The Unexpected Effect Confirmation and Anita Hill Had on Kerry Washington

HBO's retelling of Clarence Thomas' 1991 Supreme Court confirmation also stars Wendell Pierce

By Chris Harnick Apr 15, 2016 1:35 PMTags
Confirmation, Kerry WashingtonHBO

Kerry Washington has been changed. The Emmy nominee put Scandal's Olivia Pope on the back burner for a spell to step into the shoes, slingbacks, of Anita Hill for HBO's Confirmation. And while she may not have spent as much time in Anita Hill's skin as she has in Olivia Pope's, the experience playing the real-life woman at the heart of a 1990s scandal left a mark on Washington.

"I didn't expect to process so much of my own experience of gender and how gender has influenced my existence in the world in terms of power," Washington told E! News at a New York screening of Confirmation. "Yeah, sort of some personal things I'm not really sure I feel comfortable talking about, but yeah, I actually did not expect for her, for playing her, to change me as much as it did."

Watch: How Making "Confirmation" "Changed" Kerry Washington

In 1991, Anita Hill testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that Clarence Thomas (played by Wendell Pierce in the HBO flick) sexually harassed her while they worked together in the 1980s. The hearings—and its content—captured the nation and brought up topics that many had long swept under the rug. Now on the eve of another Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Washington said she hopes audience will use the film to have conversations about gender and power, but also get inspired to hold people in elected positions responsible.

"I think the importance of having these confirmations, to be willing to have nuanced conversations about race, gender and power. I think that's something I really hope people are encouraged to do. I hope people acknowledge the legacy, the history of the hearings and also this thing about being aware of the process," she said. "We're so lucky to live in a representational democracy. That means that they represent us, so we have to make sure that they are representing us, that they're doing their jobs and really, acting as we want them to. They work for us, that's the great thing about this country."


Pierce said he hopes younger generations learn where a lot of the protections they have in the workplace hail from. "It was a painful episode for the justice, Ms. Hill and a lot of the senators. It also raises the veil…we have to be very vigilant to make sure that this doesn't happen again, because it's something that doesn't go away."

Washington spent time with Hill, but Pierce said he has not heard from Justice Thomas. Through a mutual connection, Pierce said he asked Justice Thomas to watch the film and consider meeting with him.

"I hope to meet him. I've found that we have more in common than I thought. I hope I did right by him, I hope I did him justice, pun intended. It's one of those things I hope that he can appreciate the humanity I tried to bring to his portrayal," Piece said.

Click play on the video above for more from Washington on at the Confirmation premiere in Los Angeles.

Confirmation airs Saturday, April 16 on HBO.