Meet The Gladiators In Suits From Scandal, ABC’s New Drama
Who protects the secrets of the richest and most powerful? In ABC’s new drama series Scandal, it’s Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), and her loyal but dysfunctional staff. Written and produced by Shonda Rhimes (creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice), Scandal follows former White House communications director Olivia Pope, who has left her government position to start her own firm specializing in crisis management for the nation’s elite.
With the help of a talented but rather motley team of assistants, including suave ladies’ man Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusick), sleek fast-talking lawyer Harrison Wright (Columbus Short), quirky and outspoken investigator Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield), genius computer hacker Huck (Guillermo Diaz), and the firm’s newest hire, earnest and awestruck Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes), Olivia Pope and Associates fight a seemingly never-ending battle against the forces that would besmirch the public images of the most influential figures in our nation … a task which turns out to be much more complicated than your typical black and white, good vs. evil television tale.
Chevron One had the opportunity this week to preview the first three episodes of Scandal and talk with four of Olivia’s team, and it’s apparent that they are all passionate about their roles in this exciting new show.
The first subject that came up was the speed of Scandal‘s dialogue. Columbus Short, whose character Harrison Wright has to deliver many of the show’s tongue-twisting monologues, was the first to respond. “It’s daunting,” he said. “Not only … to say the actual words at that pace, but it’s also hard to add emotion.” He mentioned how speaking so quickly can make delivering the lines seem like “a robotic exercise in word-play,” but he also described how his speed-talking skills had improved over the course of the first few episodes. “I even went to a read for another job, and they were like ‘Slow down! What are you doing?'” Short’s fellow actors laughed in agreement.
Lowes spoke about how Rhimes is very clear that the cast must deliver every word as written. “You have to get every single word correct,” she stated. There are no ad-libs. Rhimes told the cast that they can choose how they say their lines; but what they say must be exactly what is written. This is often challenging, and is not the norm on series television; however, the cast all agreed it has made them better actors.
All four actors mentioned that the fast dialogue requires an extraordinary amount of rehearsal, and cooperation among the cast. “But when we’re not shooting … we’re constantly running our lines,” said Guillermo Diaz, whose character, Huck, has to speak lines of nearly incomprehensible computer jargon at a breakneck pace.
“That’s what’s amazing about the show. It’s one of those things where you need your castmates. It’s very much rhythm-based … there’s music in the dialogue,” said Short, whose background includes quite a bit of music and dancing (including Broadway musical STOMP and the movie Cadillac Records). He later added, “It’s like linguistic choreography … it’s very important for the pace of the show, to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. It makes you listen.”
Darby Stanchfield (Jericho, Mad Men) laughed about how bewildered some of the guest stars became when they realized how quickly they were expected to speak their lines. “They weren’t necessarily aware of the pace when they auditioned, and the director would be like ‘OK, that’s great, now put it all together with no pauses and say it five times faster.'”
But there’s a reason for the fast dialogue, the actors explained. It’s not just an exercise … the show is about a business that depends on how quickly these people can respond to crisis situations, and they don’t have time to waste. Kerry Washington’s character Olivia Pope is based on a real person, Judy Smith, who talked to the cast about their roles. “They speak in shorthand to each other,” Stanchfield said of the real-life crisis management team. “They’ve worked together so long and so intimately … you don’t have to explain.”
The actors also talked about what originally attracted them to their individual roles. Columbus Short said he loved that Harrison Wright was “cool, and slick, and not a dork.” He wanted to play a character that had some kind of swag, “and he gets to wear freaking thousand dollar suits! Sign me up, guys. Gucci suits: check.”
Katie Lowes said she was blown away by the original script, and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. She revealed that her character’s name, Quinn, is her middle name, which made her think “It’s meant to be! This is my role!” She loved the part of Quinn Perkins, and hinted that there is a lot of depth to Quinn that will become apparent in later episodes. “You just don’t get that in a lot of 20-something roles … they’re not always complex, and interesting, and contradictory. That’s what makes this so exciting.”
Guillermo Diaz has played an impressively wide range of roles, from a terrifying drug dealer on Showtime’s Weeds to numerous comedy spots. He said the role of Huck, Scandal’s computer hacker with a shadowy past, came along at exactly the right time. He described a recent undesirable audition, moaning, “That’s so not me! You guys, where are the emotionally crippled, tragic, good characters? And then Scandal came along, and it was just like a dream.” Diaz also spoke about about how little resemblance he bears in real life to the brilliant computer hacker Huck. “I’m certainly not computer savvy – at all,” he said as his co-workers laughed. “But playing Huck, I get to play in this world I’m not familiar with at all, and it’s a blast.” He later hinted at some of Huck’s dark background that makes him such an appealing character to play, and said that he didn’t know anyone in real life like Huck. “I think I’d be a little afraid to know someone like Huck … but I just have so much fun playing him, and going to these dark places inside of me.”
A Capital Location
The Washington, DC setting for Scandal is central to the theme of the show, which I found particularly interesting as a resident of the DC area. I asked the actors how they thought the presence of iconic Washington, DC scenery added to the authenticity of the story, and how much of the show was shot on location.”Unfortunately, that’s television magic,” Columbus Short replied. As it turns out, they didn’t shoot in DC at all; the familiar buildings and landmarks were added with computer graphics, and Katie Lowes said that they found all their outdoor locations in Los Angeles. “But we really want to take a Washington, DC field trip!” she added, as her castmates concurred, laughing.
“When we watched the show back, I was like, ‘How did they DO that?'” Guilermo Diaz put in, and I agreed; the editing is seamless and the setting looks completely real. Lowes described filming scenes in Pasadena in July that were supposed to take place in the fall in DC, where they were bundled up in winter clothes in the 90 degree heat, shedding layers whenever they could. “We really had to pretend!” But the show does have some actual roots in Washington, DC. Kerry Washington attended George Washington University, and has worked with the Obama administration. And Judy Smith, whose career in DC was the inspiration for the Olivia Pope character, spent a lot of time on the Scandal set.
Characters With Flaws
All the cast members present spoke glowingly about Kerry Washington as both an actor and a leader. Columbus Short said that they nicknamed her “The Khaleesi,” after the Game of Thrones character, because of her regal bearing. The women were particularly impressed with how well Washington wears high heels for hours on end without complaint. “Kerry Washington is unbelievable at wearing high heels,” said Katie Lowes. “She’s such a professional. When I try to complain to her, like ‘Come on, don’t your feet hurt?’ She’s like, ‘No, it’s all good. I’m used to it. You just have to stand up straight – it’s about your core.”
“She makes it look easy, easy,” put in Stanchfield.
Stanchfield and Lowes both spoke earnestly about how much they valued having such wonderful and fulfilling roles to play in a show created by a woman, which is a rare thing in Hollywood. “To be a part of this … it’s just huge, and exciting, and we feel so passionate about the work that’s being done,” said Lowes. “It’s unlike anything I’ve felt.”
“It means the world to me,” echoed Stanchfield, and she became emotional as she continued. “Oftentimes, for women, you have to cut off little parts of yourself to play a role on TV that’s not fully developed … I feel like I can take full breaths, I feel like I get to use all parts of myself … It’s profoundly special that we get to be a part of this.”
Columbus Short agreed that one of the most powerful aspects of the show is its strong and fully-realized female characters. He commented that he could imagine President Obama, at age 30, working with a woman like Olivia Pope.
Scandal debuts on Thursday, April 5 at 10 PM ET/PT on ABC.