Skip to main content

Kerry Washington talks Olivia Pope, slavery and politics

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Thu September 27, 2012
Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope and Tony Goldwyn plays President Fitzgerald Grant on
Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope and Tony Goldwyn plays President Fitzgerald Grant on "Scandal."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Scandal" returns for season 2 on Thursday
  • Kerry Washington says there will be plenty of mystery and surprises
  • She says she grew up with an interest in politics
  • Her next project is the Tarantino film "Django Unchained"

(CNN) -- Kerry Washington knows you have been waiting.

The star of the hit ABC series "Scandal" is fully aware that there is a legion of "gladiators in suits" (as fans call themselves) eagerly awaiting the return of the series. She, too, is pretty excited to be back playing Washington, D.C. insider and crisis management expert Olivia Pope. Pope is a "fixer" who formerly worked for her lover, Republican President Fitzgerald Grant.

When told that there are many women who try to emulate both Pope's sense of fashion and take-charge personality, Washington laughs.

"I do, too," she said.

The series ended its first season with the revelation that the character Quinn Perkins, an employee of Pope's (and played by Katie Lowes), was not actually Quinn Perkins.

Watch Kerry Washington's DNC speech

Perkins calls Pope after she is jailed for the murder of her boyfriend, a reporter who was digging into the secrets of President Grant's administration.

Did we mention that said president also happens to be in love with Pope?

Season 2 answers the "Who is Quinn" question in the first episode, but Washington said there will be plenty of other surprises and mystery this season that even she isn't sure about.

"Every week is a surprise," she said. "It's kind of ridiculous because we don't get an outline of the season, so the same way when [fans] watch it week to week and we live tweet with them and they are shocked, we feel that way when we read [the scripts] week to week. It's shocker after shocker and it's great."

While last season focused more on "realizing no one is who you think they are," Washington said the new season will be more about "how those secrets complicate other people's lives."

"It's about how those secrets impact those around them, either because they know or they don't know," she said. "Things get very complicated."

Not that Washington can be called on to unravel too much before the show's premiere Thursday night. The actress said there is no way she is trying to run afoul of series creator Shonda Rhimes by revealing plot lines.

Washington is more comfortable talking about the other star of "Scandal," Olivia Pope's stylish wardrobe. The actress said it's exciting that fans have gotten so into Pope's pantsuits and handbags, because she and costume designer Lyn Paolo have worked really diligently on Pope's look.

"We've always been on the same page in terms of her style," Washington said. "A big part of that was this is a woman who used to work for the establishment, but now she works for herself. We wanted the clothes to be really elegant, smart and tailored in a D.C. aesthetic, but we also wanted to be more fashion forward and use more European designers, because she does work for herself and she has global clientele."

Fall TV fashion: Outfitting 'Scandal'

Washington said Pope also doesn't shy away from her femininity and certainly not her sexuality, which has resulted in some steamy scenes with President Grant. The actress said she is loving the fact that not many eyebrows have been raised by the fact that a black female character on a television show is involved in a torrid romance with a white male character.

"I think the big deal is that it's not a big deal, and I think that's cool," Washington said. "What I love is that the conversation is not 'Oh this is such a big deal,' but 'Oh how interesting that this is part of the full picture of who they are.'"

The actress said that it's fun for her to play "inside the Beltway" in a series that is not at all like the current political landscape. Washington is herself very politically aware, and spoke at the recent Democratic National Convention. Her interest in politics stems, she said, from her parents - especially her mother, a retired professor whose dinner parties exposed a young Washington to activism early on.

"As a kid, there would be dinners where her colleagues would be talking about a woman's right to choose, affirmative action and redistricting," Washington recalled. "I grew up talking about these issues and knowing that politics were not separate from us as people."

Washington's next big project is the eagerly awaited Quentin Tarantino film "Django Unchained." The movie is set before the Civil War and Washington plays a slave whose husband (played by Jamie Foxx) seeks to rescue her from a brutal master on a Mississippi plantation.

The project not only reunited Washington and Foxx, who appeared together in the Ray Charles bio-pic "Ray," but it also gave the actress an opportunity to delve into a role that she said was challenging artistically and emotionally taxing. It was a part Washington said she's not sure she would have been able to portray were it not for having the balance of the Olivia Pope role on "Scandal."

"There would be days that would be so hard for me that Jamie Foxx would turn to me and say, 'How are you doing, Olivia," she said. "It was to remind me that [the role as Broomhilda the slave] was not just it. I feel very blessed that at this point in my career I am able to play both of these women, because we have a full range of experience and identity and history. It's exciting to not just be defined by one section as to who we are as women and people of color."

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT