Bellamy Young plays a fictional First Lady on TV. Hillary Clinton played a real one for eight years.
When the Scandal star and the presidential hopeful finally met at a fundraising event in Atherton, California, in August, it was a First meeting for the ages (and arguably the most exciting display of FLOTUS on FLOTUS since Barbara Bush schooled Lady Bird Johnson in Mario Kart).
“It was such an incredible moment and so astonishing to get to actually meet her,” Young tells EW of her first encounter with Clinton, which she documented on Instagram. “She and Kerry [Washington] are good friends… I know they [Hillary and Bill] watch and love the show, and I think it provides a great diversion for them.”
Heading into season 5 of Scandal, Young’s ferocious and fearless Mellie Grant has never drawn more comparisons to Clinton. Season 4 saw the character successfully win a Senate bid, and the fifth year of the ABC drama will water the seeds of (though not focus entirely on) Mellie’s eventual run for president. At the same time, Clinton will amp up her actual run for the White House in the real world.
Young acknowledges that “a lot of parallels” have been drawn between Mellie and Hillary, but they remain wholly different representations of women in the White House. “Our show is fake and she’s living a life,” Young continues. “But it was wonderful to meet a woman who, though she’s been so disparaged for so many years, remains formidable and committed and resilient and relevant and moves the ball forward and, in person, is so soft and warm and lovely and present.”
Young says the encounter will help her continue to humanize the occasionally outrageous Mrs. Grant. “If only for putting all my personal respect and admiration aside even for a nanosecond, it was actually incredible character research to know that you can expand to be large enough to contain all of those qualities.”
Still, the truth is that Scandal’s timeline is still two years out from an election, so the echoes of the real world in Shondaland may not reverberate as loudly as viewers are expecting them to this season, especially when it comes to Mellie’s bid for the Oval Office. But Mellie finding her place in the political space will remain a major plot point for the year. “She jumped in a bit further down the road than some people, but also, maybe not, because she’s lived her life in this arena,” says Young. “She’s always had this in her heart and I believe one thousand percent in Mellie. She definitely knows what she’s capable of, so I’m excited to watch her really hit the road when it comes to her personal career.”
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