Are Olivia Pope's days in Washington, D.C. numbered?
Series star Kerry Washington graces the cover of Glamour's May issue (on newsstands Apr. 11) and plays coy about her future on Shonda Rhimes' hit ABC series Scandal. "It's not really up to me," the 40-year-old actress teases. "It's up to Shonda and to the network. Shonda has said from the beginning that she kind of knows how it ends. So, I'm trusting her to guide the arc."
Scandal, which was renewed for a seventh season in February, has given Washington the opportunity to "become a producer," which means she's now interested in doing "other work."
"The charge of my production company, Simpson Street, is to tell stories that are about people, places, and situations that may not always be considered by the mainstream. Inclusivity is not about creating a world where straight white men have no voice; it's about creating a world where we all have a voice," she explains. "I'm excited to start that new journey, as a producer."
That's not to say Washington is ungrateful for the role, which made her the first female black lead in a network drama in 40 years. "It's impossible to say that Olivia Pope hasn't been one of the most transformative roles for me," she admits. "I've never played a character for this long."
There are downsides to the job, of course. "Olivia Pope took my anonymity away. Before, I was a character actor; nobody really knew that the girl from Save the Last Dance was the same girl from The Last King of Scotland. I could show up and be a person in the public eye when it was useful, then dip out and have my life," Washington says. "Olivia Pope has really changed that."
On the flip side, as Washington became synonymous with the show, she had more say in the kinds of stories Scandal would tell. "In the first season it was as if Olivia Pope was race-less. There was no denying that Olivia was a black woman, because I'm a black woman, playing her in badass white trench coats that call to attention the fact that I'm not looking like anybody else on television," she tells the magazine. "But we didn't talk about her identity as a black person."
According to Washington, "The writers have become more and more willing to deal with race."
"When Olivia was kidnapped [in Season 4], it was not lost on me that the fictional president of the United States was willing to go to war to save one black woman at a time when hundreds of black women were missing in Nigeria and we were begging the world to pay attention," the politically-minded actress, 40, says. "Shonda was saying, 'The life of a black woman matters.'"
As another example, Olivia's father Eli Pope (Joe Morton) often tries "to instill in her this generational learning about what it means to be a person of color in the United States," she says. But Olivia—who was born after the civil rights movement of the '60s—struggles to balance "the truth of his understanding with her ability to achieve things he was never able to."
For the rest of Season 6, Olivia will be "on a journey of discovering what it means to be in power, not just power-adjacent," Washington tells Glamour. "I'm as curious as anyone about her relationship to power and how it's going to continue to evolve." But at some point, "I want Olivia to be a whole person—to not have issues around healthy personal and healthy work relationships. But if she evolves in those ways, I'm not sure that we have a show anymore!"