Pope worthy of worship
As Olivia Pope, she’s the fastest-talking woman on TV. Kerry Washington draws breath to chat with DEBBIE SCHIPP
KERRY Washington, diminutive, and flawless, is on the set of Scandal, just metres from the “Oval Office”.
She’s in a corner, surrounded by a pack of journalists firing questions, not a minder in sight.
Her Scandal alterego, Olivia Pope, a crisis management expert and force to be reckoned with, would never leave a client stranded like this. But Washington fields the rapid-fire questions with aplomb.
There’s a fleeting thought that this is how Pope would handle it. But it’s not until months later, when you discover the charming but notoriously private Washington married NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha in June and kept it secret until July, that you realise she’s just as media savvy as Pope.
But today, Washington is adamant that as much as she admires the character that saw her nominated for an Emmy this year, they’re not so much alike.
Washington says Pope is cooler, smarter and more fearless. Washington has a ready laugh and a more relaxed veneer. She has been known to joke that unlike Olivia, she isn’t having an affair with the US President.
As season two of Scandal plays out on Australian screens (it’s into season three in the US) Pope is a woman on top of her game professionally, but personally, seems set to unravel.
“She’s figuring out in many ways how to not just take care of other people but take care of herself as well,” Washington says.
At 36, Washington is also a woman on top of her game.
She’s a red carpet darling who is no stranger to critical acclaim, with a string of high-profile film roles – including legendary singer Ray Charles’s wife, Della Bea Robinson, in the film Ray (2004), Ugandan despot Idi Amin’s wife Kay in The Last King of Scotland (2006) and For Colored Girls (2011) to her impressive credit.
But two roles – her television role in Scandal and her film role as Brünhilda, Django’s wife, in Quentin Tarantino’s film Django
Unchained have propelled her to the next level.
Shooting them was a challenge, a blessing, and a reminder of the fast pace of
Scandal – right down to the rapid-fire dialogue. “I jumped two centuries in two days,” Washington says.
“When I was done with
Django – and a character that has such a quiet dignity – and came back to work on Scandal I was like, ‘I can’t move my mouth fast enough’.
“The first day we were like, ‘I’m tripping over words, I don’t know how to speak this fast’.”
She confesses she speaks at “Scandal pace” outside work: “My friends are like, ‘Slow down’.” But slowing down, it seems, isn’t a realistic option for Washington. As an African American woman, the stark difference between her Django and Scandal personas is far from lost on Washington.
“According to our constitution, my Django character was three-fifths of a human being, whereas you could argue Olivia is one of the most powerful women in the United States – because of the way she has the President’s ear,” she says.
“It was phenomenal to explore one woman who desperately needs to be saved and the other who does the saving every week.
“I feel incredibly lucky, as an African American and a woman, to live in a time where I get to tell those stories about such different kinds of experiences.”
Olivia may be having an affair with the US President in Scandal, but it’s her scenes with Jeff Perry’s Cyrus that Washington cherishes most. Ironic, given the two characters have a relationship best described as “frenemies”.
“Any time I read a scene with Jeff Perry I just rejoice, because it’s like a masterclass,” she says. “I love our characters’ relationship, because in some ways it’s one of Olivia’s most intimate.”
Washington says the beauty of Scandal is that thanks to creator Shonda Rhimes ( Grey’s Anatomy) “both we and the viewers don’t know what’s coming next”.
“When you work in Shonda-land you don’t get an outline of the season. We are shocked week to week – it’s like, ‘ Where can we possibly go now’?”
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