Scandal's Olivia Pope may have been inspired by Washington, D.C. crisis manager Judy Smith, but the show almost went with a white lead.
In fact, it was Connie Britton who was initially at the top of ABC's list to play Pope, before showrunner Shonda Rhimes said otherwise.
"Shonda said she felt strongly that Olivia be black. It was inspired by Judy, and she wanted to honor that," Channing Dungey, then-ABC drama head, and now president of ABC Entertainment said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter
to honor Scandal
's 100th episode.
"Nothing felt more important than the sense of outsiderness. I didn't know that there hadn't been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years. When the show got picked up [to pilot], I got a phone call from somebody who said, 'This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton,'" Rhimes explained. "I said, 'It would be, except Olivia Pope is black.'"
"The network was reading us their top choices, and it was Connie and all white women. I panicked," casting director Linda Lowy recalled. "Somebody finally piped up, 'We're going to have to redo this list.'"
While Washington added that Pope "would have been a great role" for Britton, Dungey explained that the reason behind the list of white actresses was concern about how having a black lead would impact the show and ABC international
Then, however, they tested Washington, Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose -- which Lowy said wasn't much of a competition. "It was Kerry from the moment I took her to meet Shonda," she confessed.
"She could talk Washington more than I could talk Washington. She was different than what I originally envisioned. We were all like, 'Oh my God,' because she's tiny, cute, pretty and younger -- and because she was all those things, she was aware that people would underestimate her," Rhimes admitted, before revealing another casting secret: "Then when we were searching for somebody to be the president, nobody wanted to [play the president] because they weren't the lead."
Of course, Tony Goldwyn eventually won the role of President Fitzgerald Grant, while Britton went on to star on the ABC-turned-CMT drama Nashville.
Britton said goodbye
to her Nashville
character, Rayna Jaymes, this season -- leaving her with more time for other projects, like possibly guest-starring on Scandal