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Meet The Gladiators In Suits From Scandal, ABC’s New Drama

By on March 30, 2012
The cast of Scandal (Photo © ABC)

The cast of Scandal (Photo © ABC)

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.

Columbus Short as Harrison Wright on Scandal (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ © ABC)

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.

Fast-Paced Dialogue

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.

Katie Lowes (Easy Money, Swingtown), who plays the newly hired lawyer Quinn Perkins, also weighed in on this subject. “I’m a New Yorker, so I speak really fast naturally,” she said, and mentioned that Scandal‘s creator and writer Shonda Rhimes was very specific about the pace she wanted for the dialogue, and even timed Lowes’ rapid-patter opening scene with Columbus Short in the pilot to set the tone. 

Katie Lowes as Quinn Perkins on Scandal (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ © ABC)

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 as Abby Whelen (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ © ABC)

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.”

Rewarding Roles

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 as Huck on Scandal (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ © ABC)

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.”

Shonda Rhimes’ specificity in describing Abby Whelan’s character is what drew Darby Stanchfield to the role. “I actually love that Abby is a little bit of a dork,” she laughed. “She’s a little too emotionally exuberant when she shouldn’t be, and she’s got this awkwardness in her love life, her personal life.” She later added “The character description was round; knits a lot; has a lot of cats; cheery.” Stanchfield loved the fact that Abby wasn’t just a polished, two-dimensional woman, and she liked that Abby speaks her mind, which she found refreshing in a female television role.

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal (Photo by Danny Feld/ © ABC)

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.

I asked how realistically they thought the DC-based government setting was being portrayed, and Columbus Short answered, “I think it’s pretty spot-on. Even down to, not just the political side, but like what bar life is like in downtown DC. You know, what would the bar look like, what type of people are there.” He described the opening of the pilot episode, where the bar was central to the scene. “In DC, people are the Who’s Who … It’s all about power. It’s a town driven on power, and everyone wants a piece of it.”
Darby Stanchfield also mentioned that Scandal’s wardrobe stylist worked on The West Wing, and has “a real savvy sense of the DC scene, and the political scene … she brought some really great expertise and background from The West Wing.” The actors were also allowed to talk to people who held their characters’ professions in real life. Judy Smith arranged conference calls for the actors who portrayed political figures in Scandal to speak with actual White House politicians, and had Stanchfield speak with private and former CIA investigators for background on her role as Abby Whelan.

Darby Stanchfield, Guillermo Diaz, and Kerry Washington in Scandal (Photo by Colleen Hayes/ © ABC)

Characters With Flaws

A recurring topic of discussion was the fact that each of the characters in Scandal possesses some serious flaws. As Columbus Short described the team members at Olivia Pope’s firm, “We have problems, and we’re damaged. That makes for interesting viewing.” Darby Stanchfield spoke of the recent trend on television to have flawed heroes as central characters (Breaking Bad, Mad Men) and commented that although Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope shares some similarities with them, she also stands out not only as a woman, but as an African American woman, who is “a more complex, flawed hero” than anything previously seen on TV.

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.”

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope on Scandal (Photo by Colleen Hayes/ © ABC)

“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.


  1. Jennifer Griffin

    March 31, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Scandal sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
    About time we had some zippy TV back on the box!
    Great article TJ!

  2. Pingback: Details and Promo Photos for Scandal 1.01, ‘Sweet Baby’ | Chevron One

  3. bkstrvl

    December 2, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    The talk is WAY too fast! Difficult to understand and comprehend even with cc. I have to rewind all the time. I may just stop watching because it is so frustrating. Slow down!!!