Life in bal­ance

She’s a screen star, a mom, a trail­blazer for causes and a pro­ducer. Here’s how Kerry Wash­ing­ton stays cool, calm and to­tally in con­trol.

Glamour (South Africa) - - Glam­our 2017 March -

“I have to take care of my­self in or­der to live the way I want to.”

kerry Wash­ing­ton wakes up early. This is some­thing I learn when her pub­li­cist asks if I’d like to do Pi­lates with the ac­tress at 6.30am be­fore we sit down for our in­ter­view. A quick Google search sug­gests I’m in trou­ble: this is, af­ter all, a woman who moved to In­dia and be­came a yoga in­struc­tor af­ter her univer­sity stud­ies. But my fear of Pi­lates-in­duced hu­mil­i­a­tion is out­weighed by my de­sire to watch Olivia Pope work out.

Kerry, 40, ar­rives in sweats, with no makeup and no en­tourage, look­ing way more re­laxed than the char­ac­ter she plays on tele­vi­sion. And even though she is a mother again with a hit show on her hands, her face be­trays none of the stress this must all en­tail. Her skin glows, her smile is bright and her eyes con­vey warmth, strength and vul­ner­a­bil­ity all at once.

“Hi, I’m Kerry.” She ex­tends her hand. We are on The Fixer set in Hol­ly­wood, stand­ing in a dress­ing room that’s been con­verted into a small gym. Her trainer, Julie Turner, ar­rives and they chat briefly; af­ter five years and up to six weekly Pi­lates ses­sions to­gether they don’t need to spend much time dis­cussing a work­out.

Al­though she and the other The Fixer ac­tresses have a group rit­ual of hikes around Los An­ge­les, Pi­lates is Kerry’s an­chor. “With Pi­lates, I bring my true self. I cry, I laugh. I go, ‘Where is my body to­day? What do I need to­day? How can I take care of my­self and push past my com­fort zone?’”

She lies down on the re­former, then she bounces off its jump board, land­ing on the balls of her feet. Her eyes are fixed on the wall in front of her as sweat be­gins to glis­ten on her brow. She asks if I’d like to try, and af­ter 10 jumps, my legs shake. I stare at the spot that held her gaze and see a mes­sage she’s writ­ten by Ma­hatma Gandhi, “Be truth­ful, gen­tle and fear­less.”

The main rea­son Kerry works out be­fore most of LA wakes up is that she wants to get home to her hus­band, for­mer pro foot­ball player Nnamdi Aso­mugha, and their chil­dren, Is­abelle, two, and Caleb, five months. “I try to get it in early so I can be back with them early,” she says. Truth be told, she’d pre­fer to cud­dle with her loves and their Shih Tzu-yorkie mix, Josie. “But I have to take care of my­self in or­der to live the way I want to,” she says. “Rest days are im­por­tant, but if I don’t work out for, like, three days, I feel worse, not bet­ter.”

Her com­mit­ment to fit­ness is just one thing she has in com­mon with her hus­band. I in­ter­viewed Nnamdi sev­eral years ago, be­fore he’d met Kerry. Then a star cor­ner­back, he was the high­est­paid player in the NFL. But he was also a bit of a nerd, hav­ing grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, with a de­gree in cor­po­rate fi­nance. I liked him im­me­di­ately. As a pro­fes­sional ath­lete, he was find­ing it hard to meet women who were smart, self-mo­ti­vated and in­de­pen­dent – and it was se­ri­ously bum­ming him out.

We lost touch, but I al­ways won­dered if he would end up with an in­tel­li­gent woman who en­joyed her own suc­cess. Then I read that he’d mar­ried Kerry, who, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a gor­geous and su­perbly tal­ented ac­tress, grad­u­ated Phi Beta Kappa from George Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. They re­port­edly met

back­stage af­ter he saw her per­form in Race on Broad­way. I laughed and thought, nice work, Nnamdi.

Kerry fa­mously avoids dis­cussing her pri­vate life, and I don’t know how she will re­act if I tell her that I in­ter­viewed Nnamdi. But we’ve just worked out to­gether, and we’re sit­ting cross-legged on the floor. It feels like good tim­ing, and when I men­tion the day I’d spent with her hus­band, her face lights up. “Oh my God, that’s amaz­ing!” she says, laugh­ing and tak­ing a swig of wa­ter. “Isn’t he just the best?”

It’s funny to hear her de­scribe her hus­band that way, be­cause it’s the same way mil­lions of The Fixer fans would de­scribe her. Her turn as Olivia Pope, the savvy Wash­ing­ton DC fixer tor­tured by her on-again, off-again re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent of the US, is a study in con­fi­dence and grace un­der pres­sure. It’s made her a cul­tural icon ( The Fixer airs in more than 80 coun­tries), and it has in­spired view­ers to find their own em­pow­er­ment by adopt­ing Olivia’s can-do at­ti­tude. “Olivia has such re­silience,” she says of the show, which is now in its sixth sea­son.

The se­ries is the brain­child of Shonda Rhimes, the ge­nius be­hind many of tele­vi­sion’s most dy­namic fe­male char­ac­ters. And when she cast Kerry as Olivia, she also cre­ated the first African-amer­i­can fe­male lead on a net­work drama in 40 years.

“Peo­ple were like, ‘Do you feel so much pres­sure?’” Kerry re­calls. “And I kept say­ing, ‘I don’t feel that the pres­sure is on me.’ I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, be­cause there’s never been a black lead, I’m sud­denly go­ing to try to be good.’”

And she ad­mits that when she first got the part, she had no idea whether the show would last. She’d never done TV be­fore, let alone had to carry an hour-long drama with 22 an­nual episodes. And so, she turned for ad­vice to Ellen Pom­peo, who stars in an­other Shonda Rhimes hit, Grey’s Anatomy.

“Ellen said, ‘You have to treat your­self like an ath­lete.’ And luck­ily, I have an ex­cel­lent role model at home. ‘You have to eat like an ath­lete, train like an ath­lete, sleep like an ath­lete. The only way to get through 18-hour days is if you treat your body like a pre­cious ma­chine.’”

She be­gan to think about her body as an in­stru­ment and a way to get into char­ac­ter. “Olivia has to be strong for oth­ers, so she tries to keep ev­ery­thing as close to neu­tral as she can. I try to know what’s go­ing on in my body, so that I’m not bring­ing my stuff into my char­ac­ter.”

To trans­form into Olivia, she says she ini­ti­ates move­ment from her head, since Olivia is cere­bral. But when she works with Tony Gold­wyn, who plays the love in­ter­est Fitz, her fo­cus shifts. “In those scenes, my cen­tre moves from my head to my heart,” she says. “And some­times it hap­pens un­con­sciously, be­cause I’m just in the mo­ment.”

Be­ing in the mo­ment can be hard. The Fixer’s sched­ule can mean film­ing two episodes at once, and Kerry usu­ally gets the script for an episode the day be­fore go­ing into film­ing it. And her work­day might start with a joy­ous scene and end with one that calls for her to be an emo­tional wreck.

The long hours also keep her away from home, where she likes to pre­pare healthy meals. “I don’t have strict food rules and I eat some an­i­mal pro­tein,” she says. “But I try to eat or­ganic and lo­cal, and to lis­ten to my body.” Al­though Olivia Pope drinks a bal­loon glass of red wine ev­ery night, Kerry doesn’t drink at all when she’s film­ing. “I’m a light­weight and it takes me a cou­ple of days to re­cover,” she ad­mits. “So I pre­fer to do it on a beach and not when I have a three-page mono­logue the next day.”

Film­ing The Fixer was es­pe­cially tough once she be­came preg­nant with Is­abelle, dur­ing sea­son three. How could she find neu­tral spine in her char­ac­ter’s four-inch spiky heels? “My OB was like, ‘Uh, enough with the heels!’”

She does not, how­ever, look like a woman who re­cently gave birth.

“A few weeks ago, my man­ager asked, ‘Do you feel like you’re back? I feel like you’re back.’ She meant it as a to­tal com­pli­ment, but we had this great con­ver­sa­tion where I was like, ‘ You know what? I try re­ally hard not to use that lan­guage, be­cause it’s not about go­ing back­ward in life.’ I think it comes from this cul­ture of anti-age­ing, which is so not lov­ing to our­selves.”

In­stead, Kerry has em­braced her new body, which she does not want to look like the body she had be­fore. “I’ve been re­ally fo­cused on not be­ing ‘back’ to any­thing, but be­ing the best ver­sion of my­self right now,” she says. “My body is the site of a mir­a­cle now. I don’t want to be pre-mir­a­cle.”

When I tell her that is prob­a­bly the most en­light­ened thing any­one has ever said to me in an in­ter­view, she laughs. “I’m no more evolved than any­one else. I’ve prob­a­bly just done the most ther­apy and read the most self-help books.”

I tell her I don’t want to ask her how she will bal­ance hav­ing a ca­reer with be­ing a mom, be­cause men never get that ques­tion. She agrees. “I think it’s re­ally silly,” she says of the dou­ble stan­dard. “The way that fam­i­lies work is so much more in­clu­sive and shared now. Men should get that ques­tion more.”

In­stead, I ask what kind of mother she is. “That would be a good ques­tion for other peo­ple, al­though no­body would an­swer you be­cause they’d say, ‘Kerry is so pri­vate – I’m not an­swer­ing that ques­tion,’” she says. “I try to be a re­ally con­scious mom. I try to be the mom they need me to be, not the mom I want to be.”

In ad­di­tion to get­ting mar­ried and be­com­ing a mother dur­ing The Fixer’s run, Kerry also took on the role of pro­ducer when she de­camped to

“The only way to get through 18-hour days is to treat your body like a pre­cious ma­chine.” “I try to be the mom they need me to be, not the mom I want to be.”

At­lanta to shoot Con­fir­ma­tion, an HBO movie about the whistle­blower Anita Hill. Al­though the story nav­i­gated the same Wash­ing­ton DC po­lit­i­cal com­plex as The Fixer does, Kerry was drawn to the chal­lenge of go­ing from play­ing the ul­ti­mate in­sider to play­ing a largely pow­er­less out­sider.

“Anita is not a part of the sys­tem,” she says. “Liv kind of runs the sys­tem. So I was think­ing, how can I stretch my­self and do some­thing that feels re­ally dif­fer­ent from Olivia?”

On top of all this, she also works with All­state Foun­da­tion Pur­ple Purse, a pro­gramme aimed at rais­ing aware­ness around fi­nan­cial abuse and how a lack of ac­cess to re­sources can trap women in abu­sive re­la­tion­ships.

“Pur­ple is the colour for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, and a purse is a sym­bol of where a woman keeps her fi­nan­cial well-be­ing,” she says. “Fi­nan­cial abuse is this in­sid­i­ous part of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence – like some­one ru­in­ing your credit so that you can’t go,” she says. “It’s not al­ways as ob­vi­ous as a black eye or a bro­ken wrist.”

While Kerry has al­ways been a high achiever, she says she would have been ner­vous about un­der­tak­ing so many com­mit­ments be­fore stand­ing in the heels of her iconic char­ac­ter. But she has more in com­mon with Olivia Pope than she ini­tially re­alised.

“It makes my heart smile to think that maybe part of the rea­son I’m tak­ing all this on is be­cause of Olivia,” she says. “She truly be­lieves that she can han­dle ev­ery sit­u­a­tion, and I do feel that has bled into my life. I have more of a sense of my ca­pac­ity to do any­thing.”

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