By Natalie Abrams
February 10, 2016 at 12:00 PM EST
Kevin Estrada/ABC
  • TV Show

It’s official: Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) is running to be the next President of the United States. But the road ahead won’t be easy, which is why Scandal‘s former First Lady will turn to Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) for help. Will Liv say yes? And will they then run a clean campaign? EW turned to Young to get the scoop on the show’s midseason return:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Scandal is jumping ahead six months, so where are we picking up with Mellie?

BELLAMY YOUNG: Mellie, having just had her filibuster surprise triumph — victory snatched from the jaws of defeat — I think she’s really found herself, her heart, and her passion again, so she’s on the campaign trail. She’s trying to be the best presidential candidate she can be. Of course, it’s been so easy to back-seat drive for the last eight years — “I can do it better, I would do it differently.” But now she’s the one behind the wheel, and decisions are just much tougher from that perspective. She’s smart enough to know that she has to get the best person on her team, and that person is Liv. There’s a lot of thick boiling water between the two sides of the banks of the brook that are Liv and Mellie, but she’s trying to build a bridge to her future.

Does Mellie go in wanting to have a clean campaign given her past involvement with rigging elections?

I definitely think her idealism is intact, because, in some ways, it’s her first job. She still is naïve in some regard, still believes that just by sheer willpower, hope, and determination you can make things happen. But I would imagine that as we face this whole spring season, her morals will be tested repeatedly. That seems inevitable.

She’s looking to Olivia to be her campaign manager, but will that actually go over well?

I think something was really reawakened in Mellie with the filibuster. She was really bright-eyed and believing in democracy and believing that life is complicated but possible, that there is a second act, even a third act. With that lens on, all things are possible. Definitely they’ve been so close to being friends, Mellie and Olivia, over the years, and they have such respect for each other in a lot of ways that I really do think that Mellie thinks she can win her over.

Considering that Olivia is a changed woman when the show returns, will that help Mellie’s chances? What does Mellie think of the new Olivia?

Mellie hopes that the door is slightly ajar. Since it is a new Olivia, [she hopes] that there’s a little chance that she could want to make peace, or that there might be some atonement that she work through by heading my campaign. It’s some sort of perverse backwards thinking — not that Liv owes Mellie — but why not at this point? “You’ve worked against me enough, why not work with me at this point?”

How does OPA feel about Mellie coming in?

It’s fun, because everyone is in such a different place. OPA is in transition as well. Quinn (Katie Lowes) has really been left to be the spine and the heartbeat of OPA. She’s a little run ragged with it. Marcus (Cornelius Smith Jr.) is so new. Huck (Guillermo Diaz) has got his hands full with personal things. Mellie is met with much consternation, of course, but they’re all a little too distracted to think it’s more than a one-time visit. At the beginning, at least, it only registers as super weird, but not something they’re ever going to have to take on. Their plates are so full that there’s just no room for one more worry.

As the campaign heats up, does Mellie fear her secrets just spilling out?

It’s so fun because there’s so much more to worry about. Mellie thought she had worries — and she did, plenty of them — but to step into a presidential campaign is just to get those tiny stars thrown at you from every side 24/7. She’s definitely afraid of her history. That’s also a bonus to having Olivia on her side: She can’t really get Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) on her side. Fitz, Cyrus (Jeff Perry), and Olivia are the people who really know her secrets, so she tries to keep Cyrus close-ish, and she tries to get Olivia even closer. She just has to gamble on Fitz in trying to protect himself instead of trying to protect her. She winds up being surprised by how worried she is by the other candidates that arise, both to challenge her in the Republican party, but also in the Democratic party as well. It’s an amazing field of candidates this year. I cannot wait for everybody to see some new faces and old faces. It’s going to be fun.

Is there anyone you can tease that are among the candidates? Can we expect Susan Ross (Artemis Pebdani) to be there?

I think I’d best not tease, but it will shape up swiftly. Some folks will be a surprise, some folks will be folks you know very, very well, some folks you may not have seen in a minute. It’s good and juicy. Shonda [Rhimes] and our writers are definitely enjoying this rare opportunity to really respond to what’s happening in life with the perfect synergy in what’s happening in art. It’s a lot of fun to come home at night and watch a Republican debate and go [to work] the next day and figure out how to be a Republican candidate.

Is there anyone that you’re taking inspiration from?

All. I’m watching everything I can. Some of reality goes far further than our fiction would ever dare, because some of that stuff you just can’t write. I watch it all.

What’s Mellie’s status with Fitz at the moment?

Quite severed. We really decimated each other at the end of last year. At least in the short term, they still seem to be trying to co-parent with some sort of grace, which is a relief to me. That’s probably going to atrophy as well, but right now that’s the best they can do, stability in front of their kids.

And in front of the public? Or are they not even trying in that regard now?

They’re trying their best to stay as far away from each other as possible. They’re just so coiled, because they both feel so betrayed. It’s just one pin drop away from somebody lashing violently.

A big question coming out of the finale was whether the news of Olivia’s abortion would get out there. It feels like a ticking time bomb.

It does to me, too. I can’t speak to that at all, but the only thing I can say is our beautiful writers are too good at their jobs to let that one go un-mined.

What’s one thing that surprised you most about the second half of the season?

As always is the case with Scandal, it’s a living, breathing thing. There have been many iterations of things we’ve been working on already, so things are evolving as Shonda and our writers see them. I always feel so happy to be a part of something that is alive like that. They’re really watching, responding, honing, and shaping. Again, just to be a part of a primary process in my fake life when, in my real life, a primary process is happening all around me is sort of astonishing and fun.

I’m sure you’ll be biased, but does Mellie actually have a chance at becoming president?

I don’t have any idea. I’m really not biased one way or the other, because I’m not gifted with that writing gene that our beautiful, talented writers are. I hope so with all my heart. I can’t even tell you how much I hope so. Also, they write everyone so well that we have a lot of great candidates. She’s going to have to really fight for it, and fight she will, but there’s nothing you can take for granted.

With that in mind, will Mellie make some unethical moves to get where she wants to go?

I’ll be interested to see how far she’s willing to go for this dream. She’s gone so far already. You’d think that it would just be, “Drop the mic,” and walk on forward, but there’s been a real softening in her since she found her liberation. I’m interested to see what she’s willing to do.

Scandal returns Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Shonda Rhimes’ political drama: Sex! Murder! Olivia’s suits!
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