Kerry Washington is queen of the world—but she won’t ever really admit it. (Which subsequently adds to her charm and solidifies her royal reign.)
She’s the star of a show so hot on television that even non-fans have no choice but to be tapped into character nuances. And if you avoid TV shows altogether, surely it’s impossible not to see the trailer of her new film Peeples, opening May 10. And should you skirt television and film altogether, then surely you’ve seen her mug on the cover of People magazine, touted as one of the most beautiful people gracing the planet earth. Then there’s her work on behalf of President Barack Obama.
Yes, she’s some of everywhere these days (and we know you all saw her on the cover of March’s EBONY!), but to speak with her, she almost doesn’t want to take any credit for her incredible career fortune.
“I’ve been really blessed,” she says. “My whole life I have been in acting classes with people who are vastly more talented than I am, so I wish I could say that it was something I did that has made me have the career that I have today. I’ve just been really blessed with opportunities, and by the grace of God I have been able to meet those opportunities when they come along. I’ve been taught to have a really strong work ethic. I come from a family where there’s a big expectation of excellence, so I’ve been able to meet that opportunity, but I can’t take credit for the opportunities.”
We’re giving her credit, anyway. EBONY.com chats with Washington about Scandal, Peeples and why she insists on staying in her lane.
EBONY: Undeniably, this is your season. People live and die by Scandal. Does it feel as good as it looks on the outside to the rest of us?
Kerry Washington: I’ll be honest with you: I’m really happy that we are still waist deep in filming this season, because I don’t get to focus on any of this insanity that you’re talking about! I can stay really focused on doing my job.
EBONY: My favorite is when there’s a rerun on Thursday nights and no one is aware of that. It’s like…
EBONY: Yes! Everyone is calling their therapist…
KW: My favorite is the petition that’s been started, the petition to ABC to not play any more reruns. I just think that’s amazing. We honestly have the best fans on the planet.
EBONY: You really do. What does it feel like to be a part of a show that, second season in, has grabbed our attention the way that Scandal has?
KW: It’s really exciting. I feel really grateful more than anything.
EBONY: Does it surprise you that people are so tapped into Olivia Pope the way that we are?
KW: Yes! To be honest, in this business I’m always surprised when something is a fixture. When you’re making it, you have no idea what people are going to resonate with. You just can’t control it, you just have to go all in and let go of the results. So it’s wonderful that people are really excited about the show and excited about the character.
And I don’t think it’s Olivia Pope. I think people are equally intrigued with Tony Goldwyn’s character, with Fitz, Mellie, Huck and Quinn. I think there’s a world of interesting, flawed, fully realized, fascinating human beings on the show. And the writers are doing such a great job with the plots. I think it’s the whole world of the show!
EBONY: And now you’re about to have this starring role in Peeples on the heels of Scandal going off the air for the season. What made this a right project for you?
KW: I love doing comedy, and whenever I get the opportunity to do a comedy, I feel so grateful and excited. Because I’m really drawn to doing different kinds of work in different genres in different mediums. So this just seemed like the perfect opportunity. And also, I had a chance to work with some people that I love. When I shot this, I was just coming off of working with David Allen Grier for almost a year on Broadway, so when he signed on to play my dad it was like, “Oh yay, I don’t have to stop working with David!” You know, working with Craig Robinson… I’m just such a fan of The Office, and a fan of his, so it just seemed like an unbelievably blessed opportunity.
EBONY: You shot this new film after Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls and Race on Broadway. Was this what the doctor ordered to break you of all of the drama?
KW: I was coming off of this serious, dramatic work on For Colored Girls, and Tyler Perry turned to me at some point and was like, “I just can’t believe that you’re such a goofball! I think of you as such a serious actress. You should be doing comedy!” And I said, “Funny you should mention that. There is this script you should read.” Paul Hall, who was a producer on For Colored Girls, was also a producing Peeples. So Paul gave Tyler the script and Tyler said, “I want to be on board.”
I think it’s so awesome that at this point in Tyler’s career, he has so much power and influence that he’s using that to shine a light on other filmmakers like Tina [Gordon Chism], who’s such a great writer/director. So he signed on for Tyler Perry Studios to back the film. I definitely needed a comedy after For Colored Girls.
EBONY: And this is a different look for you. It’s funny. You get to have silly moments.
KW: I’m really excited about the movie because I feel like there’s so much going on in the world right now, and we can use a good laugh. The feedback that we’re getting is, people leave the theater feeling so good about life, love and family. The message of the film is really about being yourself and loving other people for who they really are, and those are two things that I feel really good about standing behind.
EBONY: How do you set new goals? What do you do to outdo yourself?
KW: I was never a competitive person; like I was never really into team sports. The only sport I did in high school was swimming, which is a sport that you’re only really competing with yourself. You’re trying to beat your own time. If you start thinking about anybody else’s lane, you will really slow down. I think I try to be that way in my career also. I really try to stay in my lane and focus on myself and let my curiosity inform me. It’s not really about the next thing I want to achieve. I try to let my curiosity lead me toward rich life experiences.