Scandal fans, if you've yet to see Thursday night's episode, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," be gone with you! Major spoilers are ahead!
The question: #WhoGotShot? The answer? Us, right in our feels.
We were warned not to miss the opening minute of Thursday night's Scandal by its stars and now we know why: Jake (Scott Foley) shot and killed James Novak (Dan Bucatinsky), in order to prevent him from spilling the beans about Sally (Kate Burton) murdering her husband to the public. Publius is down. For good. David Rosen (Josh Malina)? Allowed to live and become Jake's cover-up accomplice.
We chatted with Dan Bucatinsky, the ABC hit's first major death and its only actor to win an Emmy for his work on the show (as a guest star), earlier on Thursday and he was still very emotional over his exit from the show, telling us, "I've had a very hard time. I was very emotional for a couple of weeks."
So how did Shonda Rhimes tell Bucatinsky, who also serves as consulting producer on Grey's Anatomy, James was dying? Plus, who was the first person he called after learning the news? And has he forgiven Scott Foley yet? Read our exclusive Q&A with Bucatinsky for all the scoop of Scandal's shocking death...
E! Online: Wow, we're still trying to recover from that episode.
Dan Bucatinsky: It's intense. It's insane, it's insane. I have to agree with you. I've seen it twice, and I'll watch it again tonight. I'm watching the East Coast feed with Ellen DeGeneres tonight, and I'm hoping that I don't start crying again. It breaks me up a little bit.
When did Shonda tell you the news and what was your immediate reaction?
It was in January. What happened was there was a table read for the previous episode that all of us got literally only moments after they finished it, and it was the one that just aired last Thursday. It ended in a shocking way. None of us had any idea that that was coming that two women would wind up shot and then a third gunshot would go off and then black, so it was a little shocking, just in that respect. So all of us were silent. We sat around the table all just looking like, did that just happen? Then Shonda announced that they had no idea what they were going to do. They had absolutely no idea… That's much like the show, those writers, they really come together and break stories based on what they've just broken, beat-by-beat. Different shows run differently. Sometimes there's a very big map and everybody knows where they're headed weeks and weeks and weeks in advance, and on this show, week to week, it's a nail biter for the actors, it's a nail biter for the writers, it's a nail biter for the audience. So we read that and Josh and I were both…for a couple of days, everybody on set had a theory, like, is it going to be you, is it going to be neither of you. Josh was confident it was neither of us. People were like oh it's going to be a third shooter, or someone else is coming to shoot you and Scott is shooting that shooter...
Basically, you guys were just like Twitter when they were trying to figure out what was going to happen this past week.
Exactly! Twitter now. I mean the theories I'm watching are so much fun right now. But yes, basically it was us on Twitter. It was a little unsettling, and at some point I pulled Tom Verica aside and I said, "Listen, I get it, I completely understand, but if at any point you sense that there is a direction that could either relieve us of our anxiety or prepare us for the worst, I'm begging that somebody let us know." So I think a day or two later, maybe even the next morning, I was driving to Grey's Anatomy actually, and I got a call from Shonda. My heart was in my throat, and I thought, "Maybe she's calling with good news!" So I pulled over, and she said, "We tried everything. We talked about every possibility to try to save James, and we didn't, so James has to die." It was hard, and we talked about it, and she was very generous, and she said it was going to be a beautiful episode and I can read it before the table read, and I talked about how grateful I was for the opportunity to have played the role for as long as I did, and you know, how it reawakened for me this love of acting that I have, in a role that I can't imagine having been given the opportunity to do. It was really a dream come true – not only people's responses to it, and obviously the Emmy and all that, but just getting to work with that group of people. I feel totally blessed. It was hard though. I went through a very long couple of weeks where I probably went through all of the five stages of grief several times.
You guys are such a close-knit group, so what was the rest of the cast's reactions when they found out?
I texted Josh Malina first, because I wanted him to know that it wasn't him. Then I texted Jeff Perry, and then I texted my own husband, or maybe I called him, I don't know. But I was just shocked. Then…Shonda sent an email to the whole cast. So they all knew that it was coming, but then we read the episode. By that point it was two weeks later. You know we did the table read and then the very next day, we started shooting 3x13...We were finishing shooting 3x13 and people started to find out, so a week later we had the table read for 3x14, and I had read it upstairs in an office by myself first, and tried to get all my cry out, and then we came back to the table read and it was really, really emotional. I don't think there was a dry eye in the entire room, and it was packed. It was tough, but it was beautiful, and we were all a wreck, and then we had the task of having to shoot the episode, so I went through periods of grief about the character and sadness just about the fact—and not to be too actory—but just the sadness about James no longer being...you know, obviously it's not a real character, but there was something about thinking about his clothes and his child and his glasses and his life and that bedroom and all these things that to me over three seasons have become a part of this person, even though they're fictional. That was going away, and it was very sad. Obviously I've tried to think of, "We haven't shot the death yet, maybe I can talk them out of it." So I went through all the stages of grief—denial, bargaining, and finally acceptance. It was very, very hard.
Did you have any touching or bittersweet moments with any of the cast members when you wrapped?
We did. We shared a lot. Jeff made a speech to the crew that was really, really sweet, and this past Sunday, Scott Foley had what he called his "Guilt Screening." We all watched the episode together at Scott Foley's house, and everybody came. It was just a really sweet way for me to watch the episode, surrounded by my Scandal family, and it was really loving and great, and a lot of people emailed me and I emailed the cast. We had a lot of moments to sort of express to each other how deeply we feel for each other off screen. I've become so close with people I've never even had a scene with. I've never been in a scene with Darby [Stanchfield] or with Katie Lowes, and they're dear to me, and Kerry [Washington] and Tony [Goldwyn], and everybody.
We can only imagine how hard it was for you and the rest of the cast, given how close you are and this was the first major death on the show.
We were friends before and we will be friends after, but this particular experience of doing this show together has been very bonding for us, so we've had moments like that as well. But we'll continue to socialize and I'll see everybody and you know, but it's definitely taken me time. I see some of them sometimes outside and I just get choked up, but it's all good. I feel so blessed to have been able to do it, and Shonda was so… she and the writers wrote so well for us and for me, and to be a guest star for twenty-seven episodes in a show like this for three seasons is just a gift.
From a storytelling point-of-view, why do you think it had to be James that died?
If you look back and you watch the episodes again, like 10, 11, 12, 13, there was a certain—especially after Cyrus pimped out James and sort of reduced him to just another sort of pawn in what he needed to bring down the vice president—there was a certain realization, I think, that led to James' desperate need to bring justice to the murder of Daniel Douglas. I feel like James' willingness to try anything to do that, in storytelling terms, there was really no way to continue with that level of danger given what was around him and given how many people knew what he was doing and how many people knew he was Publius, there was really no way to get around it without some big, big story move.
Obviously, I could pitch other stories that I think would have been fun, and I'm not sure whether it would be me talking or the actor who wants his job back, so I'm not the objective person that could necessarily answer that question. I do feel like they wrote themselves into a situation that had they not done it, maybe people would have called bullshit, and I think they had to sort of walk the walk and talk the talk eventually, where when people do things that are truly poking the bear, there is a response. I think the how benefits from being the kind of show that will go there, the kind of show where you think this will never happen, but it actually might. I think the knowledge that they're willing to go there is part of what makes it so exciting. So I kind of felt like that's why they felt like they had to do it, but you know, as a writer I would have loved to come up with a million other ways that they could have spared me. But I feel like this is probably the best way to keep audiences invested in the sort of life and death stakes that they want to make sure people feel.
Have you forgiven Scott Foley yet?
Scott Foley has been an absolute dream. We've completely bonded over the experience. That scene that we shot at the end, that final moment of the episode, was midnight to two o'clock in the morning, on a rainy night in LA, on the ground, covered in blood and it was unlike anything I'll ever experience again, and I'll never forget it. I'll never forget him. We're completely bonded over it. Everyone was very sweet, and Jeff Perry and Linda Lowy were standing there when we called wrap that day, which was my final scene, so it's been very supportive and loving but sad. Really just all of us mourning our relationships with each other in real life, even though we're all going to be friends for a long time, but also just the sadness of the character going.
Finally, what do you think James' tombstone would say?
Oh, wow. That's really good. I think it would just say "James Novak, father, writer, husband." I don't think he would get too fancy with, like, "seeker of the truth."
To hear more from Bucatinsky, including what's next for Cyrus after the death of his husband and his parting gift for Jeff Perry, check back with us tomorrow morning.
Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.