Thursday, October 18, 2012

Interview: Bellamy Young, A First Lady Ahead of Her Time

Bellamy Young as Mellie Grant, photo courtesy ABC
Bellamy Young is a familiar face on the television landscape. You might recognize her from her scores of guest-starring roles on shows such as “The X-Files,” “Cold Case,” “Castle,” “Private Practice,” “Criminal Minds” and “Franklin and Bash.” But it’s her role as first lady Mellie Grant on ABC’s breakout hit “Scandal” (which airs tonight at 10/9c on ABC) that really has people talking. Mellie is a no-holds-barred, eye-on-the-prize kind of gal, and that prize is retaining her position in the White House (and in President Grant’s life), no matter what it takes. I spoke with Bellamy recently about her role and the show, and was thrilled to discover she is pretty much the opposite of her scary “Scandal” character.

Celebrity Extra: When I first heard about “Scandal,” and the fact that it was created by and is written and produced by Shonda Rhimes, I knew I’d be in for a treat. What did you think when you first auditioned for the role?

Bellamy Young: I was overwhelmed. It was probably two years ago, and I was reading all the pilots for that year, and this was fathoms above the others. Shonda just understands people. She just knows how to hook your heart. She gets your brain, but she hooks your heart. She can pull you through a narrative, and this one is so intense. For the audition, I did what I never do, which is I bought an outfit especially for Mellie. I went in and I had two lines, and I was just so happy for them to let me do two lines in this piece that I thought was so beautiful. Then I got the part, and they suddenly just started writing the most incredible story line for my character, and they made me a regular. I just couldn’t be any happier.

CE: How about that Mellie? She is quite a character to play.

BY: And you know what? I don’t think Mellie is necessarily wrong. She’s always got the country’s best interest at heart, and she always has a very strong rationale behind her decisions and her actions. She just isn’t patiently waiting for everyone to catch up to her genius.

CE: Speaking of genius, how is it working with Shonda Rhimes?

BY: Shonda’s awful special because she sees people, not packages. So race and gender and sexuality are all sort of arbitrary to her and to the integrity of the character. Linda Lowy casts everything for Shonda, and there are no words to explain how amazing Linda is at her job. So I knew that they would, from this incredible script, attract the best people in town, and then just keep writing surprising story lines for everyone. For me personally, the office of first lady is so fascinating, and throughout the political history of our country, it’s been where you can see the most visible change, because gender roles have changed so much. I knew it would be a fertile ground to explore if given the chance. And it has proved to be beyond my wildest imagination in that regard.

Every character on the show is so nuanced and complex. No one is all right; no one is all wrong. No one is all good; no one is all bad. Humans are flawed, so it gets interesting when you bump up against other smart, flawed humans.

CE: Does Mellie love Fitz, or is it more of a business arrangement for her?

BY: I do believe they loved each other when they got married. Mellie loves Fitz — she would take a bullet for him, like only if it grazed her ear. I watch the show with my mom. My mom’s been widowed three times, bless her heart, and the third time she got married, I saw her fall in actual love. It looks so different from the other thing she’d been trying. And it wasn’t like she didn’t think she was in love before; it’s just different when it’s real. You don’t know it until you know it. And I sort of feel like that’s poor Fitz’s problem (being in love with Olivia Pope and not his wife, Mellie).

CE: As we saw in the season premiere when Mellie used the announcement of her baby’s sex as a chance to address the nation about genocide, Mellie isn’t afraid to use any circumstance to help further her agenda. Can we expect to see more of that this season?

BY: Oh, positively. Mellie is going to use every moment available to her to forward her agenda. But she really wants to be the president, so she would never be careless with the country. She really always believes she’s doing the right thing in her mind. There will be plenty of little bombshells, little smiling, sparkling bombshells that Mellie will drop along the way. They also give us some true moments of grace and connection, which helps for me because I always feel like I’m just playing Mellie in one moment in time, and it’s usually a bad moment. She’s really hurt. She is not at her best right now. I think that also helps you understand her relationship with Fitz, because there’s not a person alive who can’t empathize with that kind of complex relationship — true love-hate relationship. You never hate the people more than the people you love the most. They can make you the craziest.

CE: What kind of a mom is Mellie?

BY: I think Mellie is a very devoted mom. Bottom line, she is fiercely loyal. So, is she warm? I don’t think so. But she is fiercely supportive of and instills in her children that they can be anything they want to be in this world; they just have to believe in themselves. But she is also a working mom. She has a lot of help during the day while she’s off trying to make the country better. I think she struggles like so many women do with balancing the domestic with the professional.

CE: What does the future have in store for Mellie?

BY: That’s the thing — I don’t really know the answer. But I do know I’d do this job forever. The show gives such wish fulfillment for the audience and the actors, but it also has a conscience. That’s part of that battle for Mellie: Once you get to your end game, is it fulfilling? I think personally the answer is that love has to be the most fulfilling thing, and Mellie is falling at a deficit right now. And you try anything you can to fill that hole when you don’t have love. It will be pretty darn interesting to see the way Mellie flails around for a while.

CE: How is it working with Tony Goldwyn as your husband?

BY: Heaven. There’s no other way to describe it. Tony is the kindest human being and the most devoted person — personally to his children and his wife, but also as an actor. His generosity is unreal. And also his acting is so organic that it’s just quietly dumbfounding. You know, you just watch him and it’s just truth happening. There’s no artifice. He’s really living what’s happening, and it just raises your game. It’s so inspiring. I can’t say enough great things about him.

CE: In general, it sounds like a great show to work on.

BY: It’s unbelievable, across the board. The cast, crew, writers, the production office — everyone is at the top of their game. Everyone is kind, and everyone feels lucky to be there. We know how lucky we are to be working on a project this good with people who love it. And then (writer-creator) Shonda (Rhimes) — man, she’s just a gracious, brilliant, big-hearted woman.

CE: Any teasers for what’s coming up?

BY: Shonda plays it all very close to the vest, so I really don’t know much. Let’s see ... we have college students gone missing and sex scandals. Of course, more sex scandals. God, there’s always so much sex. Everyone loves sex. That’s the fun part. And Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) will get more complicated this season, so that’s fun to watch, because Kerry does it so well, and it’s just so human. Of course, Mellie will be up to no good at all. Just smile and rub her pregnant belly the whole time.

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