'Scandal's' Kerry Washington: Explosion Will Have 'Huge Impact' on the Election

It's election day when ABC's Scandal returns on Thursday for its season three finale, and nearly everyone is in danger.

Olivia Pope's (Kerry Washington) father, Rowan (Joe Morton), is clinging to life. A bomb rapidly ticks off precious seconds underneath a church where dignitaries including VP and presidential candidate Sally Langston (Kate Burton), her adviser, Leo (Paul Adelstein), and the president's running mate Andrew (Jon Tenney), are gathered at a funeral for a senator that Olivia's mother Marie Wallace (Khandi Alexander) killed in a bid to take President Fitzgerald Grant's (Tony Goldwyn) life.

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Terrorist Adnan Salif (Nazanin Boniadi) is holding Harrison (Columbus Short) at gunpoint as the rest of the Gladiators from Olivia Pope & Associates team with B613 Command Jake (Scott Foley) in their race to not only find Marie but disarm the bomb. As if that wasn't enough, Cyrus (Jeff Perry) knows the woman standing between Fitz and four more years in the White House is standing at ground zero and doing nothing to save her life or those of the many other officials gathered for the funeral.

Plus, will Mellie's (Bellamy Young) secret about Big Jerry ever come to Fitz's attention? Might Mellie find out that her love -- Andrew -- is also in danger? How deadly will the finale be? The Hollywood Reporter turned to star Washington to preview the jam-packed season finale.

How would you describe the season finale?

Pun intended: Explosive! (Laughs.) One of the craziest things about this season's finale is that you'd think at this point it would be impossible to shock us as a cast anymore, but we were floored after this table read. It gets crazier and crazier in the most wonderful way. Even the writers were excited about it during the table read. [Showrunner] Shonda [Rhimes] kept saying, "It's only Act 2! It's only Act 3!" because we couldn't believe how much story was being exploded in each act. It's quite a ride.

Cyrus knows there's about to be a major explosion with key White House people in danger. Does he have doubts about not warning anyone beyond Fitz? Might he turn to Olivia?

Those questions will definitely get answered in the episode, for sure. The finale features the final day of the election. We'll deal with that incident and move forward.

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Olivia's father is clinging to life, and there's about to be a major explosion. How will Olivia handle being torn between her parents

It's really interesting. I feel as though so much of her journey always has to do with balancing both her professional life and her personal life. But where we are now in the series, there's so much gray area because balancing the election and her own personal crisis involves all of it. It's all now because of B613, because of her parents, because of the White House, because of Jake. It's all become the same level and radiations of the same crisis.

Regardless of what happens, will Olivia have the chance to have closure with one or both of her parents? This really goes back to both of them feeling that Fitz isn't the right guy for their daughter.

It's so intense! It makes me laugh whenever I think of the intensity of that table scene. Can you imagine sitting at a table with your mother and father and they've pulled knives on each other?! It's such a complicated relationship. Olivia is definitely fighting for some semblance of clarity and having her life be handled (laughs).

How might Olivia handle the loss of a parent -- or two considering everyone's targeting Marie and Rowan is clinging to life?

You will learn a lot about Olivia by the way in which she interacts with her parents and their mortality in this episode.

Jake is still working desperately to protect the president and has now been used by Olivia. Where do his loyalties lie right now?

That one you'll have to wait and see!

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How might OPA respond to a Huck (Guillermo Diaz) and Quinn (Katie Lowes) romantic pairing? Could Quinn be welcomed back to OPA?

Katie's transformation, her arc from season one to now, is pretty extraordinary and she can't be taken for granted. What she's been able to do as an actor -- to come from this new associate to badass B613 [member] is really fantastic. But I don't know how to answer that (laughs).

Could this be the end of B613? Can Jake and Fitz allow that to happen?

It's a really good question. Everybody's relationship with B613 is shifting in a big way. I can imagine a world where it does and doesn't exist, but you'll have to wait and see which one we go with!

Sally, Andrew, Leo and more are all at the senator's funeral. How deadly can we expect the explosion to be and how will it impact the election?

The explosion has huge impact on the election, but I can't say more than that. It's a definite game-changer.

How might Mellie respond if she found out about the bomb and knowing Andrew is there?

It's been fun to see. I'm voraciously Team Mellie. I'm obsessed with #Mew and I love that there are so many people concerned with that new relationship. And rightfully so because we've all been waiting to see this part of Mellie and to have her have this aspect of her character come to life. It's pretty crazy what goes down.

What do you think of how Mellie has evolved this season? Why are you so Team Mellie?

I'm of the firm belief that you don't have to be either Team Olivia or Team Mellie -- you can be both. People always ask me that on Twitter and Bellamy and I are both. It's a nod to these writers that they're not afraid of the complexity of having two fully evolved, complicated women -- more than two with but we're talking about these two. They've both been spun on their heads this season; you think of Olivia as a superhero and you realize how much more vulnerable she is. And the same with Mellie; you think she's just an evil villain and then realize how much more vulnerable she is. That's really awesome and courageous on the writers' part.

Will they share any scenes in the finale? Olivia knows about Mellie's history with Big Jerry. Is this something that Olivia will keep from Fitz?

You'll have to wait to see! She and I both hope we get more of these scenes together next season, for sure (laughs). We love working together. We both love our characters and love each other's characters and love the dynamic of being able to live in these words and these situations as these women together. It's really a privilege.

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Can Fitz win an election on his own or is this going to be Defiance all over again to put him over the top? Cyrus already seems to be setting it up that Fitz might literally be the only one to survive election day?

I don't think anybody wins an election on their own. That's part of what the show is about. We see the machine behind how these things happen. I don't think anybody is every winning an election on their own -- either in real life or on our show. You get to see how the machine, including Fitz himself, responds to circumstances around him.

Will we learn at the end of the season if Fitz has been re-elected or not?

I can't answer that (laughs).

What was the hardest scene for you to film this season?

I work very physically as an actor. The biggest thing for me has been the challenge of how to be this person [Olivia Pope] with the personal transformation that's going on for me physically and how to stay true to this character. That hasn't been easy. It's been an awesome challenge for me as an actor because so much of how I access character is through my body. It's definitely been complicated to say the least. I've learned a lot about other ways to access Olivia and be her. It's interesting that Olivia has had such a dark season and that's been hard, too. I have my own understanding about who she is and to watch her go through and have to embody some of the things Olivia had to go through this season has really been challenging. I've always talked about my favorite thing about the character being the balance between her strength and vulnerability, so to be this very strong woman in these very dark periods of emotional vulnerability has been hard -- and fun (laughs).

What do you think about all the creative ways Scandal has concealed your pregnancy? Is there one that stood out to you?

I'm just grateful for how hard everybody has worked to maintain the authenticity of this character in this world. I'm grateful to [costume designer] Lyn Paolo and all our producers. The decision of whether or not a character would be on similar journey, I had nothing to do with that decision. I trust Shonda with all things. I feel very grateful that we have such an amazing team that was able to protect the character within the context of what the actress was going through.

Do you think it's possible for Olivia to, as they say, stand in the sun with someone without drama?

You have to hope that for her because you hope that for anybody. If that's what she really wants, then that's what I want for her. I always say I'm on Team Shonda when it comes to Olivia's love life (laughs). I don't really pick sides other than that!

What are you looking forward to seeing in the Scandal season three finale? Hit the comments below with your thoughts.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit