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Scandal cast shares their audition stories
Ahead of the landmark 100th episode, the cast of Scandal looks back on how they initially joined the ABC political fixer drama series. Plus: Executive producers Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers share their favorite audition stories.
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Kerry Washington (Olivia Pope)
"I had a meeting with Shonda, not an audition. I remember walking in and seeing 'Shondaland' on the wall, and thinking, 'Who is this person? I don't know if I'm going to like this meeting.' Here I am, years later, living in Shondaland and loving it! It's the best ride of my life; I'm so glad I got on it."
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Tony Goldwyn (Fitzgerald Grant)
"I didn't audition. It's a funny story: I had come to town having finished a Broadway show and thought, 'You know, I've never wanted to do a television series as a regular because it would keep me from directing.' I thought the commitment was too much. I thought, 'Maybe I'll check it out this year because television has changed so much. I need to open myself up to this.' A different ABC show came across my desk, and I thought it was an interesting character, and I went to meet the network on it, and I got cold feet about it. That one ended up not doing it. The day after that, I was like, 'Thank God I didn't do that; it just didn't feel right for me.' I get a call saying, 'Do you want to play the president on Shonda Rhimes' new show?' Shonda asked me to do it. I heard it was with Kerry. Obviously, I knew Shonda from directing Grey's Anatomy. Almost before reading the script, I thought the combination of Shonda Rhimes and Kerry Washington sounded so magical to me. I really wanted to work with Kerry, we knew each other socially and from political activism, but mainly I had been such a [fan]. Every time I had seen Kerry in a movie, I'd be like, 'That woman is such an extraordinary actress, I have to work with her at some point.' So that's how it was. I thought, 'Any president that Shonda Rhimes is going to write is going to be pretty interesting.' So I had a conversation with Shonda on the phone, and read this incredible script, and that was that."
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Bellamy Young (Mellie Grant)
"Sweet Linda Lowy, who is in charge of all things Shondaland, the casting genius, she called in like five of us that she'd called in a million times and we'd never gotten the part. It was the day before this character worked, because this character had two lines; it was the least of their concerns in a pilot so big and important. I went out the night before, which I never do, and shopped. I hate to shop, there's nothing I hate more than shopping, but I knew what I wanted to look like, so I went and found little pedal pushers, pearl earrings, my blue shirt and a little scarf, because Tony Goldwyn had just directed me in Dirty Sexy Money and I was trying to think, 'Who would stand beside Tony Goldwyn?' because I didn't have much to go on in terms of text. I went in and said my two lines. It was Shonda, Betsy, Linda, Will [Stewart], and Paul McGuigan, our director, and they gave me an adjustment of some sort, and I said them again. Then they called me later and I was working the next day!"
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Katie Lowes (Quinn Perkins)
"My audition was that bar scene where we're talking a mile a minute and [Harrison] says, 'Do you want to be a Gladiator in a suit?' and I say, 'I want to be a Gladiator in a suit!' I remember doing it and then Shonda saying, 'Great, do it again faster.' I remember saying, 'Oh my God, I've been told to slow down my entire life. I'm a New Yorker, I talk really fast.' I remember her telling me to speak faster. I did it as fast as I could, and I could tell that she liked it. I was like, 'Oh my God, maybe this is for me! I can keep up with her.' It was magical."
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Betsy Beers (Executive Producer)
"Katie Lowes came in, she auditioned, we thought she was great, she got the part. Then Shonda brought her in and she didn't know she got the part; she thought actually we were letting her go. Shonda basically said, 'No, no, you got the part.' We have it on tape. She goes crazy. She cries, she laughs, she jumps — she Katie Lowes it. It was the biggest [clue] we ever got of who Katie Lowes is, and Katie Lowes has not changed a bit since those moments."
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Shonda Rhimes (Executive Producer)
"Katie's audition story is always the best one, but Guillermo's was interesting because everybody knew Guillermo from all of his movies. I had never seen him before. To me, he was this sweet, adorable, shy, meek guy. For everybody else, he played all of these really big, larger-than-life characters, so it was interesting to meet him on completely different terms than everybody else did."
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Guillermo Diaz (Huck)
"I recall being upset that they wanted to see me for the character, because it was described as a 50-year-old nebbish man. I thought, 'What? Why do they want to see me for this?' So that was my first reaction, but then in the room, when I was auditioning, I feel like magic happened. I connected to the character. I guess Shonda liked what I did."
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Darby Stanchfield (Abby Whelan)
"I remember walking into the room, and Betsy Beers saying to me, 'That's a fantastic suit,' and I said, 'Thanks, it's all about having a good tailor.' When I look now at who Abby is, that's such an Abby thing to say. Abby wouldn't drop a designer name; she would be very practical and a straight shooter. 'Just need a good tailor.' I remember Betsy chuckling to herself as I said that as I settled into my audition. I also remember ripping my turtleneck sweater. Shonda wrote this brilliant monologue about Stephen [Henry Ian Cusick] smelling like apples and man, and I proceeded to rip a six-inch rip in the front of the turtleneck, which I had to sew up very quickly because I had to go back the following week to test again. And I remember just how great Shonda was in the room, how quiet, pensive and brilliant [she was]. I felt like she and I hit it off right away."
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Jeff Perry (Cyrus Beene)
"We did one taping with Shonda, her producing partner Betsy Beers and my wife, casting director Linda Lowy. We taped one scene and sent it upstairs. It was Paul Lee and his associates at ABC, and we got feedback that Shonda translated as, 'Jeff, here's the CliffsNotes version: Less lovely professor, and more Rahm Emanuel.' I knew of Rahm, hadn't met him, so I did a little more research, and I realized, 'Okay, tough on the outside.' It was a beautiful note. Maybe 24 hours later, we taped the scene again, and we got a thumbs up."
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Joshua Malina (David Rosen)
"The thing that sticks out for me most in my audition is that there was a chair against the wall. I walked in, and I'm always nervous about auditions, and I think I particularly wanted this job, so I was particularly nervous. I went and sat in the chair, because I thought it was for the actor, although it wasn't in the middle of the room. So I just started sitting on the side next to the wall, and everybody was staring at me. I thought, 'I'm not supposed to be here, am I?' Then I stood up, went to the center of the room and performed the audition, but it wasn't a great start."
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Joe Morton (Rowan Pope)
"I didn't audition. It came together in a very odd way. I came out here [to Los Angeles] for pilot season. I had never seen the show. Of course, I knew who Kerry Washington was. I watched the show, watched season 1, loved what I watched, was trying to think of a way, 'Could I get on the show for an episode or two?' but before I even had an opportunity to talk to my agents or my manager, I got a call from them saying, 'We just got a call from Scandal saying they'd like you to come onto the show.' I talked to one of the producers, who told me the end of season 2 would be the reveal of me as dad, and I said, 'I'm in.'"
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Scott Foley (Jake Ballard)
"I remember I didn't have to [audition] initially, [the role of Stephen] was just offered to me, and I said, 'Yes.' Then I remember Shonda calling me and saying, 'Hey, there's this regime change, there's a new guy named Paul Lee and he's running the network now, and he wants to see a tape of your read.' I was like, 'Yeah, sure, I'll come in and read it.' I read and it went well. Shonda called me a week later and said, 'Now he wants you to meet with the director and read again with the director, so the director can give you some notes.' I said, 'Yeah, sure.' I went in and did it, and I thought it went great, and she thought it went great, and she called me afterward and said, 'It went great.' Then she called me two or three days later and said, 'I've never had to make this call before, and I know I said the role was yours, but this guy doesn't think you're right for it, and I don't know what to say.' I felt so bad for her for having to make that call. I said, 'Hey, please, oh my God, don't worry, the fact you thought of me was great. I'll empty your trash, I'll do whatever you want.' I hung up the phone and [my wife] Marika [Domińczyk] was like, 'F— that, are you f—ing kidding me? [because I was killed off Grey's Anatomy for this] and I had to go out and look for a job. I think I lucked out though. I had done The Goodwin Games, and that was the victim of another regime change at Fox, so as soon as that was canceled — maybe the day it was canceled — Shonda called me and said, 'I want you on Scandal, I'm going to find a role,' and I said, 'Yeah, sure.' A couple days later, she said, 'It's going to be a love interest for Olivia, I don't even know his name yet,' I'm like, 'Great, I'm in!'"
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Cornelius Smith Jr. (Marcus Walker)
"I recall the role coming out, seeing it on breakdowns. It said, 'Marcus Walker, guest star, possible recurring.' My people jumped on it. I couldn't make the audition, so I made a self-tape because I was going out of town. Made the self-tape, hated the self-tape, sent it in anyway, proceeded to go out of town, enjoy Christmas in North Carolina and Detroit, came back, meditated gearing up for the year. The year passes over and I hear that they haven't cast the role. They asked me to come back in, I auditioned in person, and I booked it that night. I started shooting that week and the rest is history. It happened kind of fast, but I'm really blessed in how it all unfolded."