It's been a long summer for "Scandal" fans, who were left reeling with events in the Shonda Rhimes drama's Season 2 finale in May. Star Tony Goldwyn, who plays U.S. President Fitz Grant, talked to Yahoo TV about what he found most surprising in the finale, just how shocking he found the Season 3 premiere, and whether or not he thinks Fitz and Olivia (Emmy nominee Kerry Washington) should end up together.
Everyone has called the Season 3 premiere shocking, which is saying a lot after the Season 2 finale. Do we pick up with everyone right after the events of the finale?
Yeah, that's right. We pick up exactly where we left off. An earthquake has just been set off in the White House. Within that, in the first episode, there's a huge reveal and surprises that shocked the hell out of me. I was not prepared for it, because I didn't know where [Shonda] was going to go with the story. I was really excited to see that she'd now taken the show in a whole new direction. It's obviously the same show, but she's not repeating herself. She's just continuing to charge ahead.
What was the most surprising thing to you from Season 2?
There were three things in that last episode that really rocked me. The biggest one, personally, was that I laid my head on Mellie's lap. That just floored me, after fighting so hard for Olivia. I could not understand it, and that really freaked me out — although I thought it was brilliant storytelling. Then, of course, the last two moves in the show, the last minute of the show when the press says, "Are you having an affair with the president?" Then we find out that Joe Morton's character is [Olivia's] father. That was just fantastic. We all jumped up. I remember being in the room at the table read, and we all just jumped to our feet when we saw that. We couldn't believe it.
Given everything they've been through together, everything they've learned about each other, do you want those two characters, Fitz and Olivia, to be together, or even to ultimately end up together?
Yeah, totally, 100 percent. I have no doubt about it. I feel really strongly, myself, that they do belong together, and if they could be together, they would have an incredibly wonderful relationship. I believe that, and I think that the forces keeping them apart are really painful. Whether she wants to admit it or not, I think Olivia feels the same way. But, life conspires against us, and their own weaknesses and frailties and mistakes. ... We know a lot about each other and are forgiving. It's interesting, that great scene in the Oval Office when she confronts me with murdering Verna, and I've confronted her with sleeping with Jake. Then she moves right past it and gets...
Here's the thing, Olivia and Fitz, they see each other. They know each other. I remember saying it a lot. I think it was in the first season, Fitz would say to Olivia, "You know me." I think that they know each other on such a deep, profound level, and that's what we all crave in a lover, is to be seen and to be really, deeply known and understood. ... You can't change that, and if you have that with somebody, then that's everything.
How much of "Scandal's" success do you attribute to the fact that these characters, unlike on a lot of network dramas, are definitely not black and white? There's a lot of gray areas. They're complicated characters who do not always do the "right" thing or the thing you expect them to do, but a lot of viewers seem to appreciate that.
You hit it on the nose. I think the contrast in these characters is what makes them so compelling. I think it's so refreshing for an audience to have characters that are in this kind of heightened world, living in these sorts of outrageous circumstances, but are very real and human along with that. We can identify with them, love them, too, even if we find some of what they do is reprehensible. Even though it's all very extreme, I think Shonda has created these people that audiences feel are real. What we're going through or struggling with, although it's so heightened, has those contrasts of light and dark just like life.
Have you been surprised at all by just how much the audience does love and empathize with the characters, despite, as you say, some of the choices they make?
That's the skill of Shonda. She knows how to do that, to create incredibly entertaining stories and situations, but also use it as a way to really dig into human relationships — marital relationships, romantic relationships, co-worker relationships, friendships, all of these things. Dealing with racial and sexual politics, all of this stuff, she gets in there and explores the things that she wants to explore, that people want to be a part of. Yet, she puts it in this outrageously entertaining format. I'm constantly surprised by it. I'm gratified by the success. It's validating to feel so connected to something myself and to have the audiences really dig it. I'm constantly surprised by the moves Shonda makes. The really bold story moves and the outrageous things that she does yet always keeps it anchored in that really complicated human reality.
As an actor, is that scary or just exciting to go for these big, bold story lines?
It's exciting. You definitely feel like you have to buckle your seat belt from time to time. Sometimes it's scary in the sense that, as an actor, you have to go to some very unpleasant places, places that make you very uncomfortable. The character will make a move that is very uncomfortable. But that's also really what actors dream about. It's like this fantastic roller-coaster ride. I really trust Shonda. Sometimes I'll read something and Fitz will be heading in a direction, and I'm like, "Oh my God, what is going to happen?" But I don't question it. I'm along for the ride. It's so exciting to not know, to just go with it. It's my first time doing a regular character on a series, and I'm really enjoying that part of it, maybe the most.
You mentioned this is your first regular cast role on a TV series. Do you feel like you're enjoying the huge success of the show, and your role, more now than you would have earlier in your career?
I'm really grateful that I'm older with this happening. No. 1, I'm just mainly grateful. I can relax and have fun with it. I have the perspective of having done a lot of different things. You learn as you get more experienced in the business that these are moments that come once in a while, and you just need to really be in them, enjoy them, and work your butt off. Cherish them as they are happening. Whereas when you are younger ... I remember the first successful thing I was a part of. I thought, "Oh, this is how it is from now on. Oh, OK. I get it." Part of that is anxiety because you know that's not true, but you want to believe it. You're not quite sure what to do with it. As great as that was in my early years, when things would go well, it's just so wonderful to have the perspective of experience and just be relaxed with it. We are all just having so much fun doing this show.
You do all have incredible chemistry, starting with you and Kerry, and going all the way through the cast.
It's an extraordinary group of people. The group that Shonda put together, from the writers and the crew to this incredible cast we have, it's just a very good mix of people. Everyone feels the same way, very lucky to be there, really up for working really hard. We joke we are like a cult. (Laughing) We just all get along great. There are no divas. Oftentimes on sets things can get a little squirrelly, people kind of freak out sometimes, egos get out of control. It's just weird, and there's zero percent of that on "Scandal."
You're obviously very busy with "Scandal," you're starring in the big-screen adaptation of Veronica Roth's "Divergent," and you're developing a drama, "The Divide," for WE. What's the show about?
It was a project that Richard LaGravenese ("Behind the Candelabra" and "The Fisher King") and I created. We developed it for AMC, and now AMC is producing it for the WE network, which they also own. They're in the process of rebranding WE. I think the intention is it will be sort of like ... AMC for women. They're starting scripted programming of really complicated, intelligent, edgy shows with very strong female characters, and ours fit that profile, so they thought it would be a really great fit for their first show on the new WE. The story centers around the struggle between an African-American district attorney (Damon Gupton, "Prime Suspect") in Philadelphia and a young Caucasian woman (Marin Ireland, "Homeland") who is, when we meet her, an intern at the Innocence Project. Or, in our story, it's called the Innocence Initiative.
If you don't know what that is, it's a major organization that makes it its business to exonerate the wrongly convicted. In our story, there's a man who's on Death Row who is about to die, and she rips open this case. It sets off all of these tremors in the community. It really is a show that explores the gray areas in our justice system, and by extension, our racial politics, our marriage and family politics. Frankly, a lot of the things that Shonda is also exploring in "Scandal," just in a very different way.
That's such a fascinating topic, especially with recent shows like "Rectify" and the "Central Park Five" documentary.
Yes. I [directed] this movie a couple years ago called "Conviction," with Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell, which was a true story about a wrongful conviction. I just got fascinated with the stories and the world of it. I wanted to pursue the themes. Richard LaGravenese, one of our greatest screenwriters, a great friend of mine, we started talking about it. He's been wanting to write for television. He was nominated for an Emmy this year for "Behind the Candelabra," and he wanted to get into series TV and I wanted to create a show. So we teamed up and kind of figured out an angle that we felt was a great way to explore these ideas.
How much time will you get to spend on it with your "Scandal" commitment?
I directed the pilot already. I'll direct the second episode, then maybe the finale. We'll see if I can get to do another one. Otherwise, I'll be very involved in postproduction of the script, really being a producer and a director. We have a great, great team. It premieres in the spring, the late spring.
And what about directing in general? You've directed so many great shows, "Justified," "Dexter," "Damages," and, of course, "Scandal." Will you continue to do that, or is it something that's hard to find time to do now?
It's really tough to find time to do. As I said, I'll do "The Divide." On "Scandal," I'm going to direct an episode in the second half of the season. Beyond that, I won't have time to do anything more. Unfortunately, I can't be a part of "Justified" anymore. I loved being part of that show. We'll see what happens during our next hiatus, for something to direct. Pretty much, my dance card's full.
Catch up on "Scandal" with this video recap:
"Scandal" Season 3 premieres Oct. 3 at 10 p.m. on ABC.
"Scandal: The Complete Second Season" is available on DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.