As the ultimate Washington fixer Olivia Pope in “Scandal,” Kerry Washington has struck a nerve with women of all ages and races.
“One of the most profound things for me about the show is the number of white women of all ages who come up to me and say, ‘I want to be Olivia Pope,’” Washington told the August issue of Vanity Fair.
“It’s especially profound in a place like South Africa,” she added. “It’s called ‘The Fixer’ over there, and it just started its second season. The fact that white women can see this woman of color as an aspirational character is revolutionary, I think, in the medium of television. I don’t think white women would feel that way about Olivia if her identity as a woman, period, wasn’t first in their mind.”
Though Washington takes on the capitol’s heavy hitters every week in the ABC series, she sees her role of fixer as inherently feminine.
“What I think is cool about Olivia is that she fully owns being a woman,” she told Vanity Fair. “There’s a very nurturing sense of ‘I’m going to take care of you — don’t worry about it. I’m gonna be your mom in this situation. You come stay in my office, have a cup of tea, and let my gladiators take care of you.’ There’s something very maternal about it. But there’s also something very executive about her, and I mean ‘executive’ in a presidential way.”
To stay up on her role, Washington will cram books like Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Nine” to better understand Supreme Court machinations and hold regular phone conferences with Judy Smith, the real-life D.C. crisis-management expert upon whom Olivia is loosely based.
“I have to learn things to be her all the time,” the 36-year-old actress told the magazine.
Washington also recalled her New York City upbringing by two socially conscious professionals. At 13, she was taken to Yankee Stadium to see the newly freed Nelson Mandela speak. At 18, her parents celebrated her becoming “a voting citizen was celebrated the way other people would celebrate a Sweet 16. My parents took me out to dinner, and we talked about who I was going to vote for.”
Washington delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention last year for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.