Before she teamed up with Shonda Rhimes to produce the hit ABC television show “Scandal,” Judy Smith kept such a low profile that she didn’t even have business cards or a website for her crisis management consulting firm.
But today, Smith is firmly in the limelight as the inspiration for the show’s main character, Olivia Pope, played by actress Kerry Washington, and told “Politics Confidential” that despite the show’s often far-fetched and very fictionalized plots, Washington has accurately captured the essence of the real-life Olivia Pope.
“She does an incredible job,” said Smith, the co-executive producer of “Scandal.” “You want the character, for me, to be someone strong, someone who is very strategic and smart, at the top of her game, and someone who is very passionate about their work and very compassionate toward their clients.”
Smith, true to Olivia Pope style, wore her iconic white coat to her interview with “Politics Confidential” and walked in a fast-paced strut similar to the character. She added that the quick and curt style of office politics at the fictionalized Pope & Associates also has basis in reality.
“We do talk very fast,” Smith said. “In fact, a colleague of mine had heard me on the phone and said, ‘God, that was so rude. You should apologize.’ I said, ‘No, we talk like that all the time. It's good.’”
Smith is a renowned fixer of scandals within the Washington Beltway, with names like Monica Lewinsky, Clarence Thomas and the family of Chandra Levy topping her long list of high-profile clients.
But that’s the dividing line where the reality of Judy Smith crosses into the fictionalized character of Olivia Pope. For starters, Smith never had an affair with a president.
“I did not have sex with the president,” Smith said with a laugh. “And I'm going to preempt you because I know, as a good journalist, you're going to come with some sort of follow-up question - so, not Bush, not Clinton, not Carter.”
Smith also diverges with Pope in many aspects of her crisis management style, refraining from the TV character’s occasionally questionable tactics that have included cleaning up crime scenes and destroying evidence.
“I am not a fan,” Smith said of using such approaches. “We always say the cover-up is always far worse than the crime. … That system doesn't work. It just doesn't.”
And while Olivia Pope is known for being able to fix just about anything, proudly wearing “the white hat” of justice, Smith said she doesn’t hold herself to such a standard.
“I think there are some things that just cannot be fixed,” Smith said, pointing to the case of Casey Anthony as an example.
“You can’t go back to where you were,” she said, “and, sometimes, you can’t fix the situation that you have managed to get yourself into.”
For more of the interview with Judy Smith, including what she said fans can expect to see in the second half of Season 3, which resumes tonight on ABC, check out this episode of “Politics Confidential.”
ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Steve Cocklin, and Anne Cocklin contributed to this episode.