Kerry Washington Fixes Everything

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The television show Scandal started off as a fairly realistic procedural/soap opera. It stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a D.C. lawyer-media-consultant -super fixer who makes clients' problems go away. The character is based on Judy Smith, who served in the first Bush White House and whose private clients included Monica Lewinsky, Michael Vick, and Idaho Senator Larry Craig. Now in its third season, the show’s problems have grown from affairs to rigged elections, secret government agencies, and assassination plots. But as the scandals have gotten more scandalous, the show remains believable, thanks largely to Washington’s terrific performance as Pope.

Pope is a ‘good guy’ — at least her ends are usually good; her means will raise your hackles. Washington, who is up for a Golden Globe for her role in Scandal, likes playing a character who "has one performance that they show to the world, and a very different identity behind closed doors."

That sort of malleability comes naturally to Washington. Raised in the Bronx at a time when the borough was known for violence and poverty, Washington grew up middle class and went to an elite private school in Manhattan. "From a very young age," she explains, "I had to start navigating the difference between what my community looked like at seven in the morning and seven at night. And I had parents that really encouraged me to feel at home in both places and to learn how to be kind of bicultural."

When Washington filmed The Last King of Scotland, as the wife of Forest Whitaker’s Idi Amin, she studied the accent with a coach in Los Angeles, and then traveled to Africa for the first time. "There's this very complicated negotiation you have as an African-American going back — even the fact that I would say 'going back," she remembers. "I was always very intimidated navigating what that would be like for me, so I had never been." But studying the local accent and customs for the role, "gave me a real freedom to just embrace this culture and identity."

(Originally aired: April 6, 2012)

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