"No matter what [showrunner] Shonda [Rhimes] had Olivia do, the audience never deserted her. There's some people here and there who say, 'Oh no, she's gone too far. She's not my hero anymore.' But the vast majority of people still look up to [and] admire her as a role model," the 52-year-old actor told ET over the phone on Friday. "Just like the audience of Scandal embraced her, there might be enough of the American electorate that would embrace someone like Olivia Pope."
During an appearance with the Scandal cast on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Thursday night, Rhimes played coy about Olivia's possible presidential future. The ABC drama ended with a powerful image of two young black girls walking through the halls of the National Portrait Gallery and stopping to admire a portrait of Olivia, implying that the D.C. fixer went on to actually win the White House.
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'Scandal' Series Finale: Creator Shonda Rhimes Answers Burning Questions!
Rhimes said she purposely left the final scene open to interpretation, but Malina told ET that he's leaning towards President Pope.
"I feel like maybe the last subversive act of Scandal is the concept that maybe somebody like Olivia Pope, despite, I think, her tendency towards a corruption of power, that she might reach the highest office in the land," he said.
The great Olivia debate wasn't the only moment of the series finale that had fans talking, of course, as Malina's character, David Rosen, met his end at the hands of Cyrus Beene. According to Malina, David "should have been the last to go" -- "There have been many more people that are perhaps more ethically deserving of an early demise," he argued -- but he understands why it had to be his character getting the ax.
"I found out over the phone from Shonda and I was completely stunned, even though I spent a good time worrying that I'd be killed off of the show for most of the seven seasons," he confessed. "By the time it came to the finale, it's like, 'Oh man, I made it. There's no indication that anything's going to go awry in the finale.' But leave it to Shonda, of course, to defy expectations."
"Early on, it weighed on me. I wanted to tell people. I felt like I had this hot piece of information that I wanted to share with people, but then it occurred to me just what a bummer it would be if it got out, that it's a major surprise and it would be robbing the fans if word got out," he continued. "And then it started to get easier, and I thought, Oh, this is great. It's actually working. This is going to be a major surprise and I'm going to be part of it."
Then came actually shooting the scene, which was admittedly more difficult for the actor, who starred as the U.S. Attorney General for all seven seasons of Scandal. The character's death scene included a brief conversation between David and Cyrus (Joe Perry), before Cyrus gave a speech about "doing what needs to be done" and handed David a poison cocktail.
"It was not the final scene that I shot for the finale, so I didn't have to have the sort of emotional moment of like, 'This is my last day on Scandal.' So it sort of freed me up to concentrate on the beast of the scene, and concentrate on the physicality of it, because more than anything else, more than the dialogue involved, it was a physical piece," Malina said.
"Then it became... five or six hours of basically wrestling and being suffocated by Jeff Perry," he added with a laugh. "At that point, it became a lot of fun. I mean, it was exhausting and there were carpet burns and there were bruises and there were moments. It was intense, but a lot of fun."
While hours went into filming the scene, it took a matter of minutes for David to meet his death -- and Cyrus to walk away without implication. According to Malina, however, Rhimes had written an additional scene for the finale, in which Huck arrives with his red toolbox to Cyrus' place, ready to get "justice."
"I do [wish it was included]!" Malina shared. "I felt like David Rosen shouting from the grave, 'My hero! Thank you Huck!' So I was sad that Cyrus didn't get his comeuppance."
"[But] Shonda wrapped things up in a way that stays true to the universe that Scandal posits, which is a world where the good and the bad aren't necessarily rewarded and the evil and the venal, the criminal, sometimes are," he noted. "So yeah, it kind of made sense to me that some of the more morally questionable characters seem to be riding off into the sunset in a fairly happy fashion while somebody like David Rosen, who is certainly imperfect and fallible but I think always tried to the do the right thing, ends up on a slab."
Had David survived, Malina cracked that the character "would probably continue to fail upwards," as he has throughout the entire series. "The sky is the limit for David," he said. "But I would have hoped he would have found some peace in his personal life, and maybe he and Abby would have worked out."