That moment where Mellie had to concede is difficult for Young to watch, too.

By Lynette Rice
February 01, 2017 at 05:12 PM EST
ABC/Eric McCandless

The results of the election that kicked off season 6 of Scandal last week inevitably will shape the rest of the season, but the results of the real-life election also had an impact on the cast. Before the story moves forward from the shocking win and even more shocking death of Francisco Vargas and Fitz has to pick between Vargas’ running mate, Cyrus Beene, and Vargas’ opponent (and his own ex-wife), Mellie Grant, EW checked in with Bellamy Young to see how she reacted to the results of both elections, as well as where she thinks Mellie goes from here.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Going into the table-read back in July, did you assume that Mellie was going to win the election?
BELLAMY YOUNG: No. I go in a blank slate. I don’t ever try and second-guess it. I never could. I was not blessed with the gift of story, so I just sit down and turn the page, and we all start reading cold. So, we go on the ride, which is also why we love so much to tweet because [during] those table-reads, we watch the show in each other’s eyes that first time around. So that table-read was sickening. It was really hard, just because I know what Mellie’s been through, and I know how much she wanted it, and how hard she and Liv worked for it, and what an incredible team they were. I hoped, I dreamed with Mellie, and so to have it be so close and it be not hers at all was really crushing.

Please tell me you just stopped the read and said, “Wait, are you sure? I don’t win? This is not going to happen in real life, right?”
Never. The mantra I breathe through is that if it’s bad, it’s good. Like, drama is good, drama in Shondaland is good. I don’t want it in my real life, but on paper, more drama, more better.

You shot those scenes months ago, but after the election, did you wonder if conceding for Hillary was similar to the way it was for Mellie?
I would never presume to put myself on the same plane as Hillary. I really wouldn’t. I can only say that it was so gutting to get that first script. We never know anything in advance, and never ask anything in advance, because our writers are such geniuses, and sometimes they figure it out at the last minute, but they figure it out in such unexpected ways, and we’d never interfere in that process. But everybody’s been champing at the bit, of course, to know how the election was going to turn out and who was going to be president. It was a real kick in the gut to even fake-lose and to have watched a person that I felt was the more qualified candidate lose. And she didn’t really lose, you know? She won, but she is not our president. Similarly to Mellie, who has spent her whole life with this goal, with this carrot at the end of a very, very long marathon, I cannot fathom how decimating that moment is. And it’s funny, we were talking about this a little before [a recent] table-read: watching the episode, particularly when Olivia is screaming at Mellie to make the call to concede, it’s really hard to watch.

Did you have any nervousness about how the audience would react to the premiere?
I don’t, because it has nothing to do with what happened. We shot it in July. It was so long ago, and so I don’t fear sort of recompense or rancor because we’re commenting on an election because we weren’t at all. It was utterly hypothetical in July. As the world has shifted since our election cycle in America, we really have checked in with each other. It definitely seismically changed the shape of our season.

It’s incredible to work for a boss, with a boss, who takes the time to really go through those changes with you, instead of it all happening in secret, or it
happening to you, like, to really say it as a forum, listens to concerns, says what she’s feeling, and what she’s hoping. Now, the season will turn in response to where we are in the world because it’s an interesting time to be on a political show, particularly because politics has become a show, you know, a reality TV show. So, where does narrative drama go in that paradigm? I feel super-lucky to work for the storyteller of our generation, and I feel like she knows that we are all looking for a little hope, and I feel safe trusting my hope for hope in her.

Mellie has really come full circle in now trusting Olivia. Will that continue moving forward?
I hope so. I feel like it was one of those beautiful, life-is-just-complicated kind of truths, you know? Nobody’s all bad, nobody’s all good. You go through life, you form a history together, and it bonds you, even if the history is a difficult one. It was such a ripe opportunity for deep, deep friendship. They are so similar in so many ways, and it was just loving the same stupid man that kept them apart, but now that they’re in their post-Fitz years, I really hope that they’ll be real, not just advocates, but deep friends for each other, like true, staunch supporters of one another, because neither one of them has that. I love watching them be that for each other, and I just think they’re unstoppable when they’re united.

Do you think Mellie really expected Fitz to support her by the premiere’s end? Do you think that she thought it was a long shot?
She always believes he’s going to be there. They have so much history, and if you’re keeping score, he owes her so much. I think Mellie thinks frequently, too often, that he’ll play the cards the way they ought to be played. But he just has a different point of view, so he plays his cards the way he plays his cards. I really, really believe that she thought that he’d show up for her, because also, no one knows better than Fitz what an amazing president Mellie would be. So, at the end of the day, taking all of their history away from it, an objective decision, I feel like she also thinks, “Well, of course he should pick me. He knows. He’s seen me. I’ve been beside him, I’ve helped him through all of these things, and I’m the right choice. So, you know, taking us out of it, I’m sure he’ll do the right thing.”

Following Frankie’s assassination, does Mellie see an opportunity?
I think Mellie is more kicked in the teeth after this election than she expected to be. Mellie’s always her worst enemy, and she’ll trip and fall on her face, but she’ll get right back up and keep walking. This time, I think she just really stopped to think, “At what price?” And the price just seemed too high, and it’s Olivia that wants to keep going. I feel a much more worldly, thoughtful Mellie, to get that close to the brass ring and to just scrape your fingernails on it as you go by, I think it changes you, because you can dream your dreams, but when you’re that close to them, they’re real for a moment anyway, and how much it costs to get them or how much it costs not to get them, you realize what a different person you’d be. It’s all just much more real for Mellie now, instead of fantasy, and I think she can’t be as glib about it. So, I’m interested to see how far she’ll go, given this new opportunity.

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Are we going to see more of that chemistry between Mellie and Marcus?
I think what we can say is that Marcus is good for Mellie, and Mellie is good for Marcus, and they’re both interested to see how [it goes].

Will there be any time jumps back to the election?
We will go back and forth in time. It’s been a very cool season in that the storytelling is different. We meet on election night, and then it just sort of explodes, and you see how everyone got to that point. One episode will follow me, and one will follow Cyrus, and one will follow Jake, and it’s just a bit of a different way of getting the very personal parts of the stories out. That one part is so big, but there’s so many little cogs and wheels that every one of them has a life-changing decision. It was so brilliant of [the writers] to give themselves the breath to go back and really let everybody’s story unfold.

Scandal airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.