Kerry Washington on Her ‘Scandal’ Audition and the Importance of Olivia Pope: “I had never seen a network drama with a black woman as the lead”

“When it felt like it was me onstage, I was nervous. When it felt like…. I was another character onstage, then there was, like, real comfort.” –

Actress Kerry Washington has developed an impressive resume in film and television, from starring in movies like Django Unchained and Ray and her long-running starring role on the television series Scandal. In a career-spanning interview with Terry Gross on NPR‘s Fresh Air, Washington spoke both about what she enjoyed about acting when she started in the arts as well as why getting in cast in Scandal was so important to her.

One aspect of being involved in drama when she was young was the camaraderie of working with other actors. She says, “I had a lot of stage fright. I loved being part of a community of artists. Like, that’s what I always loved about theater companies. And I loved getting lost in the storytelling. I didn’t really love, like, performing in front of people (laughter). Like, I was nervous about the part – when it felt like it was me onstage, I was nervous. When it felt like it was a team of people onstage or it felt like I was another character onstage, then there was, like, real comfort.”

Washington realized that her acting background helped her while she attended a private school, Spence School, as a teen with many classmates who came from far wealthier families than she did. Regarding that, she remarks, “I think it was, you know, that early exposure to code-shifting I think was the beginning of my interest in acting in some way. And not that I was acting my way through junior high school and high school, but I did start to realize that you could shift perception of who you are by taking on different characteristics in the world.”

Of course, Washington is best-known for her starring role as Olivia Pope on Scandal, a groundbreaking television drama that aired for seven seasons. Washington recalls the casting process and how she felt that she was born for the role — even though she also understood that others up for the part felt that way, too. She explains:

“When the script for Scandal was circulating – this has been talked about a lot in the press, but there hadn’t been a black woman as the lead of a network drama in almost 40 years. And I was – I don’t – around 35, 34, 35 at the time. So in my lifetime, I had never seen a network drama with a black woman as the lead. So this was a highly coveted role. And Shonda [Rhimes] really – she said she saw almost every black actress in Hollywood between the ages of, you know, 19 and 60. She really wanted to give everybody a shot. So when I read the script, I thought, this is mine. Like, it felt like it was written for me. It brought together so many of my worlds and so much of my life experience, working in Washington, working on the campaigns. I really felt like I was born to play her, but there were, like, 20 other actresses who felt the same way. So there were a series of auditions, several auditions. And first, I had a meeting with Shonda and then several auditions. And eventually, I really had the privilege of being able to take this on.”

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

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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