In its bid to take over network-television dramas completely, a few weeks ago ABC debuted yet another new kick-ass series (joining the likes of "Revenge" and "GCB") called "Scandal," which airs Thursday nights at 10/9c. In case you are unfamiliar with the show, it centers on a "fixer" named Olivia Pope (played by the exquisite Kerry Washington), who has dedicated her life to protecting and defending the public images of the nation's elite and keeping those secrets under wraps. One of those elite just happens to be the President of the United States, Fitzgerald Grant, played by Tony Goldwyn. I recently had the chance to speak to the Prez about his latest role, one that was able to coax him back to series television.
Celebrity Extra: "Scandal" is definitely at the top of my favorites list for new shows this year, and I can certainly understand why you'd want to be a member of this creative team. For you, what were some deciding factors that made you want to be a part of this show?
Tony Goldwyn: Well, a couple of things. Number one was Shonda Rhimes. I’d worked with Shonda as a director on "Grey’s Anatomy" and "Private Practice," and have so much admiration for her and know what great rich characters she writes, so that was number one. The second part was Kerry Washington, who is one of my favorite actresses. I think that she’s one of our best young film actresses, and every time I see Kerry in a movie, I am just knocked out by it, so that excited me a lot.
And turning down the President of the United States is difficult. That’s going to be an interesting character anyway, but particularly I knew that Shonda Rhimes writing a president, he’d be a pretty interesting president. Then there was the script, which just a great recipe for really good storytelling.
CE: You know it's going to be good with Shonda involved, and looking at "Grey's" and "Private Practice" ...
TG: Yeah, that’s the whole thing. I was constantly surprised in the best way as the scripts kept coming in. [The character of Fitz] just keeps getting better and better and better as these scripts go along, and more complicated and interesting. As an actor, I feel like these gifts keep being dropped in my lap. I’m really grateful to Shonda for involving me, because it’s just literally every episode, I can’t believe the stuff that I am getting to do. By the end of the season it gets really interesting. It’s just been a really, really exciting thing to be a part of.
CE: What do you like best about playing Fitz?
TG: Well, there are two things really. Fitz is a guy — for better or for worse — who leads with his heart, and in a very committed way he does that. Sometimes that gets him into terrible situations, but it ultimately gives him a sense of purpose, and I think maybe I’m biased, but a goodness because he leads really with his humanity. I think it’s what gives him great strength as a leader because he’s ultimately uncompromising in that way. Sometimes his heart gets him into real messes as well. But he’s an open-hearted man in a very dangerous world, and he has the courage to be that way. I find that a really admirable quality. All of his feelings admit it.
CE: And even though the president definitely has his faults, he's not a "bad guy," because he has redeeming qualities and you can see where he is coming from.
TG: I think that’s right. Maybe that’s why I love playing villains, because I like to find the humanity in villainous characters. Shonda has this ability to find actors who have an intuitive understanding of what lies beneath that actor, like what their potential and complexities are. You’ll see as you get to know the characters better that Shonda digs things out of actors that are just amazing. There are people that she’ll hire not knowing how much they are going to be in the series, and she’ll just sense something about them and start to write for that person, unearthing aspects that that actor has to offer that a lot of them have never seen before.
Shonda just has this instinct about people. It’s a beautiful thing as an actor to feel that you’re seen by a writer. That’s a very rare thing. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced it. I’ve been cast in roles that I was very right for, but one of the great things about television is the writing continues constantly, so Shonda intuits things and then she writes to the show. So many decisions won’t be made until she sees what’s happening on screen, and then she’ll start to write to that. We were constantly surprised by where the show was going. Every week we had no idea what was going to happen, and neither did Shonda sometimes. I’d say, “What’s up with Amanda Tanner?” and she’s like, “I don’t know yet!” It was great.
CE: Speaking of casting, the chemistry between you and Kerry is just sizzling. I love Fitz and Olivia when they are in the same room together.
TG: It’s like it’s magical. As I mentioned, I have so much respect for Kerry as an actress — we knew each other socially and we’re both really involved politically, so we have always kind of hit it off personally. I just have tremendous respect for her on many different fronts, and she’s a stunningly beautiful woman. So, I don’t know, chemistry is such a funny thing. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s either there or it’s not. Our acting styles seem to mesh, you know, our way of working, and I think we have a mutual respect for each other. Then there’s physical chemistry, which is something, like I said, you can’t manufacture. We find that we work really well together, and it’s easy to fall in love with her.
CE: And you really feel bad for Fitz, still being in love with Olivia, even though he's married and it's really not something he should be feeling.
TG: It’s impossible. It’s an impossible situation, and that’s what makes it great and that’s what people will have to see. One of the great things about it is Shonda puts us in extreme conflict with one another. So, you have those two opposite forces constantly battling each other, and there’s so much that happens. All Fitz wants to do is have Olivia talk to him and be able to have her see him and understand the truth of his situation, and her unwillingness to do that and the assumptions that she makes make it really, really difficult. That thing — that opposition and that undeniable kind of magnet that thing that they have together — just constantly plays out in different ways, and creates more and more problems.
CE: As we get into the home stretch of this first season, can you give me any hints or spoilers?
TG: I don’t want to give anything away but I can say that, in my opinion, every episode gets better than the last one. Whatever you think you know, you’re wrong. It gets really complicated. The last couple of episodes, particularly, just rock. They’re like a roller-coaster ride. It’s really fun.