Kerry Washington on Finding Her Characters and the Importance of Getting the Right Shoes

“I always say I don’t know who a character is until I know what shoes they’re wearing, until I figure out the walk, until I figure out how they stand.” – Kerry Washington

For Emmy Award-nominated actress Kerry Washington, clothes help make the role. In conversation with Terry Gross of NPR‘s Fresh Air, Washington talks about the role that posture played in her portrayal of her character Olivia Pope on Scandal as well as portraying Anita Hill in the 2016 HBO movie Confirmation.

Washington remarks that she watched the Anita Hill hearings from 1991 many times to get her characterization correctly. She explains, “I could probably recite the hearings to you now. I watched them so much. And I tried to approach playing her with the influence of Anna Deavere Smith. Like, I really tried to watch the video and listen to the audio and capture the cadence and the rhythm of Anita Hill, and I tried to figure out what I could learn about her personality from the placement of the way that she was speaking to those senators and even in her everyday life – that it’s so very different from how I speak and that that difference is reflective of who she is. So it was really fun to kind of work in that way and wrap my head around her, using her voice and her posture and her walk in sort of an outside-in approach to the character.”

In particular, Washington points to Hill’s body language during the hearings as an example of something she specifically tried to emulate. She says, “She actually – she did have very good posture. But she also has a little – I won’t call a slump because she’s far too graceful and elegant to call it a slump. But she protects her heart when she sits. And so there’s a slight curvature to her shoulders in the way that she protects her heart and doesn’t let people have access to her innermost heartfelt feelings and identity.”

Washington then goes on to describe the importance of posture for her when it comes to acting, as cites her Scandal character Olivia Pope as a character that required her to be postured correctly in order to portray:

“I mean, you really – you know, you can study Alexander Technique or you know how people move in the world says a lot about who they are. I used to go to rehearsal for Scandal in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, but I could not do the scene unless I had the shoes – high heel shoes on – four-inch heels because Olivia Pope had a walk and she had a posture and she had a stance. And I couldn’t rehearse a scene in flip-flops or sneakers. Even when I was nine months pregnant playing… Olivia Pope, I was in four-inch heels. Sometimes wedges – but I still had to have that heel because that extra height and that extra lean forward and that extra tightness in the belly, in the core that a heel requires, that’s part of the steeliness of who Olivia Pope is. So I always say I don’t know who a character is until I know what shoes they’re wearing, until I figure out the walk, until I figure out how they stand.”

More: Kerry Washington on ‘American Son’ and Why it Was Good to “Shake Off” Olivia Pope

About Author

In college, overachiever Christopher McKittrick double-majored in Film and English because he loves to read, write, and watch movies. Since then Chris – who was born and raised on Long Island, New York and currently lives in Queens – has become a published author of fiction and non-fiction, a contributor to entertainment websites, and has spoken about literature, film, and comic books at various conferences across the country when he’s not getting into trouble in New York City (apparently it’s illegal to sleep on street corners...) For more information about Chris, visit his website here!

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