Kerry Washington is not just a hot attraction. Like the show she stars in, “Scandal,” she is scintillating. And if Alicia Keys is a “girl on fire,” then so is Washington.
The star said that as soon as she read the script for “Scandal,” created by Shonda Rhimes, another African American woman, she knew instantly that she wanted to portray Olivia Pope, who owns a Washington, DC-based crisis management firm and is going with the married president of the United States. It’s an affair, but not a tawdry one; the president is actually in love with her. It’s still wrong, but no one “perfect” on “Scandal.”
As Washington put it during a recent interview, “I was blown away. I knew this could be a really amazing opportunity. It feels like a magical product.”
Prior to the “magical product” coming along, Washington said she had become “exhausted from reading bad scripts.”
THERE HAS never been a show like “Scandal.” The storylines are clever, well-written and, yes, daring; the cast is a perfect ensemble; and the ABC drama has done something only a select few programs ever have or ever will. That is, it has quickly become “essential” viewing for millions of Americans — ethnicity notwithstanding — and is discussed at workplaces, in homes and elsewhere until the next episode airs.
How popular is the show? Well, consider: Season 3 opened with the highest ratings in the show’s history or, to put it another way, 10.5 million people were tuned in, a substantial number for the first time, having picked up on “the buzz.”
It is virtually impossible to get bored watching “Scandal” because it moves so fast, and so often in unexpected directions. Predictability can mean death for a TV show. Is it often over the top? Yes, by design.
For her efforts, Washington was nominated for a Primetime Emmy — the first African-American woman to be nominated in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series category in nearly two decades.
IN ADDITION, she won an NAACP Image Award as Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series and TV Guide’s Magazine Fan Favorites Awards chose her as Favorite Actress.
As would be expected, much is being made of the fact that the star of “Scandal” is an African-American woman. But Washington takes a pragmatic approach to the situation.
“I feel very proud that we live in a world where this show can be a success,” said Washington in a Deadline Hollywood interview. “So I think it’s worth noting that progress for all of us to claim and all of us to take responsibility for.
“We’ve created a place where a Black woman can be at the front of the show, but a lot of our success is in how strong of an ensemble it is, and so many people can see themselves in it.
“We have a lead male who’s Latin. We have two Black men. There’s a strong gay character. I look forward to the day when a show like ‘Scandal’ is a success and it’s not newsworthy. We’re not there yet, but we’ll get there.”
Hopefully she is right about that.
ALTHOUGH she has been making movies since the early 2000s and appearing on television since the mid-1990s, there are those who first really noticed Kerry Washington when she played the sweet but tough-as-nails Della Bea Robinson, wife of Ray Charles, in the 2004 film “Ray.”
Her performance in that movie, like that of Jamie Foxx, was brilliant. She worked with him again last year in the highly successful and controversial “Django Unchained.”
“That’s what acting is,” said Washington. “It’s about having the courage to allow your audiences into the private moments of your characters’ lives.”
Born in New York to middle-class parents who were both professionals, Washington seems to have been born for a career in acting.
“I wouldn’t just come home from school and watch TV every day,” she recalled.
“My parents had me involved in lots of local theater. I was a very dramatic, talkative child, and that was part of my mother’s creative solution — put me in workshops, classes and children’s theater programs.”
WASHINGTON, whose love for theater runs deep, says that is where she came from and no matter how busy she is on television and in films, she will never abandon the stage.
This also offers a certain form of security, in that Hollywood is famous for offering fewer plum roles to actresses as they get older — Meryl Streep notwithstanding — and all the more so with Black actresses.
Theater, on the other hand, is much less rigid in that sense. The actresses Washington admires most are those who work on the stage, on television and in films, such as Diahann Carroll, Barbra Streisand and Rita Moreno, which has much to do with the longevity of their careers.
Washington’s other television credits include “Law & Order,” “Boston Legal,” “The Guardian,” “NYPD Blue,” “Deadline” and “Waterfalls.”
Moviegoers saw her in, among many others, “The Last King of Scotland,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Save the Last Dance,” “For Colored Girls,” “Lakeview Terrace” and “A Thousand Words.”
Despite her massive success up to this point, Washington, without a trace of braggadocio, says, “I don’t think I’m even close to fulfilling my potential.” — Steve Holsey contributed to this story.