Kerry Washington on Scandal series 3, Olivia's happy ending and the problem with being a role model

"It’s better off for humanity when we share in each others experiences and don’t just tell stories about one kind of person"

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Kerry Washington on Scandal series 3, Olivia's happy ending and the problem with being a role model
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You might recognise Kerry Washington from her role as formidable, powerful and oh-so-stylish ‘fixer’ Olivia Pope in Scandal. Though if you don’t – until recently the hit ABC show aired quietly on More 4 – chances are you will do soon.

The third series of Shonda Rhimes’ hit political drama is poised to premiere on Sky Living tonight and the satellite broadcaster has been pushing it like crazy – on the telly, in magazines and newspapers and on the sides of buses. We grabbed a few minutes with its star before the season launches in the UK. 

Washington is known for her outspoken political and feminist views. Though she’s not in an especially forthright mood when we speak to her. She is instead incredibly humble and modest about her recent Emmy nomination.

“I’m really grateful to the academy for this acknowledgment because it’s so good for the show and I wish everyone could be nominated. Everyone in our cast certainly deserves to be,” she says.

If she wins, Washington will become the first African American woman in a leading role to do so. But she’s keen not to focus on her chances of taking home the prize this year (she was also nominated in 2013): “I’m not a competitive person so I tend not to think in those terms."

Instead she’s focusing on the fourth series of the drama, which started filming this week. Not that we want to hear anything about that.

All we want to know is what we can expect from series three... 

It’s such an exciting start to the third season because we’ve just realised that we know [Olivia Pope’s] father and we have no idea what that relationship is. A big part of this season is revealing how Olivia’s past has really influenced who she is today and we kind of watch how that past still lives in her in ways which are really challenging.

It must be the ultimate in complicated father-daughter relationships…

Oh to say the least!  The fact that Joe Morton, who plays my dad, is nominated for an Emmy for this season should tell you how important he is.

They got so close at the end of series two, but do you think that Olivia would be content if her and Fitz actually got their happy ending?

They truly love each other and I think a lot of the show is about how they both navigate loving someone who they can’t be with for external and internal reasons. You know, part of why they can’t be together is because he’s the President of the United States and he’s married – and part of why they can’t be together is because there’s a lot of emotional turmoil where they don’t know how to love each other in the real world.

[But] I really trust the writers. I don’t have judgment about the choices that Olivia makes. I just think she’s on a journey, so I don’t know what’s best for her but I’m sure Shonda Rhimes does!

Scandal is kind of unique in that when you are rooting for the love story you are also rooting for infidelity…

People are complicated, you know. [Fitz and Olivia] are great examples of that because they are not living their lives perfectly – they are living their lives as best they can. All these characters live in the grey, which makes them more real.

But I always say, I think when people want Olivia and Fitz to be together, it’s not because they are rooting for an affair. I think what they are rooting for is love. That happens just to be the wrong thing because he’s married.

Olivia is such a strong and complex character. She must be a great part to play…

It’s really fun to play somebody who is so complicated. In her professional life she’s almost always the most powerful person in the room - she’s fearless and she’s fierce and accomplished – and in her personal life she’s a little bit of a mess. A disaster! Figuring out how to play both of those realities in one person is always such a fun challenge.

Are there enough female roles like that out there?

I think there are more and more and that’s wonderful. I think it’s just great whenever we allow our stories to be inclusive and we allow people of different races and ages and genders and socioeconomic backgrounds to be the lead characters of stories. It’s better off for humanity when we share in each others experiences and don’t just tell stories about one kind of person.

As a successful woman in Hollywood – and one of TIME magazine’s most influential – do you feel pressure to be a role model?

I think the idea of a role model has always been a little bit of a dangerous one, because you can’t be all things to all people, but I do feel a desire in my life to do my best and fulfil my own potential. That feels important to me – to contribute what I can in this life to the best of my ability.

Shonda Rhimes has a knack for creating long-running shows. (Grey’s Anatomy is poised to air its 11th season later this year.) Do you see Scandal following in its footsteps?

Shonda has said in interviews that she doesn’t want to have this show last forever but I don’t know what that timeline looks like in her head. I have no idea… But I’m privileged to play Olivia and I’d like to play her for as long as you’ll have me!

Scandal series three starts tonight at 9:00pm on Sky Living