Last night marked the season one finale of ABC’s hottest new drama, Scandal, starring Kerry Washington and Columbus Short. The political prime-time soap follows the life of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), the best public relations and crisis manager in Washington, D.C. and her team of “gladiators in suits,” including Columbus Short’s character, Harrison Wright, who make their clients problems disappear — by any means necessary.EBONY caught up with Short to get the details on the explosive finale, season 2 and what it’s like to work for the only African American female creator, writer and executive producer of three simultaneous hit shows on network television, Shonda Rhimes.
EBONY: [The finale of Scandal aired last night] so congratulations to you on the success of this show. It was definitely a riveting first season. What can we expect in Season 2?
COLUMBUS SHORT: It’s going to ramp up, it’s going to get a lot more intense. We will get into the characters a lot more. It’s going to be an exciting ride.
EBONY: Are we going to find out what the deal is with [the newest character to Olivia’s firm] Quinn and what makes her an asset to the team? Because one of these things is not like the others…
CS: You are. You’re going to find that out very soon. That’s a lot of what season 2 is about: why Olivia even hired her and just where these characters came from. As far as why Olivia hired Quinn, we [the team] still don’t even know. So it’s going to be an interesting discovery for everybody.
EBONY: I read that you were a bit reluctant to meet with [the show’s creator and executive producer] Shonda Rhimes to discuss this role at first. Was it because you saw [her now-canceled pilot show] “Off the Map?”
CS: No! (Laughs) You got jokes!
CS: No, (laughs) I just never wanted to see myself locked into a character for long period of time. With films, you completely immerse yourself in a character, get into who they are, live it and then release it. But it’s not like that with a show, so I was hesitant about getting stuck. But it’s freaking Shonda Rhimes, so just out of respect, you take the meeting. But I was just going to meet with her and I wasn’t going to read the script and then something told me to just read it and I did and I was completely captivated by it and I went to her with all intent to convince Shonda this part was for me.
EBONY: What was it about the show or your character Harrison that captivated you?
CS: It was a character I haven’t seen: a) on television, and b) for an African American male, he’s a character completely unheard of. He’s got intellect, charm, wit, loyalty. Those are characteristics you look for in any project, but he has them all in one.
EBONY: Harrison is a convicted felon. How is he still able to practice law?
CS: ‘Cause he works for Olivia Pope, that’s why! That’s where his loyalties lie. She saved him and she’s the kind of person who can get a convicted felon to still have his law license and a super, powerfully important job in D.C.
EBONY: What’s it like working with Shonda?
CS: It’s really special. I’ve worked with Aaron Sorkin and a lot of great producers and she’s special. She’s genuinely about her writing and making characters three-dimensional on the set. You’d be surprised to know she’s a very shy woman with an incredible strength. And she’s a madwoman. She’ll be on set at “Scandal” thinking about “Grey’s Anatomy” thinking about “Private Practice” but still 100 percent focused on us, on each of the crews — it’s remarkable to see how she works. She’s a machine.
EBONY: Where is your love interest on the show? Are we going to see one for you next season?
CS: Yes, I believe you are. I think that’s what the beauty of this first season was. It allowed the President and Olivia’s relationship to be the focus and bring us into the world of scandals, and that’s allowed us a lot more time to wrap our heads around who our characters are through understanding that relationship. And now we’re getting more in-depth with the relationships of the other characters.
But Shonda is very collaborative. I’ll send her an email about what I think should happen with the character — this and that –and she’ll maybe take the “that” and leave one of the “this’s”.
EBONY: Are you all looking forward to Emmy season, did you submit entries for that?
CS: I actually have no idea how that process works, but surely, Kerry [Washington, who stars as Olivia Pope], Jeff Perry [who plays Cyrus, the president’s chief of staff] Guillermo Diaz [who plays ex-CIA agent Huck] a lot of that work deserves an Emmy. But I think it’s as good of a show as any others [being considered].
EBONY: The season finale was the seventh episode. Why do you think it was such a short first season?
CS: I think initially Shonda thought, with it being such a new show, “I’m approaching this like a British miniseries [with only seven episodes]. I’m not going to count my eggs before they hatch.” So she just made seven non-stop, high-octane episodes. She told me – and I believe it – she has 100 episodes in her head already. But just in case, the season was able to tell a complete story. It has a beginning, middle and end, even though there are some cliffhangers left for next season.
EBONY: There are [some deaths] in the season finale. Are these characters gone for certain?
CS: Shonda does things interestingly. A friend of mine, Jeffrey Dean Morgan [who played Denny on “Grey’s Anatomy” had an arc on (the show) and he died, but when Shonda’s involved, if she loves you and she wants you around, she will flashback, she will dream sequence, you never know how she’ll keep you on the show.
EBONY: In the past, you were very much a choreographer and even choreographed a tour for Britney Spears. Do you see yourself getting back into that in the future?
CS: I haven’t figure out how I would do that. I haven’t thought about or really done that in seven or eight years, so I don’t know. But I never say never to anything. [Choreographer] Kenny Ortega is doing some wonderful things [in the business] and the tools in your bag you never throw away.
EBONY: I also read that your family is very environmentally conscious. How did that passion for the environment come about?
CS: I don’t know if it was an epiphany or anything like that. I’ve always been very conscious about global warming and recently I was watching HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and the president of GM was literally denying the existence of global warming. It’s a real problem.
The fact that my [seven-year-old] son goes to a wonderful private school that is Eco-conscious– it’s just great to see a young man so about it. [At home] we do use recyclable bags and eco-friendly shampoos and the soaps and cleaning supplies. And one family, one person at the time, we can reverse the speed of global warming.
EBONY: You were hilarious in “Death at a Funeral” and riveting in “Cadillac Records”. Now you’re going to be playing a villain in your upcoming film “The Girl is in Trouble”. You’ve been able to play a lot of very different characters on film. What’s your dream role?
CS: I want to play Martin Luther King. That is absolutely a role and a character who is important to the landscape of the world that I really want to play.
EBONY: The man or the legend?
CS: I want to play the truth of him. You’ve got to be honest with yourself aesthetically about who could you play. You want to artistically be true to that character. I want to gain 35 lbs and play the truth, physically and truth emotionally about what it was to be that man, both the negative and the positive. I think showing heroes as fallible helps us and reminds us that we are ourselves fallible and no man is perfect but we can still achieve great things.
EBONY: What’s a role of yours that you feel is the most underrated?
EBONY: Why “Armored?”
CS: Because I loved that movie. It didn’t do that well in the Box Office but the character was so complex. In whatever roles I undertake, I try to dissect it and find the humanity there, and that role gave me a lot to work with.
EBONY: What do you hope your legacy will be?
CS: That’s a good question. First, as far as my career, I was watching [Oprah Winfrey’s] Master Class with Morgan Freeman and I saw how he contributed great things to both film and television, so that would be great. But also having a name will provide for me to do the philanthropy work that’s important to me. It actually take the name sometimes to help people hear and a known voice for people to actually listen. So I hope I was an advocate for change and growth and evolution of mankind.
Otherwise, I’m taking it day by day and letting the chips fall where they may.