Tonight, ABC debuts Scandal (10 p.m. ET), the twisty new drama from Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a former communications director to the President of the United States (Ghost‘s Tony Goldwyn), who left the White House to open her own crisis management firm. While she and her associates — among them a reformed ladies man (Lost‘s Henry Ian Cusick) and a mousey new hire (Katie Lowes), who helps remind the audience why we both idolize Olivia and fear her — will have their client of the week, it’s clear by the end of the hour that Olivia’s ties to the White House are far from severed. “I have a very complicated, slightly inappropriate relationship with the President of the United States,” Washington teases. Things get interesting when Olivia is asked by the president and his chief of staff (Jeff Perry) to deal with a White House aide (Gilmore Girls‘ Paris, Liza Weil) who could be going public with claims that she’s having an affair with the Commander-in-Chief.
Come back to Inside TV after tonight’s premiere to read what Washington has to say about how that unfolds. In the meantime, here are three things she wants you to know about the show:
• Olivia Pope is a “complicated, three-dimensional, very powerful but very vulnerable modern woman.” Though people keep asking Washington if the role was written for her, which is flattering, she’d never met Rhimes when her agents received the pilot script and told her she had to read it. She connected to Olivia immediately. “So many of us work really hard, and a big part of our identity is derived from how successful we’ve been professionally. I don’t think that that’s true for other generations in the way it’s true for ours. And so we’re also at a place where sometimes our professional lives are really figured out and our personal lives are not quite as clear,” she says. “There’s a constant navigation for women of our generation: how important is our work, how important is our personal life, and how do we balance the two? So I think that Olivia’s struggles in that department are something that a lot of women can identify with.”
• The clothes make the woman, not just the man. Olivia’s associates refer to themselves as “gladiators in suits.” The clothes have always been the skin of a character for Washington. “They always help me to define how a characters stands, how they walk. What we put on says so much about how we think about ourselves and how we think about our place in the world,” she says. She worked with the show’s costume designer on a wardrobe that’s very tailored but also feminine. “So there’s a real balance between the smart and the feminine, powerful and delicate. Those are qualities that I think really embody Olivia,” she says. “The lines of the clothes are very powerful ‘gladiator in a suit’ attire, but the colors says ‘I’ve left the establishment.’ I’m not just wearing brown, navy, and black. I’m wearing softer colors because I work for myself now, and I have a little more freedom to be myself and not represent the larger institution of the White House.”
• Olivia is tough, but also compassionate. The show is inspired by Judy Smith, a real-life crisis manager with 25 years of experience and a client list that has included Monica Lewinsky, the Chandra Levy family, Michael Vick, and the first Bush White House. She serves as a co-executive producer on the series. “I think what makes Judy so extraordinary at what she does, and what distinguishes her from some of the other people in this work, is how compassionate she is. She’s really good at solving crises because she really cares about other human beings and wants to take care of them. So that’s something that I made sure to include in the character because I saw how important that is to the work that Judy does,” Washington says. “It’s sorta like this Mama Bear strength. It’s very protective. Once Olivia decides that you are going to be a client, then you’re in the family and she’s going to do whatever it takes to protect her family. She’s so badass and so powerful, but it comes from this very compassionate, caring, almost maternal place, even though she doesn’t have any children of her own. It’s almost like the people that work in her office and are her clients are her family.” And her associates are also in need of fixing. “As the show progresses, we really see more and more that these peple that make up Pope & Associates are each very skillful at managing crisis because they each have a lot of experience with crisis,” Washington says. “So we learn a little bit more about the skeletons in everybody’s closet.”