Season 3, Episode 1 “It’s Handled” Olivia’s name is leaked as Fitz’s mistress. Hunkered down in a bunker, she, Mellie, and Fitz argue over what details about their relationship they want to make public.
I don’t remember exactly, but this scene was maybe seven pages, which, in television, is an eternity. It felt like shooting a play. It felt like doing a play, to have three of us in a room for that amount of time. And the scene had such a huge beginning, middle, and end, and such an arc. It felt like a beautifully written one-act play. Everybody has their own moment. I love both of those actors so much, so to be able to get that opportunity with them was so fun. The three of us are all Broadway actors. We all brought the same excitement about the theatrical element of it. We rehearsed it like a play, thought about it like a play, and lived in it like a play. I feel like the three of us could have done that scene for weeks.
There’s such a shift, too, in the way Olivia is speaking to Mellie. For me, that’s one of the important dynamics of the show. It’s impossible for there to be a good guy and a bad guy. Everybody’s relationships are just so complicated. Their personal histories are so complicated. I think Olivia goes from being angry at the judgment that she receives from Mellie to having to be in touch with that compassion and shame around her own choices.
Season 3, Episode 8 “Vermont Is for Lovers, Too”
Fitz brings Olivia to the house in Vermont he had built for the two of them.
I thought this scene was so beautifully written. It was so unexpected, that the house in Vermont would be for her. And then there was this beautiful journey from anger into passion for those two. I think even just the idea, the very, very romantic idea, that he built this house for them is so breathtaking. And Tony’s monologue, what he did with it was so beautiful. We had the pleasure of being directed by Ava DuVernay in that episode. It just was so much fun to break down the moments of that scene with her. She really loves actors and gets actors. She gives such a beautiful space for actors to explore and dance and do what we do. So it was thrilling to be able to do that scene with her.
Season 3, Episode 9 “YOLO”
Olivia hugs her mom and puts her on the plane to Hong Kong, only to realize seconds later that she’s a terrorist.
I thought that writing was so great in this scene. I did not see that twist coming in that episode. There’s this thing that happened this season, because of the storylines with Olivia’s parents, that you got to see the sort of unraveled Olivia Pope. This scene was really fun for me because I felt like you start with seeing little girl Olivia, when she runs out to her mother and hugs her you see some of the innocence of heartbreak and how she’s never been able to have a relationship with her mother. So it’s so vulnerable and raw, and there’s a real sweetness to that connection. And then it so quickly turns to horror. I loved the challenge of that moment. It was one of the many moments that I give credit to our writers for being so courageous and bold in their choices. Then that cliffhanger last line—“He’s not the monster. She is.”—we all were like, “This is not the season finale!?”
Season 3, Episode 10 “A Door Marked Exit”
Olivia goes to the bunker where Fitz and Papa Pope are after realizing that her mom is the terrorist.
I really liked this scene because it was a moment where, finally, Olivia one-ups her dad a little bit and figures out what he’s all about. And I just love all the stuff with Tony Goldwyn and Joe Morton as well. Again, our show moves so quickly, so when you have those moments of two or three people in a room just laying into each other, I think it’s such a treat. You don’t often get the opportunity to do that in that way. It’s really only theater. So much of our show reminds me of really great theater.
I used to say in Season 1 that Olivia Pope is always the most powerful person in the room, with the exception of one room, the Oval Office. That man has so much power. But I think now we’ve come to a place where it’s her dad and Fitz who she struggles with, in terms of how to stay in her power.
Season 3, Episode 16 “The Fluffer”
Olivia confronts vice presidential candidate Andrew about his affair with Mellie.
To me, this scene was like old school Olivia Pope. Like old school pilot on the park bench. And I loved it! It’s a version of Olivia Pope that we hadn’t seen in a while, because so much of that season was about the unraveling of Olivia and the vulnerability behind the mask of Olivia Pope. That to me felt like a moment where she really needed to put on her “Olivia Pope,” quote unquote, identity. I loved playing that version of Olivia in the context of all the trouble. She was becoming so unraveled and undone, so it was nice that she was forced into that old ray of dealing with clients.
We kept joking about the show evolving and blossoming from this love triangle into this five-pointed star. It’s no longer Mellie and Liv and Fitz. It’s Mellie and Liv and Fitz and Jake and Andrew. It’s much more complicated, which is wonderful. I also loved that moment because Jon Tenney is so fantastic, and his character is so unafraid of Olivia that she lays into him in that really old school way. His response to her is about Fitz, like wow, what has he done to you. I love that, too. They really have the capacity to battle, those two. It will be interesting to see how that unfolds, because I love his relationship with Mellie. He really sees Mellie and values Mellie. That was put to an end at the end of Season 3, but one never knows…
Season 3, Episode 18 “The Price of Free and Fair Elections”
Olivia tells Jake that she is the scandal and asks him to stand in the sun with her.
I really love this because I think Jake is a person who is really just down for Olivia. He is truly, unconditionally supportive of who she is and wants to be with her. I really liked that scene because it was the moment of Olivia expressing that in order for her to get her life together she has to press the reset button. She has to deal with herself and walk away from it all. The fact that he says that he can do that with her is so powerful to me. I think Olivia believed, in that moment, that to reset she’d have to do it completely alone, so being invited to have a partner in that felt really special.
And I love, love, love working with Scott Foley. I find our scenes to be some of the more challenging scenes, because their relationship is so complicated. They don’t have the unbridled passion of Liv and Fitz, the kind of sweeping, romantic, idealistic pining for each other. Their relationship has much more angles and complexities. Liv and Fitz have complexities in the dynamics and outside circumstances of their relationship, but their relationship—how they feel about each other—is very clear. It’s very different with Jake and Liv. How they feel about each other is really complicated.
Even though she tells him that she’s in love with someone else, he’s willing to go with her, and you don’t get the sense that he’s doing it because he has low self-esteem. He’s very masculine, he’s very empowered, he’s very smart, he’s very sophisticated. He just is willing to be on this ride with her for who she is, not who he wants her to be. It’s funny because Shonda Rhimes keeps calling Season 3 the dark season, because it was very, very dark. And not just for Olivia, but for her parents and Mellie and so many other characters. So the idea to need to be in the light, to be in a place where secrets aren’t hidden, where you can just be in the sun—it’s such a powerful metaphor.
At the end of Season 2 when the big reveal happens and I said, “Dad,” Joe Morton and I kept asking what our relationship was and the writers would say, “Oh, we’re not sure yet.” So we had to do it 17 different ways. I had to say, “Dad,” as if I was happy to see him; “Dad,” as if I was upset to see him; “Dad,” as if I was scared to see him. So it was really fun to see in the edit of that season finale what they chose, because I feel like it gave he and I a little bit of a clue of the direction Shonda wanted it to go.
It was similar this season. I did a few steps on the plane where I was really excited, a few takes where I was really conflicted, and a few takes where I was really sad. And Shonda chose the one where I was really conflicted and hiding that from Jake. I thought, “Wow, that’s really interesting… Am I hiding it because I really want to move past it? Am I hiding it because I’m ashamed that I’m not going to be able to move past it?” We’ll have to see!
As told to Kevin Fallon.