'I hope I don't die 'cause it would personally be devastating,' the actress admits

By Lynette Rice
October 05, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT
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Welcome to your first 100 days, Madame President!

When Scandal returns Thursday night for its final season on ABC, the action will pick up immediately after last season’s big finale, but it will quickly get down to business as Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) begins what will no doubt be a presidential tenure fraught with conspiracy, danger, and, of course, scandal. We asked Young to set up the season and to opine whether she’ll think she’ll die at the end, like so many politicians before her.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I don’t suppose when you first started this show long ago that you imagined Mellie would someday be president, did you?
No, no, to the contrary. I had my two little lines in the pilot, they hired me the day before. When we got picked up from pilot, Shonda Rhimes went around the table and told everybody what their storyline would be, which is the only time she’s ever done that. She got to me and I was so excited and dressed up and smiling, and she’s like, “I think you’re gonna be here about three episodes… I want to write a presidential divorce.” I’m so southern and I didn’t want her to feel bad but I thought I was gonna die inside. I’m trying to smile. I bought a new dress. It was a horrible moment.

I never brought it up again, but then they found this beautiful love story that she could be useful for friction and conscience and context and they let me stay! I went on vacation that summer after our first little season for a super low-budget trip to India and when I got off the plane, I got the call saying they’re gonna make me a series regular, which I’d never been before in my life. Even then I could never have dreamed as big as Mellie dreams for herself. I knew she had ambitions but I never imagined they’d come to fruition. Shonda said that she knew the whole time where the story was going and where it ended. She’s like, I know where it starts, I know where it ends. But I think in the midst of our telling the story, the real world changed significantly. I’ve never asked her point blank and she’s never gone on record one way or the other, but I don’t know that Mellie getting to be president was always in the cards.

This whole season could be about a female president but I realize that’s probably not the case because it all goes back to Olivia Pope and her shenanigans, right?
Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely Liv’s journey. We’re all sitting at her table. But, it’s just so nice that Mellie takes a moment in the oval, which they made into such a beautiful office. It’s really nice to be in a matriarchy for a minute. It’s a bit of a respite in these difficult times.

So where do things pick up in the premiere?
We pick up almost immediately from the end of the last season and, in fine Shondaland fashion, we move swiftly forward to Mellie’s first hundred days. So we’re really in the first 100-day mark for the first episode back.

Is there anything controversial in Mellie’s agenda that will come up in those 100 days?
I don’t know if I can answer that but what I can say is, I mean she’s waited forever to have this moment. There were many times she might have given up if she were a lesser person but Mellie is not given to quitting. It got very real for her at the end of last season. It became less about her dreams in a myopic sense and more about service and history and what was right. She’s come into the White House with that frame of mind. She also has Olivia by her side and so I think she feels invincible because no matter their history, together they are formidable. I think Mellie sort of pinches herself every day that this could actually be true. That they are running the country and therefore, at least in our fantasy world, the world together. But Mellie has no idea about the absolute moral precipice that Liv is sitting on. Being my Chief of Staff and being head of B6-13, she has all the power for good and all the power for evil. In some ways, Mellie’s like a deer in the headlights ’cause she just really has no idea whose hand she’s holding.

Can you say if Mellie will get any love this year?
There’s a lot left to explore. I love at the end of last season, from the conversations between Quinn and Charlie, about women in power in the workplace and what it does to a relationship. When you’re the leader of the free world, men are often intimidated by powerful women. Where exactly does that leave you? I’m so happy to live in Shondaland and get to explore that issue ’cause I hope it leaves you with a little of this and a little of that, you know? We’ll see.

When will you find out how it all ends? At the last table read?
Yeah, at the last table read. It used to worry me. I am a bit of a preparer. I like to know what I’ve got to worry about but that has turned out to be one of the greatest amongst a mountain of blessings that this job is and has always been. Those cold table reads are right up there because of course they’re like a party, but it’s also like life. You don’t know what’s gonna happen so you do the best you can with what’s in front of you and then you sit down and get a little more information and you’re like, oh, gosh, okay. I might have done that differently but how would I have known to? So I’m so happy that we are like little horses with blinders on and we do the best we can with it.

Shonda’s done killing politicians, right? You’re not gonna die, are you?
Look, who knows? I have no idea. I hope I don’t die ’cause it would personally be devastating but you know, Game of Thrones changed everything for every actor. If anybody says to you, no, I’m not gonna kill you, they’re crazy, ’cause they might. Who knows?

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

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