Bellamy Young couldn’t be more different from Scandal’s Mellie Grant.
At an international junket full of media pros, Young is a lively and smiley breath of fresh air – “I’m still new to this, I still enjoy it.” She even remembers every single journalist’s name, while I struggle not to address her as Mellie…
That’s Mellie who might be the one thing standing in the way of protagonist Olivia Pope’s happily-ever-after. Not that that means we’d ever want a White House without her.
America’s first lady – witty, quick and magnificently manipulative – is one of the reasons we tune into Shonda Rhimes’ political drama Scandal. And from the sounds of it, she’s just as much fun to play as she is to watch…
“I love it. Every second,” Young told us, when we sat down with her ahead of the season three premiere of Scandal – the glossy US drama following Pope as she ‘fixes’ the problems of the Washington DC elite – on Sky Living.
“She doesn’t doubt herself. I am given to self-doubt on every level, at every moment of every day. And so playing her for 16, 17 hours a day, where it’s always my way or the highway… [is] unbelievably unfettering.
“I love all the complications. I love that there’s this eternal combustion engine inside… between what’s in her heart, and the serenity that needs to be on her face,” she continues, adding: “There’s always an internal friction, which is heaven to play.”
That friction and complication is something we very much feel when it comes to the formidable Mellie Grant, too. Because we love her, yet as the wife of President Fitzgerald Grant (Olivia’s lover), she’s in the way of the show’s romantic story…
“Nothing makes you crazier than having your love unrequited,” Young says. “There’s this incredible, untethered joy in her pain that I think people really resonate with.”
Not that the love story is a simple one, either. Because it leaves you in a morally questionable landscape, rooting for infidelity and the break down of a marriage and family.
“It’s a credit to Shonda [Rhimes]’s writing. She started the whole narrative sort of in a pinhole… You were just with Fitz [President Grant] and Olivia, and they have crazy chemistry, and oh God, you want them to be together… And then you pull back a little bit, [and realise] oh my God, I’m pulling for adultery. And you sort of have to question yourself as an audience member.”
“[Rhimes] is always telling the story in a fully rounded, morally ambiguous way, that always makes you, us, as viewers… have to really evaluate where we are with things.”
All this, and Mellie wasn’t even supposed to be a main player in the drama.
“I only had two lines in the pilot… Shonda said I might be there maybe three episodes. We were going to do a little arc of a presidential divorce.”
But she soon became an elemental part of the action: “They sort of found Mellie as a lever, you know, as the wedge in the relationship, and they started writing this great stuff.”
Recurring in season one, Young was made a regular in series two and you shouldn’t expect her to be going anywhere in series three: “Mellie’s fun… I am so blessed.”
And she is especially blessed, she says, because of the timing of the role: “I’m 44, and a woman in Hollywood. These things would usually mean that I should, you know, move back to North Carolina and be put out in the pasture somewhere. But instead I’ve got the job of a lifetime.”
Scandal series three starts on Thursday 31st July at 9:00pm on Sky Living