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Kerry Washington Wasn't ABC's Original Choice to Play Olivia Pope on 'Scandal'

Kerry Washington Wasn't ABC's Original Choice to Play Olivia Pope on 'Scandal'

The cast and creative team of ABC’s Scandal sat down for an interview with THR amid their 100th episode celebration – and a big reveal was made.

Apparently, ABC wanted Connie Britton for the role, and Shonda Rhimes and others on the team fought for a black actress to star. The role obviously went to Kerry Washington, who has played the role since day one!

“Nothing felt more important than the sense of outsiderness. I didn’t know that there hadn’t been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years. When the show got picked up [to pilot], I got a phone call from somebody who said, ‘This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.’ I said, ‘It would be, except Olivia Pope is black,’” Shonda told THR.

“The network was reading us their top choices, and it was Connie and all white women. I panicked. Somebody finally piped up, ‘We’re going to have to redo this list,’” Linda Lowy, the casting director, added. “We tested Kerry, Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose. It was Kerry from the moment I took her to meet Shonda.”

Meanwhile, Kerry added, “This would have been a great role for Connie Britton!”

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Photos: ABC
Posted to: Connie Britton, Kerry Washington, Scandal

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  • Cruizin1960

    One of these days they will just cast and actor because they are the best candidate for a role. Not because they “must” have a black actor…or white actor, etc. If it were not for the fact that it came on after Grey’s Anatomy, I doubt I would have watched the show at the beginning. Name recognition is everything and the only name that I recognized was Tony Goldwyn…not enough to make me tune in. I do love the show, but Kerry Washington would not have made me tune in to see the show. They were fortunate to have a strong lead in.

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  •*/ democrattotheend

    When it comes to casting actors and actresses, being the “best candidate for a role” often involves being (or being able to play) a particular race, or gender, or ethnicity (although it’s not entirely clear under the discrimination laws whether you can cast based on race). Shonda’s vision for the character was that she be a black woman, so either being a black woman or being able to play a black woman was part of what made someone the “best candidate for the role.” Unless you are saying that it is wrong to write a character who is a particular race? On Scandal, I think Olivia being black adds to the story even though they don’t explicitly address race until later seasons. The Fitz/Liv relationship is more interesting because she is a black woman and he is a white Republican. And even though she does not really define herself by her race, being black definitely feeds into her (and her father’s) belief that she has to be twice as good.

  • LeeS99

    Bottom line is that the real life woman who inspired the show, Judy Smith is a Black woman. So obviously the lead of the show would be a Black woman.

    I think Kerry Washington at the time was more well known than Tony Goldwyn for her movies – Ray, Last King of Scotland, Save the Last Dance, Mr & Mrs Smith,etc. and filming Djanjo Unchained when cast in Scandal and a lot of small critically acclaimed independent movies.

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  •*/ democrattotheend

    I cannot see Connie Britton as Olivia. I don’t think she would have had the same kind of chemistry with Tony Goldwyn or been as appealing overall, and I think Olivia being black has always made the show more interesting even when (and perhaps because) they didn’t explicitly discuss race. Also, Connie Britton is a Republican. I can’t see Shonda wanting to work with her for that reason. I have plenty of criticisms of Shonda, but I commend her for insisting that “Olivia Pope is black.” Interestingly, she also stood her ground when ABC wanted to cut the Olitz storyline. She said something like “Olivia is going to have sex with the president on the desk in the Oval Office in episode 6 or 7, and if you don’t like that don’t pick up the show.” So maybe that is a hopeful sign.

  • Camille Cooper

    And the STRONG leads were Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn.