After spending five successful seasons together and being recently renewed for a sixth, there seems to be no slowing down for “Scandal.” At the very least, the cast and creators seem to really, really like each other. For a cast of individuals that’s been together for almost six years of television melodrama, they interact even more like a family off the set, constantly collaborating and cheering each other on. They’re always playfully teasing each other, they love it when “one of their own directs the show” and have even hosted episode viewings at each other’s houses. For a high-tension drama, their off-screen antics seem to be a welcome relief, like a breath of fresh air.
The series, of course, revolves around the feminist hero and professional crisis “fixer,” Olivia Pope. As she, along with her loyal gang of “Gladiators” at the firm of Olivia Pope & Associates, tries to wrangle with the issues of Washington D.C.’s most elite, we see her and the show’s cast of characters trying to resolve their own personal issues. Set in the nation’s capital, the show is full of high stakes power struggles and stories of self-discovery. That, and plenty of sex and politics.
“Scandal” fans were treated to the full cast experience at PaleyFest this Tuesday in Hollywood at the Dolby Theatre, with Kerry Washington (Olivia), Tony Goldwyn (Fitz), Bellamy Young (Mellie), Scott Foley (Jake), Darby Stanchfield (Abby), Katie Lowes (Quinn), Guillermo Diaz (Huck), Jeff Perry (Cyrus), Joshua Malina (David), Portia de Rossi (Elizabeth), Joe Morton (Rowan) and Cornelius Smith Jr. (Marcus) all present, along with creator Shonda Rhimes and executive producer Betsy Beers. The gang discussed the future of their characters, their collaborative process and the importance of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” (Yes, really.)
Below, check out an interview with President Grant himself, along with all the highlights from the event. As Olivia would say, “It’s handled.”
Changes are a-‘coming for everybody involved.
Over the course of five seasons, the fans of the show have seen their favorite characters grow up, stumble repeatedly and sometimes even find their way, from the supposed D.C. rookies to the more seasoned veterans. As strong a character as Olivia Pope is, she certainly comes with a massive set of unresolved issues, all the while trying to solve everybody else’s. Even the President himself, as he tries to keep the country in order, possesses his own shortcomings, from his affairs to letting his family life crumble into pieces.
But for characters like Huck, there is a silver lining for the tortured soul as he matures and learns how to let go of his anger and pain. Of the character’s journey, creator Shonda Rhimes said, “I think he’s coming around to be a different person… There’s been a lot of darkness for him, and I think he’s trying to be a better person.”
However, not everybody can be so lucky, as she describes the rest of the characters having the “wrong priorities” instead of improving themselves. As another hint of light in the darkness, Cornelius Smith Jr., who plays the latest addition to the OPA team, acknowledged that his character follows a different path. “You see how Marcus is fighting to set the bar… [He’s] fighting to remove it, in a way. It’s just really great to kind of see a crack in the armor.” Albeit, as he said, “A tiny crack.”
Despite Marcus’s valiant efforts, Quinn gets in his way and refuses to let him have it easy. Of her character, Katie Lowes said, “I think she was the newbie for a while, and I think that she sees in him the moral compass that she was [before]. I think that she earned her way. She brought them coffees… [She] interned her way up the ladder, and I think there’s something in Quinn that’s like, Marcus got in there a little bit quicker than it took [her]. I think she’s making it a little big tough for him.
Or, as Rhimes succinctly put it, “Everybody is evolving.”
The actors are responsible for interpreting the spaces between the lines.
Even though Rhimes leads the way for her pack of actors, she gives them the freedom to make the characters completely their own. When it comes to the scripts, she doesn’t tell the actors how to read them, giving that responsibility to the performers themselves. She described it as an incredibly exciting part of the process — that when they receive the pages, they see something in between the lines that she can’t fill for them. It’s all theirs for the taking.
Of this, she said, “When they get to [the scripts], they form something… and then go back up to the writers’ room and say, ‘Oh my God! These people are in love with each other’ or ‘This is what this character’s really about!’ The actors really tell us who [the characters] are, with how they are perceiving [them]. And that’s exciting for us.”
Darby Stanchfield, who plays Abby, described a particular set of emails between herself, Washington and Rhimes, quoting the creator as telling her, “‘I love what you’re doing in the spaces of the scene, so go for it!'” She expressed appreciation for having the opportunity to be able to shape her character as she sees her, musing that regarding a certain scene, “You were encouraging us, and you were excited to see how Kerry and I were going to explore those spaces.”
Brees agreed, saying that as creators, they find joy in allowing the actors to navigate those spaces themselves, the behaviors and mannerisms of the characters that aren’t exactly on the script. More than the words on the page, Rhimes said, “People think that acting is all about what you say. It’s not. It’s all about the other stuff, too.”
Kerry Washington was eager to offer her experiences on the topic, saying, “Sometimes it’s not even about [the silent moments]. Like, we noticed in Season 1, we would do these things in OPA to feel like a team. Like when another character was talking to other people, we’d high five, or we’d share a look or we’d pass coffee to each other. We would do these things so that we moved like an organism… I think that’s what’s so wonderful about the show, is that everybody is bringing their A-game. Whether it’s the writers or the actors or the editors or the grips, everybody is wanting to make the absolute best of [each] moment. It’s so special to be a part of that and get to do that for another year.”
The creators already know how it all goes down in the end.
After being renewed for a sixth season, the future of the characters and Shonda Rhimes’s version of D.C. is safe for another year. But after that, we’ll see how things continue to shape up. Though they weren’t quite clear on how long they plan to keep the show going, Rhimes and Brees themselves can already see the horizon from where they stand.
And while the cast remains in the dark about their respective characters’ conclusions, Josh Molina joked, saying that he hopes for a normal end for his character. “I would like to see [David] die of old age.”
Not too long after, Rhimes chimed in with a zinger herself, saying that “David’s going to be a gigolo.” It caused the theater to erupt with laughter, the cast themselves included.
On a more serious note, however, Rhimes and Brees were naturally not very keen to reveal their plans, or even hint to what the end could possibly look like. Rhimes declared, “We know when it ends and where it ends. We’ve talked about these things.” Until then, the fans certainly still have plenty to look forward to as the show continues for at least another season.
Even the Scandal cast and creators can’t get enough of “Hamilton.”
At some point during the panel, when asked about their favorite karaoke songs, Malina broke out into singing a number from the Broadway sensation “Hamilton,” based on the life of one of our founding fathers. The rest of the cast happily joined him, even Rhimes herself enthusiastically mouthing the words.
After the endearing singalong, Rhimes was asked about what inspires her as a writer. She was unsure of how exactly to answer the question, considering how much of simple, daily life inspires her. “It’s sort of everything,” she said. “It’s the people you work with, the ideas you hear. It’s some song on the radio, it’s some phrase someone says in the elevator. Yeah, it’s everything.”
And since the current election has proven to be an overwhelmingly great source of material to integrate with the show, there are some elements from reality that will lend themselves to an absurd character who will soon make a return to the show. However, Rhimes continued, “I would be honest and say I’m more influenced right now by ‘Hamilton’ than I am by [the election]. I’m a little bit obsessed just because it’s interesting and exciting. But the election right now is… It’s its own thing. You can’t make that stuff up.”
Looks like we’re going to lose two presidents in a year, folks.
As his presidency approaches the end of its term, the future is uncertain for Fitz, or at least that’s what Tony Goldwyn, President Fitzgerald Grant himself, told us on the red carpet. The show, after all, has seen his character go through ups and downs from within the comforting walls of the White House. But what’s going to happen to our tortured yet charming president after he gets replaced? Even Cyrus, his Chief of Staff and long-time ally, seems to be moving on from him as other candidates are already tempting him away from yesterday’s news.
Goldwyn knows that the show will be very different indeed, but having played the man for years as nothing else than the President, it must be an especially strange transition for him. “I’m not sure what Fitz [even] does when he’s not President,” he said to Indiewire. “But I think there will be a whole paradigm shift, because the Oval Office is such a fulcrum of the show. No credit to me, it’s just the phenomenon of it. So, with me, as President, that’s my power base. It’s the whole polar opposition to Olivia’s power.” Perhaps we’ll see Fitz finally domesticated, laying low and staying out of Olivia’s life. Or not…
“Scandal” isn’t a story about love, but instead about self-discovery.
Olivia’s romantic relationships have always been famously complicated. When half of her heart belonged to Fitz, the other would be with Jake, completely unable to make her mind up between the two men. When her relationship with Fitz finally seemed like it was starting to take shape as more than a mere affair, the fans were excited to see the two settle down once and for all. However, as it tends to be the case on the show, good things rarely ever last. And so another one bites the dust, leaving Olivia on her own and discovering that she was never going to surrender any bit of herself in the first place. It never would have worked out.
When asked by an enthusiastic fan about why that relationship ended, even after years of working towards it, Rhimes had a very simple and clear answer, reminding the audience what the show is really about. She said, “Olivia is on a journey. Olivia has been on a journey since we started, and I’ve always looked at it like that. It’s interesting to me that it’s a romance, that the primary story is a romance… Because to me, her primary story has been has been discovering herself. I’m happy that [the fans] have fallen in love Fitz, because that is the journey that Olivia went on. [They] went on Olivia’s with her. She fell in love with Fitz, she fell into a forbidden romance, she bought the fantasy.”
What happens, though, when you finally arrive to where you have been longing to for so long? Olivia herself was deeply disappointed by the reality of being a prisoner in the White House, knowing fully well that she belonged in OPA, being an agent of her own actions. Rhimes continued, “Then she got the fantasy, and then she discovered that it was not real. But that does not mean that she does not love Fitz, and it does not mean that Fitz is not worthy of love. It just means that Olivia doesn’t know who she is yet.”
“Scandal” airs every Thursday at 9pm on ABC.