“It’s crazy, but it’s very exciting.”
That’s how Kerry Washington sums up her move from movie work into weekly TV. She had recurring roles on “Boston Legal” and “100 Centre Street,” but the actress — known for such films as “Ray,” the Oscar-winning “The Last King of Scotland” and the just-opened “A Thousand Words” — becomes a first-time series star in “Scandal,” the new ABC drama from “Grey’s Anatomy” mentor Shonda Rhimes that premieres Thursday, April 5.
“For somebody who likes to work hard, I feel like I’m being used at full capacity,” Washington tells Zap2it about playing crisis-management expert Olivia Pope, who handles a scandal involving her former boss, the President of the United States (actor-director Tony Goldwyn).
“It’s just so much fun to work at that level. I remember talking to my mom about it one day, and her saying, ‘I don’t get it. You do 18-hour days on movies. This is not new to you.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but now, I’m doing three times the pages.'”
Washington realizes that with “Scandal” — inspired in part by image consultant and former presidential aide Judy Smith — she’s one of relatively few African-American actresses to have a solo starring role in a series on broadcast television. Previous examples include Diahann Carroll (“Julia”), Teresa Graves (“Get Christie Love!”), Esther Rolle (“Good Times”), Jackee Harry (“227”) and lead-sharing siblings Tia and Tamera Mowry (“Sister, Sister”).
“I’m still wrapping my head around how that’s possible,” Washington says, “but here we are, and it’s an incredible opportunity. Being a lead on a network show wasn’t something that was on my list of things I wanted, and at first, I thought a cable series seemed more reasonable to combine with my film career. I didn’t want a TV career to eclipse that.
“If I’m really being honest with myself,” adds Washington, “I didn’t consider being a lead on a network show because I didn’t know that was possible. No opportunity like that had ever presented itself, so I didn’t even know it was something to want. I feel very, very lucky, also to be working with a woman who devotes so much of her career to making race not an issue.”
Indeed, Washington cites “Scandal” creator and executive producer Rhimes as someone who “makes race important in an inclusive way, by seeing past it with her characters. She knows any character can be any color, and that allows for the advancement of not just one race, but the human species.”