Sunday, March 8th (7:00pm)
Moderator: Jimmy Kimmel (Host, Jimmy Kimmel Live)
Panelists: Kerry Washington, Guillermo Diaz, Scott Foley, Tony Goldwyn, Katie Lowes, Joshua Malina, Jeff Perry, Darby Stanchfield, Bellamy Young, Joe Morton
I haven’t been at all the Paley panels so far (my fellow contributor Bryan Liberty covered Homeland and the Comedy Central round-up), but the feeling in the Scandal panel was very different from the panels I have been to. The audiences for The Good Wife and Girls were invested fans, and excited to be there, but they had nothing on the fervor of the Gladiators. For someone who really wants to know how Scandal ticks on a narrative level, tonight’s panel would be a disappointment — but for die-hard fans, interested in the minutiae of cast interactions and funny backstage stories, there was a lot to appreciate.
Except for a first inquiry about how the cast felt about last week’s Ferguson-inspired episode, moderator Jimmy Kimmel didn’t ask a lot of hard-hitting questions. He asked about Josh Malina’s on-set pranks (Malina once made Darby Stanchfield cry, apparently, though she seemed perfectly forgiving in retrospect), the actors’ favorite lines (mostly character-defining ones from season one; Jeff Perry called back to Cyrus’ monologue about what will happen if Amanda Tanner goes public, my personal pick for the best Scandal writing of all time), and famous fans of the show (apparently David Bowie is into it).
Then Kimmel visited the gold standard of awkward TV interview subjects: fanfiction. He called out a few of the more common relationships (or “ships,” as the cool kids call them) by name, approving of the delightfully-named “Huckleberry Quinn,” but demanding a replacement for the dreadful “Olitz.” “Even Fivia would be better,” he said. Under normal circumstances, I’d shake my head at a question about fanfiction — it’s always awkward, and rarely leads to interesting answers — but I happen to agree so strongly about the need for better relationship names (I’m looking at you, Olicity) that I’m inclined to give Kimmel a pass. And it did lead to this perfect comment from Malina: “Now that I’m no longer with Abby, my relationship name is ‘David.'”
After that, Kimmel read out a few questions from Twitter, the most interesting of which asked about the cast’s memories of their first day on set. Stanchfield and Perry recalled their very first conversation, in hair and makeup, where they commiserated over the “Scandal pace” of the dialogue. Washington talked about her and Tony Goldwyn’s first day together on set, when they talked about politics (they’d previously worked together in the political arena) and realized that Shonda Rhimes was getting very excited about their chemistry.
A sweet video of Katie Lowes getting the news that she’d gotten the part of Quinn led to a long digression about casting and cast chemistry. Apparently Rhimes does brief background checks as part of a “no A-hole policy,” and everyone said they were very happy to be working with the people they were. As far as working with Rhimes, the cast all agreed that they never question her. “She’s just the best at her job,” Bellamy Young said. “Just leave it in her hands!” Malina agreed, in his own special Malina way: “She once ran over my foot. I was like, you’re right!”
So much do the cast not question Rhimes, in fact, that they don’t know what’s coming up more than a couple weeks in advance. Sometimes an actor will get a telling question, though, like, “Are you okay running barefoot?” (Washington) or “What sports do you play?” (Goldwyn — the answer was “anything but basketball.”) Which is not to say that the actors have no input on how things go; Guillermo Diaz talked about Huck’s odd speech patterns, which were apparently an invention of his own on his first day.
During the audience questions, things got a little more substantive, but a lot more awkward. A few questions in, an audience member asked about how the cast handles “true life scandal,” specifically referencing Columbus Short’s departure from the show. After a certain amount of nervous laughter from the audience, Washington said, firmly, that “everyone who’s in this family is in this family,” and that she didn’t appreciate the question.
Most of the other questions, though, were much less awkward, and elicited more interesting, detailed responses than Kimmel’s. One audience member asked what it was like to have Henry Ian Cusick back for an episode. Washington said that she and Cusick decided not to talk out their feelings too much before shooting, but to let their emotions inform their acting. “What we really felt as actors was the same thing as what our characters felt — this unbelievable sense of homecoming and closure.” Stanchfield said, succinctly, “I had a short cry.”
Another audience member asked, in honor of International Women’s Day, what it’s like for the female cast members to play women who aren’t exactly role models. Young fielded that question: “I feel lucky, ’cause I’m in my 40s and I have a job on TV where I get to say complicated things.” She said that she loves the power and agency of Mellie’s character, and she loves that when a role has yet to be cast, the script never pigeonholes it to an age or race. “Shonda and [casting director]Linda pick souls,” she said.
Bringing the subject back around to the Ferguson-inspired episode, an audience member asked Washington what it was like to do an episode where her race was such an important factor, since Scandal tends not to highlight that. Washington said, “It felt like a little bit of a coming of age for Olivia.” She said that it’s important that the show has always treated Olivia as a woman who’s black, not a black woman first and foremost — though she pointed out the other subtle ways in which race has been dealt with, as in second season when a client shook Abby’s hand, immediately assuming that the white woman would be the one in charge. But it mattered to Rhimes, she said, to deal with the issues around Ferguson directly. “Her form of protest, her form of expression, her way to contribute, is to write.”
Madelyn Glymour | Contributor