On ABC’s Scandal, Washington is a BlackBerry-wielding, Armani-draped crisis expert who leads a team of dedicated associates that save clients from public embarrassment or possible jail time. At the other end of the spectrum is Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Django Unchained, for which Washington’s brave performance as a slave trapped in an antebellum South hellhole awaiting rescue by Jamie Foxx’s title character is already getting Oscar buzz. The two projects, emblematic of Washington’s elevated status in Hollywood, will overlap this month. (Scandal will be in midseason when Django opens on Christmas Day.)
It’s hard offhand to think of another actress who’s been in this position, and even harder to think of one in a pair of roles that are such whiplash extremes of one another. Washington, who is talented, beautiful, and smart, is still contemplating what it all means for her. “I know a moment like this doesn’t last forever,” she says during a recent interview in New York. Asked if she’s at least enjoying it, there is a long pause. “I think I am,” she says, finally.
Foxx, her two-time costar, says she’s the real deal. “I can’t say enough about the brilliance and toughness of her, especially in Django, where she’s amazingly vulnerable playing this damsel in distress throwback character. And then you look at the strength of what she’s doing on Scandal, where she’s in control and doing her thing.” He adds: “A lot of actresses only get to play one note. Kerry’s able to play a symphony.”
The one thing she doesn’t do is make assumptions about characters. “If I were to say it’s okay to play a lawyer but not a maid, or it’s okay to play a professor but not a slave, that would be sort of spitting on the legacy of my grandmother, who was a maid on Park Avenue for years, or my ancestors in South Carolina, who came from slavery. What’s interesting about storytelling,” she says, “is we get to step into someone’s experience for an hour and a half in the dark, and in the process of living through that journey we learn about ourselves. That’s what it’s all about to me.”
Scandal, produced by Shonda Rhimes, is immersed in Washington, D.C., politics. Not surprisingly, the actress loves playing the biggest “fixer” in town. She comes alive just talking about the character. “Olivia Pope is so much more powerful and sophisticated than I am, and she has more access!” says Washington. The character, loosely based on consultant Judy Smith, whose clients included Monica Lewinsky, is in a lot of ways the most complicated she has ever played. “Usually I go into my actor’s toolbox and say, “Okay, I need this tool and this tool and this tool,” states Washington, pretending to grab some hardware. “Everything else I’ll put away and go to work. With Olivia, every day I have both toolboxes! Every tool. She requires all of me: my brain, my body, my heart, all of it.”
Not the greatest photoshoot, but I love the article. Her friendship with Jamie Foxx is so cute, I love how supportive he is of her.