IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'Scandal'

Wednesday, 04 April 2012 11:18 Written by  Dana Gardner
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IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'Scandal'

One of television’s most celebrated Producer/Screenwriters, Shonda Rhimes returns with a new series tomorrow, April 5th, as Scandal premieres on ABC. Shonda Rhimes, creator and head-writer of the Emmy award winning Grey’s Anatomy, brings us a brand new drama about a crisis management firm in Washington, DC. Miss Rhimes delves deep into the behind-the-scenes machinations of a mesmerizing crisis manager, named Olivia Pope. The new series stars Kerry Washington (Ray, The Last King of Scotland) as Olivia Pope, a former communications director to the President of the United States, who decides to leave the White House to open her own prominent crisis management firm. Olivia, who dedicated her life to protecting and defending the public image of the nation’s elite and keeping those secrets under wraps, hopes to start a new beginning but can’t seem to escape her own past.

Olivia’s staff includes Guillermo Diaz (Half-Baked, Weeds) as Huck, an ex-CIA computer hacker; Katie Lowes as Quinn Perkins, an inexperienced lawyer with a secret past; Columbus Short (Stomp the Yard, The Losers) as Harrison Wright, a charming, slick-talking attorney with great detective skills; and Darby Stanchfield (Jericho, Mad Men) as Abby Whelan, the firms crack investigator. It soon becomes apparent that Olivia’s dysfunctional team, who specialize in fixing other people’s problems, can’t seem to fix their own.

Earlier this week IAR’s Dana Gardner, along with several other members of the press, had a chance to sit down and discuss Scandal with Olivia Pope’s crisis management team: Guillermo Diaz, Katie Lowes, Columbus Short, and Darby Stanchfield. The actors talk about difficulty with the show’s fast-paced dialogue, what attracted them to the show, the importance of the DC setting to the characters, Shonda Rhimes’ rules concerning dialogue, shooting a DC-based Drama in LA, and the difficulty with using Twitter.

The cast was asked about their thoughts on the incredibly fast pace at which the show moves and how hard it was for them to work with the dialogue at that speed. “It was daunting,” exclaimed Short, “it was daunting to say the actual words at that pace and it was also hard to add emotion, but after the pilot we got into the groove of ‘Scandal-pace’. I got used to it and at one point I went to read for another job and they were like, slow down.”

“I’m a New Yorker,” Lowes added, “I think really fast naturally. Shonda was so specific about the pace though. Even in the pilot she times Columbus and I doing that first opening scene in the bar, which is incredibly fast. I think its very freeing because your brain cant get in the way of this ticking time clock and story that’s about to break. You can’t think too much, you just go, and the story is more important than you. You just have to tell it and you can’t think too much and you just have to go with that.” Lowes also added, “We have to get every single word correct. Before we started shooting the pilot Shonda Rhimes sent everybody an email saying I'm not sure how it is on other jobs but on this specific show I have picked every word specifically, and they are all important to me. You get to say them how you want to say them but you have to say what is written. So we have to run it a million times just to make sure the ‘uhh’s’ and the ‘the’s,’ and the ‘of’s’ are in the right place. It’s really challenging but it’s a great challenge to have.”

Short explained, “It’s not just an exercise in futility. We don’t have time; these people are in a fast-paced business. They don’t say words that they don’t need; they don’t waste time talking, if they are talking it’s for a reason. Stanchfield added, “Kerry Washington’s character is based on this real person, Judy Smith, who shared with us how her office works. They speak in shorthand to each other. They’ve worked together so long and so intimately that they have a way of talking like you would with a family member or a really close friend.”

Next the cast was asked what attracted them to the show. Short explained his initial attraction was the script. “When I read the pilot the first thing I saw was this awesome monologue. That was my initial attraction, and also the world in which we were diving into was incredible. Harrison is just so cool, he’s slick, and he’s not a dork. And he gets to wear a freaking thousand-dollar Gucci suit!” Lowes added, “Quinn is my middle name and I thought, it’s meant to be! And I loved the character. You will see, as this season unfolds, that there is a lot more underneath Quinn Perkins that you don’t know. There are a lot of secrets. You just don’t get that in a lot of twenty-something roles. They’re not always that complex and contradictory, and that is so exciting to me."

Diaz discussed the events leading up to reading for the role. “I think like a week or a few days before my audition for scandal I had an audition for something that was so not me, and then Scandal came along and it was just a dream, and I connected to the character so much. I auditioned for Shonda and it was just right, it felt right, and it’s been an amazing experience.” For Stanchfield it was the writing. “I love Shonda’s specificity. She’s so specific with the characters. I love Abby’s specificity. I love that Abby is a little bit of a dork. She’s got this awkwardness in her. That was fun when I read the pilot. She wasn’t just this two-dimensional woman. She had substance to her, and I also love that she speaks her mind, which I find to be quite refreshing.”

Diaz was asked if he drew any inspiration for his performance in Scandal from his role in Weeds. “What I love about Huck is that he’s so different from Guillermo on Weeds. Huck is so different, he’s so introverted. His past, which you’ll find out about in later episodes, and the extent of what he’s been through, was all I needed to think about and it made it so easy for me to play this character. The stuff that you guys are going to see that Huck has been through and what his life was and how Olivia took him in and brought him into her firm is going to blow you away! It’s not just me, it’s all of us; we have these pasts that are so complicated. It gets dark! It gets really dark!”

The cast was asked whether shooting was done on location and how important the setting was to the story. Lowes explained, “it was all shot in LA, but Kerry Washington went to George Washington University. She spent a lot of time in DC and she’s lived in DC so we did have someone to go to and consult about things that were about location.” Stanchfield then discussed the difficulties with shooting a DC-based Drama in LA. “We started shooting this in July and there were scenes where we’re in layers of suits and overcoats and we’re in Pasadena in ninety-degree weather. Every chance we had we were taking off layers. So we really had to pretend. Our wardrobe stylist worked on West Wing so she has a real savvy sense of the DC scene and the political scene and what’s appropriate for women to wear in offices and she had a lot of input, she brought some really great expertise and background from West Wing.”

Lowes then mentioned how Judy Smith put them in touch with investigators and people from the White House in order for them to ask specific questions about their characters. Stanchfield added, “Judy Smith arranged a conference call so that all of the characters who play political figures were able to speak to ex-politicians. I was able to speak with a couple of different investigators that Judy had worked with personally. One who had a CIA background and the other who was not a government-based investigator, but a professional private investigator. It was such a collaborative thing of making the world of DC, where we relied on our set decorators, our set designers, and Judy Smith’s expertise.”

Lastly, I asked Diaz, whom just recently, and reluctantly, joined Twitter at the request of a former co-worker of his (Constance Zimmer), how computer savvy he is in real life and if playing an expert computer hacker has helped him become any more computer savvy than he already is. Diaz exclaimed, [laughing] “I’m certainly not computer savvy! I joined Twitter kicking and screaming, very reluctantly and my bio says nerd, and I play Huck on an ABC Scandal, go figure! I’m trying to make sense of all of this Twitter stuff. I miss writing letters to my friends as a teenager. Does anyone remember writing actual letters? Anyway, playing Huck I get to play in this world that I'm not familiar with at all and it’s a blast!”

Scandal premieres on ABC this Thursday, April 5th.  Check out the official site by clicking here.

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