ETOnline: For the record, has Shonda told you who Quinn is?
Washington: No [laughs]. She hasn't. And I'm so glad she hasn't because I would have folded by now. I get asked about 70 times a day. Especially on Twitter. By now, I would have at least told my mother. Who would have told her sisters. And that would be it. Everyone would have found out.

ETOnline: Shonda is notoriously secretive about her shows, coming from film, where you get the whole script up front, have you liked finding out about your character in pieces?
Washington: I have -- but it also makes for funny moments. For example, when we got the script where we meet Cyrus' husband, everyone was like, "Oh my God! Cyrus is gay!" [laughs] We were so excited. But I got that script even before [actor Jeff Perry, who plays Cyrus] did, so I was reading it while we were still working on the last episode and we were filming the scene where Cyrus and Olivia are eating shrimp scampi together. The whole time, all I could think was, "You don't even know that you are gay! You are so gay and you don't even know."

ETOnline: Looking at Olivia's journey as a whole, what presented you with the biggest challenge?
Washington: They both happened on one night – one was physical and the other was psychological. Intimate scenes are always really hard for me. It's just so uncomfortable. There's nothing sexy about it, but you have to make it look like the sexiest moment of your life despite it being just so awkward. Then there's that moment when Fitz tells Olivia to go into the room, and he gives her that choice -- Olivia chooses to go into the room and begin a sexual relationship with this man. That was a really tricky moment for me. The decision to do something that is not necessarily "ethical" but her whole being is telling her it's the right thing to do. I'm so grateful that Shonda put the decision in Olivia's hands. I didn't want her to fall prey to the seduction of a man. She chose to do something that would complicate her life immensely. And does it soberly – so to figure out how to justify that psychologically was very tricky for me.

Scandal hits DVD on June 12, click here to pre-order.